The Vegas Golden Knights formally announced today the club has signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a five-year, $25M pact. The deal had been widely rumored since the NHL playoff bubble but Lehner denied there was a “handshake” deal in place. Today confirms the news and sets several balls in motion. VHN looks at the impact on the VGK going forward.
Lehner was acquired by the Golden Knights at the trade deadline from the Chicago Blackhawks in a deal that sent then-backup Malcolm Subban to the Windy City. He would start 16 of Vegas’ 20 playoff games, going 9-7 with a 1.99 GAA, .917 save percentage and four shutouts. Lehner has previously played for the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders and Blackhawks.
There have been times in my life I’ve left the obvious unsaid, and trust me it always comes back to bite you. So here we go. Signing Robin Lehner at age 29 to a five-year, $25M does several things for the Golden Knights. It gives them cost certainty at the position in a world of shifting cap sands for the next five years. Both sides should be happy with the amount and term.
Lehner comes with some risk despite his past Vezina-nominee status and solid numbers this year between Chicago and Vegas. That said, if he truly has put his issues behind him by year three this will be a tremendous bargain signing if he puts up big numbers. Plus at 29, Lehner could be heading towards his prime years. For whatever reason, goaltenders seem to be peaking in their early-to-mid 30s in the last decade. Lehner points toward exactly that.
Lehner was the clear favorite heading into the playoffs as the starter no matter what head coach Pete DeBoer said in regards to a competition. His numbers weren’t bad in the playoffs and Vegas did make the Western Conference Final with Lehner in the top role. In the end it was more the inability to score than the goals against that doomed the Golden Knights.
It also removes the pencil and puts in ink the message that Marc-Andre Fleury’s time in Vegas is over. Having $12M tied up in two goaltenders is not feasible in the cap era, especially when the higher-paid Fleury would be the backup. Fleury has two years remaining on his deal at an AAV of $7M with no bonuses. Fleury had signed a three-year extension with the Golden Knights in 2018 which kicked in this past season.
The Ripple Effect
As of this signing, Vegas is out of cap room per CapFriendly. They still have a few loose ends to tie up with the roster and will need to make more moves. As of today, RFAs Nick Cousins and Chandler Stephenson plus UFAs Tomas Nosek, Jon Merrill and Deryk Engelland remain to be addressed.
While it’s possible to allow players like Engelland, Nosek and Merrill to just walk and qualify Cousins and Stephenson or let them walk, I don’t see the Golden Knights following that path. Indeed, looking ahead both Cousins and Stephenson could find solid roles on this team for several more years.
I can see Nosek allowed to go as I really feel that Peyton Krebs will be ready for the NHL next year and only cost $894k on the cap. Jack Dugan might push for a spot as well, and if he does his hit is only $925k.
Not only does this underscore the importance of moving Fleury’s contract as quickly as possible, but also another high-priced contract might be on the move as well. The more I look at Paul Stastny at $6.5M for one more year the more I think he might be the guy on the go. Of course, it would make sense to clear out something from the defensive corps if you land Alex Peitrangelo or Torey Krug but that’s putting the cart before the horse.
If Vegas does want to make a big splashy signing they’ll likely need all of the aforementioned $13.5M in cap room plus a little bit more. The downside to moving Stastny is you’ll need one of your younger centers to step up next season or go outside for help – which will cost you more money. Krebs is listed as both a center and wing, but it’s rare that a young forward is brought up in a center role immediately because of the defensive responsibilities that go along with the position. Usually younger players are broken in on the wing first. Recently-acquired Dylan Sikura also plays all three forward positions but it would be a bit of a stretch to see him launched into full-time NHL duty next year.
In the immediate future, Vegas needs to get busy. Golden Knights GM Kelly McCrimmon has his work cut out for him to keep the team competitive while dealing with cap issues. Trades are in order, because even if you execute a buyout you still have to make more room. Look for the VGK to be extremely busy working the phones and trying to make deals this week. Keep your phones handy, you’re going to need it!
What do you think Golden Knights fans? Is Lehner the long-term answer for this team? What would you do with Fleury? Let us know in the comments!
TURNING POINT: Fleury’s save comes up big in Golden Knights win
The hardest thing for Marc-Andre Fleury to do between the pipes is watch his Vegas Golden Knights teammates on gameday, when most of the action is taking place at the other end.
Sunday the Arizona Coyotes took a whopping 16 shots on Vegas’ veteran netminder during a 1-0 win in Glendale, Ariz.
“So sometimes I thought the hardest thing was just to stay focused and be ready for those things,” Fleury said after registering his 62nd career shutout and improving to 3-0-0 with a 1.00 goals against average and .951 save percentage this season.
Those things, he referred to, were two big saves that may have proved to be turning points for Vegas, which is now 5-1-0 and just one of two teams in the league with five wins.
“They were game changers,” said Jonathan Marchessault, who had the lead assist on William Karlsson’s game-winning goal with 43 seconds left in the game.
Just before the horn at the end of the second period, Fleury denied Jakob Chychrun’s shot through traffic from the top of the right circle.
But it was the save early in the third period that was Fleury’s best, and preserved the shutout and kept momentum fueling into the Golden Knights.
Arizona’s Phil Kessel was able to snatch the puck free from William Carrier in Vegas’ zone, skate through and around Golden Knights defenseman Zach Whitecloud in the neutral zone and bust free for a breakaway chance on his former Penguins teammate.
After shuffling backhand-forehand five times to his forehand, Kessel was stuffed by Fleury.
“I saw it was Phil Kessel coming on the breakaway, and I’ve faced him a lot in practice (in Pittsburgh),” Fleury said. “Sometimes I overthink stuff and what he likes to do, but I was really happy to make that save.”
From there, Fleury faced just four more shots over the final 16:55. And adding to the deflation of the Coyotes’ hopes after Fleury’s save on Kessel was a clanker moments later.
Johan Larsson rang one off the far post, the puck squirted back toward Fleury, whose left pad was off the ice and allowed the puck to get underneath so he could cover it and stop play.
“The breakaway save on Phil Kessel … that’s a huge momentum save for us at the right time, to give us a chance to get back to work and keep the pressure on them,” Vegas coach Peter DeBoer said. “I thought Flower gave us exactly the kind of game we needed tonight.”
With his shutout, Fleury passed Walter Broda for sole possession of 16th all time.
“We had our moments,” Arizona coach Rick Tocchet said. “You’re looking for that big moment.”
For the Golden Knights, once again, it was their face of the franchise since they entered the National Hockey League.
W.G. Ramirez is the newest columnist and reporter for Vegas Hockey Now. He is the Golden Knights beat writer for The Associated Press and remains a contributor to The Hockey News. Catch him on Twitter @WillieGRamirez
Karlsson’s Late Goal Lifts Golden Knights
William Karlsson played the role of hero for the Vegas Golden Knights, notching the game-winning goal with just 43 seconds remaining in a scoreless game to give the VGK the 1-0 victory Sunday afternoon.
With cheers coming from what sounded more like a partisan Vegas crowd, Jonathan Marchessault dug out a puck from behind the Coyotes net and centered to Karlsson. Karlsson made no mistake, burying the puck on the stick side of Darcy Kuemper (26 saves) for the game-winning goal.
Marc-Andre Fleury posted his 62nd career shutout on 16 saves. The victory was his third straight to open the 2021 season.
For the Vegas Golden Knights, the win is redemption after giving up five goals to the Coyotes on Friday night for the team’s first loss of the season. This time Vegas never really let Arizona into the contest, giving up only four shots in the first period.
The game felt sluggish at times, perhaps due to the afternoon start but also the fact that these same two teams were facing each other for the fourth straight time. Fortunately for Vegas, they were able to break through late and steal the victory.
“The name of the game was patience,” Karlsson said with a relieved laugh after the game. “We had a lot of chances and sooner or later they will go in. I thought we had a great game. Eventually (it) has to go in and it did.”
When the Golden Knights had the energy up and forechecked aggressively in the game they generated chances. Nowhere was that on display more than the game-winning goal. Alex Tuch dumps the puck into the corner from neutral ice as Marchessault attacks with speed into the Coyotes zone, beating out an icing call. Marchessault puts the puck into an area just off the net in the slot where Karlsson was able to follow up and immediately shoot the puck, not allowing Kuemper to set up for the shot.
WILD BILL SAVED THE BEST FOR LAST 🤠🚨 pic.twitter.com/UBlTugE2y5
— Vegas Golden Knights (@GoldenKnights) January 24, 2021
Vegas was definitely the better of the two sides throughout regulation, out-shooting and out-chancing the Coyotes especially in the later stages of the game. Darcy Kuemper deserves the credit for yet another great start for Arizona, making save after save to give the Coyotes a shot at the win.
The Vegas Golden Knights return home for the team’s toughest test so far, a pair of games against the St. Louis Blues starting Tuesday evening.
- I feel like I’m beating the same drum over and over, but when the Vegas Golden Knights are generating scoring chances, it’s because of the forecheck. This team is built on speed and being aggressive, chasing down pucks and setting up scoring chances from that. Today’s game-winning goal was a perfect example of that.
- Marc-Andre Fleury wasn’t busy the entire time, but made every single save he needed to including a breakaway stop on Phil Kessel that could have spelled disaster for the VGK. I’ve never seen a goalie who stays so completely game-ready regardless of work schedule. Fleury won’t receive the credit he deserves for the work he did in this one, but without him being perfect, perhaps Vegas doesn’t win.
- The Vegas Golden Knights have never gone past regulation with a 0-0 score, and came within 43 seconds of that happening against Arizona.
- Once again Cody Glass sat and Nic Hague was back in the lineup, giving Vegas the traditional six defensemen and 12 forwards. Hague looked good and to underscore another point I’ve been making, this team is much better with six defensemen in the lineup.
- Vegas also dominated in the faceoff circle, winning 61% of the draws.
Coyotes End Golden Knights Win Streak At Four
The Arizona Coyotes stopped the Vegas Golden Knights winning streak at four games with a 5-2 victory at Gila River Arena on Friday night.
Connor Garland led the Coyotes offense with a goal and two assists, while Nick Schmaltz scored for the third straight game.
It’s a very difficult proposition to beat a team four times in a row – look at any playoff series. Arizona winning a game, especially at home, was probably due. The Coyotes seemed to have more spring in their step than they did Wednesday night when the Golden Knights handed the Coyotes a 5-2 loss. Several times the Vegas defense allowed odd-man rushes to the Coyotes, and running five defensemen once again likely contributed to some of the errors on the back end.
“It’s definitely different,” said Shea Theodore after the game. “You are rotating through partners (and) you can’t exactly get into the rhythm with one guy… at the same time I don’t think that’s an excuse.”
“We should be able to adapt. We just can’t give up that many odd-man rushes on any given night.”
Vegas Golden Knights head coach Pete DeBoer said he felt it was more the special teams that affected the outcome of the game.
“Penalties really kinda took our momentum out of the game. Both taking them, and obviously their power play goal early, and then a bunch of the other kills we had to have… when they did take (penalties) I didn’t think our power play created any momentum for us. For me that was… the story.”
“Some self-inflicted things tonight,” DeBoer said.
Whatever the reason, Vegas allowed the Coyotes to grow confident by ceding the opportunities and it showed. Arizona seemed to feel better about its game more and more as the game wore on.
Darcy Kuemper made 29 saves to earn the win as Vegas never quite seemed to find the scoring touch it displayed Wednesday night. Robin Lehner struggled, giving up four goals on 25 shots against and will likely want a couple of those goals back. Lehner seemed off the entire night, whether handling the puck, setting himself for shots, or tracking movement. Those games will happen, but they’re highlighted even more when the goaltender in the other net makes the needed saves. Kuemper was definitely the better of the two goalies on the night.
Fortunatley for the Golden Knights, they’ll be able to jump right back into the action against the Coyotes on Sunday afternoon at 4 pm MT, 3 pm PT.
- The game marked the first time this season the Vegas Golden Knights have given up more than two goals.
- Cody Glass returned to the lineup after sitting out a pair of games and recorded a power play goal in the third period.
- Shea Theodore scored for the second straight game, an unassisted marker at 1:19 of the third period.
- Vegas went back to a lineup that featured five defensemen and 13 forwards with Glass back in the lineup. Notably both Theodore and Alex Pietrangelo went minus-2 in the contest.
- Mark Stone keeps his scoring streak intact, assisting on Cody Glass’ power play goal in the third period to give him eight points (2-6-8) in his first five games.