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!