After the Expansion Draft most believed the Golden Knights best position was goalie. The combination of Marc-Andre Fleury and Calvin Pickard would be able to keep Vegas in most games, even when they were being badly outplayed.
At least that’s what we thought.
Now a rash of injuries, a roster move, and 28 games into the season, the Golden Knights are back in a similar position of strength between the pipes, but in a much different situation. Since being claimed off waivers from the Boston Bruins, Malcolm Subban has done nothing but impress in the net. He’s 7-2-0 as a starter with a save percentage of .924. Subban is also 2-0 in shootout and has saved all nine attempts he’s faced.
Meanwhile, Fleury appears to be within days of his return and it’s long been considered that it’s his goal when he gets back. The question needs to be asked though, should it be?
There’s no question Fleury is the better goalie at this point in his career. He has three Stanley Cups, 375 career wins, 44 shutouts, and was pretty darn good before the injury (3-1, .925 SV%). But he’s also 33-years-old, coming off what we believe to be his third concussion.
There’s also a future to consider. Fleury’s cap hit is $5.75 million per year for the next two before he becomes a free agent. Subban, on the other hand, is 23-years old, flourishing in his first extended opportunity at the NHL level, and still has two years left on his entry-level contract ($650,000 AAV).
At this point in the season, the Golden Knights should have their sights set on one thing, making the postseason. They’ve clearly proven they are worthy of a place in the playoff picture and more than a third of the way through the year they hold a record of 7-2-0 against teams in Western Conference playoff positions and 9-1-0 against the division. Unlike what was expected when the season began, winning is now the goal.
So, the goalie that gives Vegas the best chance to win on any given night needs to be in the net. Here’s the way I’d play it moving forward, and how I believe the Golden Knights are likely to handle the situation. Quite simply, ride the hot hand.
When Fleury is ready, he should get a start, no matter how Subban played the game before. But once he gets back in there, his daily performance should be the determinant of how often he starts. If he’s great, he stays in, if he’s not Subban gets the next game. The same goes for Subban when he gets back in the net.
But what if it’s a tie, if they are both playing great or both struggling?
This is where the balance of the present and the future comes in. The future is Subban, the present could be either. So, and yes this is going to sound crazy after nine games, the benefit of the doubt should be afforded to Subban, not Fleury. If the decision of which goalie to play is tough, the default answer should be Subban, because he serves the present and the future.
No matter how confusing or challenging it may be for the coaching staff, this is a great position to be in for the Golden Knights. They’ve got a stud veteran goalie with tons of experience, and they’ve got a young goalie who may just be the future of the franchise. Plus, don’t look now, but they may just have the best trade chip at the deadline, and that chip’s name is not Neal, Marchessault, or Perron.