Even with the salary cap projected to stay flat for at least the next year, the Golden Knights aren’t in a terrible place. However, the move most hope (expect?) them to make remains nearly impossible without blowing up another part of the team.
Of course, I’m talking about re-signing Robin Lehner to a long-term extension. Reasonably, Lehner could be asking for anywhere between $5-$8 million after completing consecutive strong seasons. It’s always possible that number comes in a little lower if he gets the proper length and maybe even a no-move clause, but there’s little chance he’s going to be worth less than $3 million per season for the foreseeable future.
The Golden Knights needed two teams to retain salary to make room for Lehner when they first acquired him. Now, if they want to keep him, it’ll likely mean a major player or two shown the door.
So, rather than exploring the options of who to get rid of, let’s look at some of the potential options to replace Lehner. Aside from Lehner, there are a few free agents and there will be plenty of trade options with the Expansion Draft right around the corner, but the best place might be the under-utilized restricted free agent market, one that’s teeming with excellent back-up/long-term future options for the Golden Knights this offseason.
Here are those RFAs.
Alexandar Georgiev – New York Rangers
24-years old, 77 career NHL games (35 wins)
2019-20 Cap Hit: $792,500
The Rangers are headed for a bit of a tough spot when they break training camp to start the 2020-21 season. With Henrik Lundqvist under contract for another season at $8.5 million and a no-move clause in tow, he’s essentially guaranteed to be on the roster. They’ll then have to choose between Georgiev and fellow Russian Igor Shesterkin. Shesterkin is waiver exempt for another season, so they have the ability to keep Georgiev and hide Shesterkin in the AHL for another season, but Shesterkin was so good in his short time in the NHL that they may not want to do that.
Thus, if the Rangers believe more in Shesterkin than Georgiev, the latter could be ripe for the picking for the Golden Knights.
Tristan Jarry – Pittsburgh Penguins
25-years-old, 62 career NHL games (34 wins)
2019-20 Cap Hit: $675,000
Poaching Penguins goalies is one of the Golden Knights’ great past-times. The Penguins actually have two goalies headed for restricted free agency this offseason (Matt Murray is the other) and another under contract for $1.25 million through 2021-22 (Casey DeSmith).
Jarry might actually be the best of the three, yet he also may be the most affordable. No matter which way the Penguins go, there will be at least one goalie available and with the Expansion Draft on the horizon, they could lose another as well. Jarry shouldn’t be in line for too much of a raise and the situation could hurt his trade value as well.
Mackenzie Blackwood – New Jersey Devils
23-years-old, 70 career NHL games (32 wins)
2019-20 Cap Hit: $697,500
Blackwood is pretty clearly installed as the goalie-of-the-future for the Devils, so it would take quite a bit to pry him loose. But, with a new GM and a new head coach in place in New Jersey, long-term views on players are always a bit more up in the air.
Blackwood has been very good when given a chance in New Jersey and he’s done it behind a sub-par defensive unit. This one might end up costing quite a bit (maybe a 1st round pick plus) on the trade market, but the salary cost shouldn’t be prohibitive in the short-term.
Adin Hill – Arizona Coyotes
24-years old, 30 career NHL games (10 wins)
2019-20 Cap Hit: $708,750
Hill would still be an unknown commodity as a long-term replacement for Fleury, but his improvements over the past few years, including posting a .918 save percentage this year, have him looking like a pretty good option for the potential cost against the cap. Hill’s waiver exempt status runs out this year and he’s currently sitting behind two solid goalies, Darcy Kuemper and Antti Raanta.
The Golden Knights could probably throw just about any draft pick at the Coyotes to elicit a trade as he’ll likely have to clear waivers during training camp. He might not be the sure-thing Vegas is looking for, but they’ve seen him up close once in a relief appearance of Raanta and he was fantastic, stopping 20 of 20 VGK shots.
**It’s important to note that Vegas does not have their own 3rd round pick in the 2020 NHL Draft. Thus, they are not able to sign a player to an offer sheet between $1.4 and $2.1 million, the expected offer-sheet range for most options on this list. Instead, the Golden Knights would just have to deal with the team directly by making a trade either before or after the goalie signs his RFA contract. Offer sheets remain taboo for the most part in the NHL, so it’s not that big of a deal, but it does take away one avenue to acquiring these players. Nonetheless, if Vegas wants any of them, there’s certainly a way.*