The Golden Knights have made four moves in the past week adding a forward, a defenseman, and a goalie while subtracting one forward in Cody Eakin.
Let’s start with the big one, the addition of Robin Lehner from Chicago for Malcolm Subban, a 2nd round pick, and prospect Slava Demin. There is no arguing that the Golden Knights got a lot better in this trade going from Subban to Lehner, but this deal comes with a lot of baggage. No, I’m not referring to anything regarding Lehner’s past, he’s proven to have overcome any concerns there and has been incredible in the past two seasons, I’m talking about a goalie controversy.
For three seasons the Golden Knights have had a clear hierarchy between the pipes. It’s Marc-Andre Fleury’s net and whoever is healthy fills in behind him. Now, things have changed. There’s a legitimate argument that Lehner should be the starter right away. He was better last season, he’s been better this season, he’s younger, and he has far fewer games on his body. But, can you really just cast aside the undisputed leader of the franchise heading into the team’s third playoff run, and can you do it this late in the season successfully?
It’s going to be a tough balance, and one that is only going to get tougher as the games grow in importance. Pete DeBoer doesn’t have to choose his starting goalie for Game 1 of the playoffs right now, he has time. But, what if one doesn’t emerge as the clear cut starter? What if they are both great? He’s going to have an incredibly tough choice and one that will have an impact on the locker room. Then, once we get there, how quick is the leash on whoever is in the net?
In theory, these are good problems to have as any coach will tell you that it’s better to have too many good players than not enough. However, we aren’t talking about a 2nd line left-wing or a 2nd pair defenseman, we’re talking about the most important position in the game. Also, these aren’t no-name guys, one is the face of the franchise and the other is the big trade deadline acquisition. One has to ride the pine and there will be an emotional backlash that comes with it. It’s a delicate balance and DeBoer and Dave Prior have to get it exactly right.
There is good news though, the Golden Knights are WAY better equipped now in the event they receive poor goaltending. With Fleury and Subban, if Fleury played poorly, or got hurt, the Golden Knights season was likely sunk. It’s not that Subban was terrible, but this team needs high-end goaltending if they want to hoist the Cup and he’s never proven to be able to provide it consistently. At best it was a massive question mark, now it’s anything but. If either Fleury or Lehner struggle, there’s a hell of an option to turn to (basically the opposite of the Sharks situation last year).