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Even Without The Only Stabilizing Provision An NHL Player Can Have, Robin Lehner Feels Stable In Las Vegas

In his next contract, Robin Lehner put a high priority on stability.

He mentioned it over and over again in his Zoom meeting with the media following the signing of his new 5-year $25 million contract.

It’s clear he believes with the Vegas Golden Knights, he finally has it.

I’ve worked very very hard for this. It’s been a long journey since I moved into the league. I’ve had my bumps and bruises, I’ve battled through a lot of things… I have a 5-year-old son that has five different hockey jerseys. We live a privileged life, but you want to give your family stability as well and I couldn’t find a better opportunity and a better setting than here in Vegas with a great community and fan base. -Robin Lehner

Lehner has bounced around a lot in the last few years of his career. After putting up good numbers on a struggling team in Buffalo, he was not extended a qualifying offer by the Sabres which saw him hit the unrestricted free agent market in the summer of 2018. He bet on himself, signing a one-year deal worth just $1.5 million. That season he turned in a Vezina quality year and appeared to be headed for a payday in the summer of 2019. But, while the pay raise came (he signed for $5 million) term did not. He accepted another one-year deal, this time in Chicago. He split time with Corey Crawford and then at the deadline found himself on a third team inside of two calendar years all while playing out the end of an expiring contract.

He’s about as open and honest a person as you’ll find in the NHL and he has not been shy in sharing his disappointment that he was unable to find a long-term home despite performing at a high level. That’s why when pen hit paper on the deal in Vegas, he was overjoyed to have finally found it.

It’s obviously been a pretty emotional day for me and my family. We are exteremly happy to be here and get this deal done. I have a lot of people to thank but it’s a big win for us. -Lehner

There’s just one problem that remains. Despite committing himself to the Golden Knights for the next five seasons, Lehner’s contract did not come with a full no-trade clause. Instead, he received a modified no-trade which allows him to veto eight teams in the first three seasons and then five in the final two.

That’s not exactly reassuring regarding stability considering this is an organization that signed another goalie, Marc-Andre Fleury, to a similar contract in July 2018 which was scheduled to run through 2022. Vegas will likely cut ties with Fleury with two years still left on the deal and that contract actually had a larger no-trade clause than Lehner’s.

Lehner is well-aware of how the Golden Knights conduct business. He described it as a “no politics team,” clarifying to mean that the best players play no matter the situation. So when I posed the blunt question of, “how do you feel stable in an organization when you do not have a full no-trade clause?” he answered calmly, insightfully, and incredibly confidently.

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Henrik Lundqvist To Vegas?

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The goaltender carousel has yet to start spinning, but when it does, the Golden Knights are likely to have a ticket on the ride. The probability of Vegas re-signing Robin Lehner and moving on from Marc-Andre Fleury remains incredibly high which means the Golden Knights would suddenly be in the market for either a backup to Lehner or at the very least an AHL starter if the job is handed to Oscar Dansk.

If indeed they are to keep Lehner, that would eliminate Vegas from the top names soon to be on the market like Braden Holtby, Jacob Markstrom, and Darcy Kuemper but it would be an intriguing place for anyone willing to play for less money but a greater shot at a Stanley Cup.

Enter Henrik Lundqvist.

After being kicked to the curb during the season in favor of Igor Shesterkin, Lundqvist’s time in New York officially came to a close yesterday when he was bought out by the Rangers.

That makes him an unrestricted free agent who is still being paid by his previous organization. He’s made no indication whether or not he even wants to continue his NHL career, but if he does, there’s a connection to Vegas that could make sense.

I wonder about Vegas. If they move Fleury I would think that spot would be an interesting one because Lundqvist has known Robin Lehner since Lehner was 12-years-old and Lehner’s father was Lundqvist’s goalie coach and instructor in Sweden before he came to New York. I think the fit it the room would be there. –Larry Brooks, NY Post on VGK Insider Show

Brooks told the VGK Insider Show that he has not spoken to Lundqvist and thus he is speculating but he named Vegas without being prompted (though I’m sure he knew he was on a Vegas-based radio station).

Lundqvist was far from elite a year ago, but there’s no question there’s still some hockey left in his Hall of Fame career if he so chooses to continue it.

As a backup, the Golden Knights could certainly do much worse and his cost against the cap could be minimal considering he’s made almost $100 million in his career already and has still yet to win a Stanley Cup.

Maybe he sees Vegas as a place that could give him that one last chance. Maybe he’s tight enough with Lehner that it would make for the perfect drama-free duo. Or maybe this is all for naught and he closes up shop on an unbelievable career.

A lot is about to go down in the next seven to ten days, especially between the pipes. We’re fairly certain the Golden Knights are going to part ways with one future Hall of Famer, maybe they can save the day by bringing in another.

A Case For And Against Trading Each Of VGK’s Top-Six Forwards And Top-Four Defensemen

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The Golden Knights are likely headed for an offseason of change. It might be just a little if they can solve the goalie situation without breaking the bank or it might be a lot if they land the big fish in free agency. Either way, the possibility of moving one of Vegas’ top-six forwards and/or top-four defensemen is much higher this offseason than it was last summer.

Here’s a case for why they should trade each one of them, followed by a case against it. (Alex Tuch is substituted for Mark Stone due to Stone’s full no-movement clause.)

Max Pacioretty
$7 million (3 seasons remaining)

Case for: You want cap relief, here it is. Shedding Pacioretty’s $7 million would basically allow for a one-for-one move to make the big-ticket free-agent splash. Pacioretty may not return nearly as much as you’d probably like after the dismal end to the playoffs, but he has a history of scoring and former captains aren’t easy to find. He’s likely on the declining side of his peak and his injury issues are concerning. If someone is willing to buck up a 2nd round pick and eat the entire $21 million in cap space over the next three years, Vegas absolutely has to listen.

Case against: The biggest problem the Golden Knights had in 2019-20, and especially in the playoffs, was scoring and the solution is to trade the team’s leading scorer? What world are we living in here? The guy is coming off a 32 goal pandemic shortened season and was clearly banged up during the playoffs. When he’s healthy, he’s the best scorer Vegas has. He’s also worked incredibly well with VGK’s most important forward, Mark Stone. I’ll repeat what I said before, if scoring is the issue, you do not trade your leading scorer.

Jonathan Marchessault
$5 million (4 seasons remaining)

Case for: The case for trading Marchessault must start with his play in the postseason. He’s not the best defensive player in the world, he’s been known to take a penalty or two that he shouldn’t, and he isn’t exactly the physical specimen you look for in a hockey player, but all of that is overlooked because he can do the hardest thing to do in hockey, score. When he doesn’t, he has to be considered when thinking about change. The cap number would help free up some space for Vegas to make the splash they are hoping for in free agency and his production under DeBoer hasn’t matched what it was under Gallant which causes concern for the future. Plus, he’s played a lot less under DeBoer showing a lack of trust that Gallant had. This postseason Marchessault averaged 16:33 per game, in 2018 he averaged 19:25. The return would likely be worthwhile which could help in making something else happen down the line.

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Fleury’s Agent Echoes His Client’s Desire To Stay Put; Even Though Both Know He’s Probably Not

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t new to the business side of the NHL. He knows what went down between the trade deadline and the end of the Golden Knights playoff run, he understands the Golden Knights salary cap situation, and he sees the writing on the wall. No matter what he says or does now, nothing is going to change what will happen in the coming weeks (or maybe months).

So, when placed in that situation, might as well say the right thing before the inevitable happens.

Marc said that he wants to stay in Vegas, and he’s not looking for or seeking a trade anywhere else. He’s perfectly happy to co-exist with Robin Lehner, if that’s what ultimately happens. To some extent the decision making is out of his hands. But he wanted everyone to know where he stands and that he loves Vegas. –Alan Walsh on TSN 690

Walsh, Fleury’s agent, backed up what his client said to The Athletic’s Jesse Granger last week. You should read that interview if you haven’t yet, but to sum it up, Fleury hasn’t and won’t asked to be traded, he hopes to retire in Vegas, and he’d be perfectly happy to share the goal with Robin Lehner in 2020.

It’s all true, but there’s a motive behind the message Fleury was trying to get out. Speaking optimistically about the uncertainty of his future was a tactic and a smart one at that.

By stating he isn’t asking for a trade, Fleury is wisely playing both sides of the fence. He’s showing his appreciation and fondness for the fan base and the city of Las Vegas, but the 35-year-old goaltender was also signaling if and probably when a trade happens, it’s on the organization, not him.

He has great connection to the community. He loves his teammates and he came on board as literally player number one and wants to finish the journey that he set out on when he went to Vegas. Ending with a winning cup. He’s not looking for a change or anything else. –Walsh on TSN 690

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Golden Knights Must “Churn” Roster In Order To Stay Good For Now And Later

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The Golden Knights are into offseason number three as they prepare for season number four. In season three, they began to work in some younger players like Nic Roy, Cody Glass, Zach Whitecloud, and Nic Hague, but the playing time was limited and the roles were certainly reduced.

As they move forward, especially with the cap staying flat, the Golden Knights must find more ways to save cap space by getting larger contributions out of younger players.

You can’t sit still. There’s a balance between having a real strong nucleus that gives you a chance to win but there’s also the importance of having enough churn that you give opportunities for new players. -Kelly McCrimmon

The question that will be answered this offseason is just how much “churn” is enough.

The Golden Knights prospect system has a heap of players that appear to be ready to break into the NHL. From the four that did in 2019-20 to Jack Dugan, Lucas Elvenes, Peyton Krebs, Jonas Rondbjerg, Dylan Coghlan, and Jimmy Schuldt the options are certainly there for Vegas.

Every one of the players mentioned carries a cap hit of less than $1 million, which means replacing just about anyone in the everyday starting lineup means cap savings.

But, how much is too much? Especially when considering the Golden Knights are a clear Cup contending team and have aspirations of lifting it in the very near future.

In 2019-20, when the Golden Knights were pushed up to the salary cap limit, they pretty much always had at least two entry-level contracts on the NHL roster. It started with Hague and Glass, then morphed into Roy and Whitecloud as the season went on and into the playoffs.

I’d guess that Roy and Whitecloud have become permanent members of the NHL roster moving forward and any of the other six players mentioned could easily make a case as well. But there has to be a spot for them and at the moment there don’t appear to be many open.

That’s where this offseason comes into play and why Vegas fans should be expecting at least a bit of a shakeup, if not a mega one, in the Golden Knights standard 18-man starting roster. McCrimmon and McPhee not only want to see what they have in the system, but they’ll need to get production out of these younger players if they want to continue to improve their team without the advantage of a rising salary cap.

Expect to see at least one player from the top-six to head out and a high probability of one of the six starting defensemen from the Dallas series no longer in steel grey and gold come opening night of season four.

Churn is normal every offseason, but the Golden Knights are ripe for a bit more than usual with the collection of factors the front office is up against in this one. The cap is at the top of it, but also a seven-game scoring drought that ended a promising playoff run, and a new coach behind the bench for his first offseason.

The Golden Knights will remain a very good team, and one most will project to win the Pacific Division once again when play gets underway. However, don’t expect that team to look too much like the one that just exited the bubble in Edmonton.

Ranking The 5 Goalie Options The Golden Knights Have From Best To Worst

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The clock is ticking on the “first order of business” for the Golden Knights this offseason. With the buyout period open and free agency set to begin on October 9th, the VGK front office will have to execute whatever plan they have in mind to solve their conundrum between the pipes soon.

Yesterday, in an interview with Jesse Granger of The Athletic Fleury indicated that he has not formally requested a trade, he would prefer to finish his career in Vegas, and he is not opposed to splitting time with Robin Lehner.

I want to stay in Vegas. I thought when I came here that maybe I could retire here. I wanted to end my career here. –Marc-Andre Fleury to The Athletic

That willingness leaves the door wide open for the Golden Knights. There are five options for Vegas. Some are great, some are ok, and some are downright terrible. I’ve ranked them, in order from best-case scenario to worst-case for the organization. We start with the best option.

Re-sign Lehner. Trade Fleury without retaining any salary

This is the best realistic result for the Golden Knights this offseason. There have been reports of a handshake agreement on a deal worth $5 million per year between Lehner and Vegas but both sides have denied such deal exists. But, where there’s smoke, oftentimes there’s fire, which means while that deal may not be final right now, it could in the near future. After signing that deal, Vegas would look for a landing spot for Fleury in which the team taking him on accepts 100% of his salary. Obviously, in a perfect world, the Golden Knights would get an asset in return, but in the current landscape, that seems fairly unlikely. So the hope would be that it wouldn’t cost more than a 3rd round pick to make it happen.

If it all goes down that way, Vegas will have saved $2 million at the goalie position, gotten much younger going from Fleury to Lehner, bought an extra three years of goalie contract, and turned their “rental” into a long-term piece making the initial trade for Lehner even more palatable than before. Even if Lehner’s number is closer to $7 million or if the term is shorter, the Golden Knights will have made out well.

Re-sign Lehner. Trade Fleury with a portion of salary retained (or take a player with a significant cap hit in return)

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Zach Whitecloud’s Emergence As A Consistent D-Man Is The Best Thing To Come Out Of 2020 For VGK

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

Heading into season three one of the biggest storylines for the Golden Knights was figuring out which young defenseman was going to grab the open role and make an impact in 2019-20.

In camp, Nic Hague, Zach Whitecloud, and Dylan Coghlan raced to the top of the list making the decision a tough one on the front office and then coach Gerard Gallant. But an injury to Whitecloud and the need for a guy to play the left side helped allow Hague the first shot.

It took him a bit to get his feet wet and his offensive game never quite took hold, but he certainly held his own before the coaching change. Then, when Gallant was ousted and DeBoer came in, the switch was quickly made form Hague to Whitecloud. A few games and a pandemic later, and the Golden Knights had not only found the best of their five near-NHL-ready defensive prospects but they found themselves a player that appears to ready for a long career as a stalwart on the Golden Knights blue line.

I love the fact that we’ve had a young guy like Zach Whitecloud come in and we couldn’t give him enough. He never faltered, he never failed, he met every challenge, he’s established himself as a really good NHL defenseman so I think that’s really encouraging. -Kelly McCrimmon

Of course, Whitecloud’s season ended regrettably, but he was one of the most consistent defensemen for Vegas during the entire playoff run. His most impressive step forward was on the penalty kill where he literally became the Golden Knights’ top option.

Whitecloud led the Golden Knights with 66:05 of PK time in the playoffs, four minutes more than Brayden McNabb and 25 more than Alec Martinez, helping Vegas kill at an impressive 86%, the best of any team advancing beyond the first round of the playoffs.

Whitecloud also upped his offensive game, with two goals, an assist, and 20 shots over his 20 playoff games. Plus, there were many times in which he would properly activate off the blue line to extend an offensive shift or create a dangerous chance himself.

He played his ass off and played big and played heavy and played big minutes for us. He’s got a bright future ahead of him here. -Pete DeBoer

His elevation to full-time player gives the Golden Knights a huge advantage on the blue line they have not had before. In each of the first two seasons, the defense was littered with players making north of $2 million and even a few pushing upwards of $5 million. Whitecloud is locked in at under $1 million for each of the next two seasons allowing the Golden Knights flexibility.

Also, being right-handed, Whitecloud currently stands as Vegas’ only full-time righty d-man which means he can literally be paired with anyone else on the current roster.

A lot from the 2019-20 season will go down as a disappointment, but if there’s one thing that Vegas can take out of it moving forward, it’s that they discovered Zach Whitecloud’s ability at the NHL level. A luxury they’ll lean on a ton as they toss and turn the roster trying to get better in the era of the flat salary cap.

What VGK’s Blue Line Would Look Like With Alex Pietrangelo Or Torey Krug

Yesterday we went into potential alternatives for the big-time add on the blue line for the Golden Knights. Today, we’re diving into what the Vegas defensive unit would look like if they do indeed land Alex Pietrangelo or Torey Krug.

There’s been a lot of rumblings about Alex Pietrangelo and Vegas, and someone told me today they were wondering if Vegas might take a run, if it’s not Pietrangelo, at Torey Krug. –Elliotte Friedman on 31 Thoughts Podcast

Before we get into the pair combos, let’s start with what the Golden Knights would have to do to make it happen. Pietrangelo is likely going to command somewhere around $8-9 million where Krug will likely fall a bit lower at around $7-8.5 million. Either way, with the Golden Knights looking at about $1 million or so in available cap space currently, they’ll have to get to work.

The whole offseason must begin by settling the goalie situation. In a perfect world, Vegas would find someone to take Marc-Andre Fleury’s complete contract off their hands without forfeiting much more than a lower round pick. Then, they’d sign Robin Lehner for between $5-6 million and earn themselves a bit of relief (Fleury’s cap hit is $7 million). However, it’s more likely there will be at least a bit of Fleury’s salary retained on the Golden Knights books, or they’ll have to buy him out, and they will hope to be back at $7 million in goalies after signing Lehner long team.

The next decision would be at the center position. If the Golden Knights believe they can replace Paul Stastny with Cody Glass (or Stastny with Stephenson and Stephenson with Glass) then that would be the least invasive start to finding the cap space. That’s $6.5 million which would essentially offset the majority of the space needed to sign either defenseman.

If they don’t trust that route (which I wouldn’t), then you look to the wings. Max Pacioretty’s $7 million and Jonathan Marchessault’s $5 million are the two that jump out.

Finally, if VGK add a defenseman, they would likely be looking to move at least one of the existing ones out. The leading candidate being the $5.95 million owed to Nate Schmidt. Otherwise, Alec Martinez’s $4 million could be an option, but after trading two 2nd round picks for him, they better be able to recoup at least one, if not both of them to make that route worthwhile.

So, you can pick the path you like the most with the understanding that if they save money on the goalie exchange, it would only have to be one player, while if they don’t, it’s likely one forward and one defenseman that must go.

Now let’s get on to the fun part; what the Golden Knights look like on the blue line if they add a big-ticket defenseman this offseason. Let’s start by assuming the Golden Knights make it happen without getting rid of any current defenseman on the roster.

Add Pietrangelo / Subtract No One

Schmidt-Pietrangelo
Martinez-Theodore
McNabb-Whitecloud

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Familiar Alternatives To Free Agent Big Game Hunting

The Golden Knights offseason plans are underway and time for the front office to try and improve the club for next season.

Blues defenseman Alex Pietrangelo is the big fish in free agency and as we’ve seen before, the Golden Knights aren’t afraid to hand out a massive contract. At 30-years-old, management might be cautious before handing out an expensive seven-year contract. The right-handed Pietrangelo will come at a premium, so Vegas will have to be creative matching the asking price or find other alternatives.

Another notable UFA is Boston defenseman, Torey Krug. The expected price on Krug is around $7.5-$8M per season. He’s a year younger but unlike Pietrangelo, he’s a left-handed shot, and we’ve seen Vegas target right-handed defenseman in the past. Krug’s offensive production is worth the expense, but Vegas may lean to the much taller and right-handed Pietrangelo.

There are plenty of alternative defenseman in the market this offseason, some are less-skilled but cheaper and younger. If Vegas can find the defenseman that fixes their exact deficiency they won’t need to break the bank. However, that takes great awareness and pro scouting finding that right fit. That’s when the familiarity factor comes in handy.

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Bubbles Offered Unique Challenges And Benefits In Player Evaluation

Aside from the format of the 16 team tournament, not much about the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs was like any year in the past. As hard as the NHL tried, and they made the absolute best of the situation they could, the culmination of this season will always be viewed as an outlier.

That shouldn’t be used to take anything away from the team that ultimately wins, nor the players who put in the effort to make the playoffs the best they could be. But, simply put, this postseason was completely different in so many ways that moving forward, while it shouldn’t have an asterisk in the record books, it absolutely should in terms of player evaluation.

Likely there will be some players that struggled with the challenge of the bubble a little bit more than others and there might be a handful of players that having no distractions and only hockey to worry it about helped. -Kelly McCrimmon

The 2020 Playoffs offered different challenges both mentally and physically than any other in the league’s 100+ year history. It’s impossible to put a value on the sum of all of these aspects, but it’s clear it must be considered when projecting future performance.

58 or 59 days is a long time. It’s a hard situation to describe to somebody unless you are there doing it… I think in general terms it’s always a body of work you use when you make decisions on players and we have a pretty good takeaway of what players actually were by the time we were done our work there. -McCrimmon

This is much more likely to be used in giving a player a pass for a poor playoff season as opposed to praising a breakout year. Everyone who watched the Golden Knights in the playoffs this season knows there were a handful of guys who didn’t quite play to the level we’ve come to expect.

The challenge for the front office lies in weighing those underwhelming performances against the “body of work” they’ve seen historically from each player.

Decisions must be made every offseason and they’re never easy, but this one is set to be especially tricky due to the oddity of the 2020 Playoffs. In that way, the bubble may offer one of the greatest player evaluation challenges front offices have ever faced, however, there was one major benefit the bubbles did offer in that respect.

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