The Golden Knights have been without Robin Lehner since February 11th, 21 days ago. They’ve played nine games without him and have another four coming up in the next week. The whole time he’s been unavailable, he’s remained on the active roster as opposed to being placed on IR or LTIR. I’ll explain why.
First, NHL rules state that a player can be placed on injured reserve (IR) or long-term injured reserve (LTIR) retroactively to the date a player was injured. Thus, no matter how long Lehner remains out, the Golden Knights have the option to place him on IR or LTIR at any point.
We’ll start with regular injured reserve. The benefit of standard injured reserve is to open a roster spot for a team. NHL teams are allowed to have a max of 23 players on their active roster at any point. If a player is injured, he can be placed on IR and no longer counts against that 23-man roster. He does however continue to count against the salary cap.
For the Golden Knights, roster space is not something they are in need of. Because they are so close to the salary cap, they have not reached the roster limit of 23 at any point this season. For most of the year, they’ve actually had exactly 20, the league minimum, on their roster.
Of course, if Lehner is not available, someone has to take his place. So far, that has been either Oscar Dansk or Logan Thompson. Since the Golden Knights are under the 23-man roster limit, they are always eligible to add either goalie to the roster at any point. However, due to the salary cap, Vegas actually can’t afford to add either Dansk or Thompson to the roster without exceeding the cap. So, they have been using what is called the “emergency roster exception.”
This is a condition in the CBA that allows a team to add a player to the roster, without it counting against the salary cap, when they are unable to field a healthy roster of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies. Vegas has used that rule in nine consecutive games, and thus has yet to have either Dansk or Thompson count against the cap despite them serving as the backups for the last three weeks.
Whether Lehner is on IR or not, Vegas has the ability to use the emergency rule to replace him, so there really is no benefit of placing him on standard IR.
Now, let’s move on to long-term injured reserve (LTIR), where the salary cap gets involved. First off, it’s important to understand that LTIR is much more complicated than I’m about to make it and the actual procedures behind it require much more intricate math than I’m about to explain. But, in regards to this article, because of the Golden Knights’ situation, we can over-simplify it and the concepts remain the same.