Every year the NHL Players Association (NHLPA) conducts a poll among more than 500 players asking a wide-ranging variety of topics.
In the Golden Knights’ first season there were just two mentions of Vegas related items in the poll. Last year that number jumped to five. This year takes the cake with seven total Golden Knights mentions.
We’ll start with the team related ones. First, in a bit of a surprise, the Golden Knights were voted to have the second-best jersey in all of the NHL.
Last year T-Mobile-Arena was voted as having the best atmosphere in the league. This year that category was left off, but that didn’t keep Vegas away from the arena related items.
The best individual honor received by a Golden Knight went to Marc-Andre Fleury.
Being stuck at home isn’t ideal but it does open up time to basically do just about anything. Some are working on loose handrails, others are taking up painting, Netflix binging, but in my case going through boxes and boxes of NHL common cards.
About six months ago my young son starting getting into hockey and baseball cards. It started with a Golden Knights team set, then grew to a few packs at Target, to eventually pulling singles from the local card shop. On one visit my four-year-old became overly excited when he pulled a random Roberto Luongo card. Valued at .65 cents, it’s become one of his favorite cards. No idea why, but it doesn’t matter.
With time in hand, the boy and I decided to do some inventory. Two full seasons and a paused one later, we found the Golden Knights are well represented in the hockey card world. From common cards like Nick Holden, Jon Merrill or William Carrier, to specially autographed and game-worn jersey inserts from your favorite stars.
According to Trading Card Database, there are a total of 3,811 separate Golden Knights hockey cards. Most are common cards you find in most packs, but there are plenty of insert cards available.
Autographed or signature inserts include; Shea Theodore, Reilly Smith, William Karlsson, Jonathan Marchessault, Alex Tuch, Cody Glass, Zach Whitecloud, Nic Roy. Not shocking, the most valuable auto-cards are Upper Deck’s Marc-Andre Fleury autographed, VGK jersey cards. Most range $175-$200 in value. Autograph cards are hard to find (1:276), as in one per every 276 individual packs.
My personal favorite inserts are game-worn jersey cards. They’re not as elusive as player signature cards. Beckett.com lists jersey cards as (1:40), or one per 40 packs. If you do get lucky, hopefully, it’s a card with value or has some sentiment. As cool as they are, most are overpriced. For instance, on eBay, you can buy an Upper Deck game-used Fleury jersey card for $2,669.99, and an Alex Tuch patch insert for $499.99. As well crafted as these cards are, there are plenty of them released so they don’t hold value. Consider them like a car. However, here are a few that could hold value.
Trading card companies don’t produce as many cards as they used to, so not every player is featured in a series. Also, companies sign contracts with younger players and develop entire lines of cards around those projected stars. Tuch has the most trading cards as a Golden Knight. Fleury would be second, but you’d be surprised who follows. Cody Glass has upwards of ten separate autograph/jersey cards, including several Draft Day autographed jersey cards. At the young age of 20, the 2017 sixth overall pick has 341 different trading cards, most being released before he played a game for Vegas. If Glass pans out like the organization expects his cards could hold and possibly gain value over time.
The Golden Knights now have a goalie tandem and with it comes goalie controversy. Pete DeBoer has 13 games and four weeks to figure out who will start between the pipes for the Golden Knights in Game 1 of the playoffs. Then, he’ll have to navigate the muddy waters of goalie controversy during the postseason, something very few teams have done, and even fewer successfully, in the last decade.
Over the course of the last 10 years, there have been 80 teams that have won at least one playoff round. Of those 80, 58 used the same starting goalie in every playoff game. That includes six Stanley Cup champions and seven runners-up.
Of the 22 teams to use multiple goalies, just 12 saw three starts or more by two goalies and of those 12, seven were injured forced.
So, out of 80 teams to win a playoff round in the past 10 years, just five purposely use a goalie rotation in the postseason. They are the 2016 Dallas Stars, 2015 Chicago Blackhawks, 2015 Calgary Flames, 2014 Anaheim Ducks, and 2013 Pittsburgh Penguins. The Stars, Flames, and Ducks were eliminated in the second round. Pittsburgh was swept in the Conference final, while the Blackhawks rode a tandem to a Stanley Cup championship.
I detailed all 12, plus the 2016 Penguins, to show exactly how and why the goalies were rotated. (All detailed explanations can be found below this story.) What I found was quite simple, NHL teams do not purposely rotate goalies in the playoffs.
The only successful “rotation” was the Blackhawks who used Scott Darling to win four games in the first round and then never started him again. Every other successful team was forced to swap goalies due to injury.
Marc-Andre Fleury was in the center of three of these situations. Once he was thrust into the role on the morning of Game 1 of the first round. Another he was given a single start in the Eastern Conference Finals after entering the playoffs injured. And the final time he was given the first four starts and never regained his starting position. None of the three did he play in his team’s final game of the season.
It’s unclear how DeBoer plans on using Robin Lehner and Fleury come April and hopefully May and June, but if history suggests anything, the starter in Game 1 will remain the starter unless he’s injured… otherwise, the Golden Knights won’t go very far.
The Hurricanes entered the playoffs with Mrazek as their clear starter. He started all seven games of the round one win over Washington. Mrazek was injured in Game 2 of the second round where McElhinney took over. He won that game and the next three while Mrazek was out hurt. Mrazek regained health in the week in-between the second round and the Eastern Conference Finals. Mrazek started Games 1 and 2, McElhinney took over to start Games 3 and 4. The Hurricanes were swept in the Conference Final.
Pittsburgh Penguins (Marc-Andre Fleury 15, Matt Murray 10)
Matt Murray was set to be the starter heading into the postseason, but he was injured in warmups prior to Game 1 of the first round. Fleury ended up starting the first 15 games of the playoff run. Murray regained health in time for Game 7 of the 2nd round (the team’s 12th game), but Fleury remained in the net. Then, in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals, Fleury allowed four goals on nine shots and was replaced by Murray. Murray went on to start the remaining 10 games and led the Penguins to the Stanley Cup.
With the 2019-20 regular season winding down, the Golden Knights are blessed to have two elite goaltenders to get them through the home stretch. Both Marc-Andre Fleury and Robin Lehner are proven starters capable of handling a postseason load, but for now they have 14 regular season games to split. Or will they? Without knowing the plan coach Pete DeBoer has drawn up, we have his history to look back and give us an idea of how things may go down in net.
We have great depth at that position. -Pete DeBoer
In his 11 completed seasons as an NHL coach, DeBoer has led his teams to the postseason five times; each of the previous four and twice to the Stanley Cup Finals. In both Cup runs, his goaltenders Marty Brodeur and Martin Jones stood on their heads. In the 2011-12 postseason, Brodeur held his opponents to 2.12 goals per game. Same goes for the 2015-16 season. Coming off a Stanley Cup victory as Jonathan Quick’s backup in 2014, Martin Jones was a rock for DeBoer in the 2015 Cup run. Jones allowed 2.16 goals per game and led the playoffs with 3 shutouts.
Based on those two extended postseasons you would think his goalies were well rested and prepared for the playoffs. However, games played per goalie suggests differently. The Devils were jockeying for playoff position, leading to a heavy workload for Brodeur. However, it worked out and New Jersey won their last six regular season games. The Hall of Fame goaltender played in five of those final six contests.
2011-12: Games Down The Stretch
Brodeur 16 Games Played (9-5-2)
Johan Hedberg 4 Games Played (4-0-0)
Lost in Cup Finals
In their 2015 Cup run, San Jose was also battling to secure a playoff position down the stretch. Which led DeBoer to rely heavily on Jones. The Sharks starting goaltender played in 12 games going 6-6-0 in the final months. However, backup James Reimer picked up his club winning six of his final eight starts.
A week ago, the Golden Knights’ goalie situation changed. They went from having an aging starter and an unproven backup to having arguably the best goalie tandem in the NHL.
Now, with a pair of goalies both among the top 15 in the league, Vegas is suddenly stacked at a position that was previously considered a potential weak spot.
However, the future is not as clear. Lehner came to the Golden Knights on a contract set to expire on July 1st and he’s seemingly seeking a new long-term contract north of $6 million. Meanwhile, Fleury still has two years left on his deal at $7 million apiece against the cap.
This offseason the Golden Knights will have to make a challenging decision. Up to this point, all the rhetoric from the front office, as well as Lehner himself, makes it appear as though he’s simply here as a rental and will move on to a new team when free agency opens.
He’s on an expiring contract. That will take care of itself. His contract will expire. -McCrimmon
I don’t hope anymore. We’ll see what happens this summer. -Lehner
But, of course, there’s still a postseason to play and depending on Lehner’s influence on it, the tide could change in a hurry. If it does though, it will likely spell the end of Fleury’s time in Vegas as well.
The chances of the Golden Knights retaining Fleury and paying Lehner in free agency remain incredibly slim. Not just because having 15+% of the salary cap tied up in goalies is financially unwise, but the upcoming Expansion Draft offers Vegas an opportunity that makes overspending at the position now foolish.
We don’t participate in the Draft but if you’re a team that has two top goalies and you know you’ve got to give one up, wouldn’t you rather trade that 2nd goalie to us as opposed to losing that goalie for nothing. –The Creator on Vegas Hockey Hotline
The moment the offseason hits this summer, every team in the NHL not named the Golden Knights will have an eye towards the Expansion Draft in June 2021. The rules that were in effect for Vegas remain for Seattle meaning every team can protect one, and only one, goalie at the Expansion Draft.
Grant Fuhr is one of the greatest goalies to ever play in the NHL. He’s a five-time Stanley Cup Champion and was elected into the Hall of Fame in 2003. Fuhr played for 19 years between 1981 and 2000, starting more than 850 games and winning more than 400.
To put it politely, there’s nothing in the game of hockey that Grant Fuhr hasn’t seen. That being said, even he was surprised by the Golden Knights’ decision to add Robin Lehner at the deadline. Still an NHL connoisseur (he says he watches multiple games a week), Fuhr said he never saw the trade coming and had to do a bit of a double-take when he first heard it, but as much as he was surprised, he thought about how it must have felt for Marc-Andre Fleury.
Oh it’ll be a shock to the system. There’s no doubt about that. If you don’t see it coming, it will definitely catch you off guard. -Fuhr
Over Fuhr’s time in Edmonton, he said the GM was constantly bringing in goalies to try and compete with him, but he knew as long as he was healthy no one was beating him out. The same has not been the case for Fleury in Vegas who has had Malcolm Subban behind him the entire time. That being said, Fuhr says the best players in the NHL are “immune” to surprises like this affecting their performance. Fleury did well in proving that right about an hour after Grant said it shutting Fuhr’s old team in his first post-deadline start.
Fleury’s been down this road before though. Matt Murray was between the pipes in the clinching game for two of Fleury’s three Stanley Cup victories. The addition of Lehner to the Golden Knights makes the possibility of this happening a third time much more realistic than it was a week ago. Fuhr was in the goal for the first four of his Cup wins, but he was out injured for the entire back half of the regular season and whole postseason for his fifth.
They are all the same. You’re there in the regular season, you are around the guys the whole year. I view mine exactly the same. -Fuhr
The shiny Edmonton Oilers 1990 Stanley Cup champions ring on his finger while making that statement served as strong validation.
But there was one concern Fuhr had with the Golden Knights situation, and that’s the coaching realignment. He hadn’t heard the news, so when I explained that the Golden Knights goalie coach, Dave Prior, was being relocated to Ontario and Mike Rosati was set to take over the day-to-day operations in Vegas working with Fleury and Lehner, he gave me a bit of a side-eye.
There’s something going on there. To make a change this late in the season, especially after adding another goalie at the deadline. That’s something to keep an eye on. -Fuhr
NHL coaches like to use their entire roster. Even though a coach can only play 19 players at a time, there are 20 players suited up each game when you include the backup goaltender. Former coaches have fessed up to seeking regular advice from their backups. Hoping the sitting goalie notices something different that they can relay to the players, coaches, but more importantly the starter.
There’s a lot of validity to that because we see things so differently. To me actually, that’s a mark of a really inquisitive coach doing all of his homework. -Mike McKenna, Retired NHL goaltender and VGK TV analyst
Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury was a spectator last week when Malcolm Subban got the nod against St. Louis. It was a wild, multiple lead changing game that the Golden Knights came from behind to win. With the night off, Fleury was able to watch the 6-5 goal fest from a chair, wearing his snapback hat.
I think you get a different perspective when you sit there and see the whole play develop. It’s different when you’re just watching the puck when you’re in net. You think ‘I should’ve had that one, and that one’ but other times guys get good chances with some time, or on the back door. So, it’s good to have a better view of the game. -Marc Andre Fleury
The conversation goes both ways in Vegas. When he’s in net, Fleury often chats with Subban and goalie coach Dave Prior about certain plays, goals or saves. The open discussion offers the starting goaltender a view outside of himself, and from people they trust.
Yeah, we talk a little bit. Even when I play too we usually always have a little talk about goals, little plays, weird plays. Stuff like that. -Fleury
McKenna spent plenty of time viewing the game from the bench. He felt offering information to the starter was an important part of his job, being part confidante, coach, and shrink.
By the time I was in my late 20’s I realized I was in a role that realistically I was being a goalie coach in some ways too. They would bounce things off of me a lot but I would never cross that line of providing information the player was thinking or feeling. -McKenna
That was an area that McKenna stressed over and over. The advice or information needs to be asked for and accepted. Since most goalies are rare birds, it was important to recognize early on how each individual goaltender felt about discussions in between periods. McKenna was overly careful making sure his insight was wanted.
This year they vowed to be different. From the head coach (the old one) to the front office to The Creator himself, the Golden Knights said they knew they needed to use a bit more of a goalie rotation than they have in the past.
You are going to see more of Subban this year, you will. George and Kelly and the coaches have it figured out and they have games identified for Subban and you are going to see him more. It’s part of what needs to happen. We want to make sure Flower is really ready for the playoffs. –The Creator on Sportsbook Radio in October 2019
After running Marc-Andre Fleury out for 61 games last season the Golden Knights were headed for a much lighter workload this season, especially after Fleury missed a few weeks following the death of his father.
However, that plan appears to be out the window now as the playoff spot everyone expected Vegas would have isn’t as secure as they would like.
We’re in the sprint to the finish here and we’re fighting for our playoff spot. We’re going to put the best lineup and the best starter out there to give us a chance to win every night. This isn’t preseason planning where you can map out, we want so many games for this guy or so many games for that guy. That’s in the rearview mirror. -Pete DeBoer on Tuesday
This was yesterday (Tuesday) before the game in Minnesota. On Monday, appearing on the Jim Rome Show, he was asked about “load management” and his answer was a bit different.
We’ve got Marc-Andre Fleury here in net in Vegas. You know he’s a 35-year-old goaltender that’s our starter. We talk about load management with him, both about starts and in practice time. We aren’t at the NBA point where we’re scratching players yet but it’s definitely in our conversations as far as practice days and off days. -DeBoer on Jim Rome Show
Fleury has started eight of the nine games under DeBoer and has been in the goal for 15 of the last 17, with one of the two being the game he missed due to suspension. He’s now started 41 of the team’s 58 games.
The Golden Knights did not have both goalies available for much for the start season so their rotation was somewhat dictated to them through the first few months.
Something’s not quite right with Marc-Andre Fleury. Over the past 20 games or so it’s impossible to argue anything other.
He’s allowed four or more goals in three straight and 10 of his last 19 starts. His save percentage in the last 20 games is .894, a mark he’s never hit for an entire season. He’s posted just one shutout in his last 22 games, and maybe most importantly he’s allowing at least one goal pretty much every night that we say “he should have stopped that one.”
The passing of Fleury’s father undoubtedly has something to do with the decline in recent performance, but no one, including Fleury himself, would be able to explain how long it will affect him. Clearly, based on early-season performance (he was selected as an All Star), age is not the issue, which leads most to believe that this rut is temporary.
The question now is how long will it last and what should the Golden Knights do while it’s going on.
This is one that no one has a correct answer for as it’s uncharted waters for everyone involved. So, instead of making a suggestion, here are the pros and cons of a few of the potential options the Golden Knights have.
Stick to the original plan Continue playing Fleury 4 of every 5 or so and rest him on back-to-backs
Pro: Often times the best way to overcome something is to attempt to return to normalcy. To this point, it hasn’t quite happened for Fleury, but with a player as talented as him, it’s fair to expect him to bounce back to form at some point. Staying with the original plan shows confidence in him and sends the message that there’s full belief from the organization that he’ll bounce back.
Con: How long can you stick with normalcy before admitting to a problem? Since returning on December 10th, Fleury has allowed 37 goals in 11 games and posted a save percentage of .887. 20 games? 30 games? Any time a change is made, it’s easier to compare results. If no change is made and the results continue, the issue becomes wasted time. Maybe things will work themselves out without any drastic measures being taken, but if they don’t, games and days will be lost.
Fight it head-on Keeping playing Fleury every game
Pro: Every goalie says the same thing when it comes to playing their best, “the more I play the more comfortable I get.” So, the idea would be to completely ignore the results and simply believe that he’ll eventually overcome it and get back to his normal dominant self. Playing him every night is the fastest solution and it’s likely the one with the highest probability of success.
The Golden Knights are set to close out their 6th back-to-back of the 2019-20 season and 31st in franchise history.
They actually fare pretty well as a whole when playing games on back to back nights.
Overall – 31-23-6 (.567) 1st End – 16-11-3 (.583) 2nd End – 15-12-3 (.550)
Historically, they’ve been swept (losing both) in 10 of the 30 back-to-backs, but they’ve only exited without getting at least one point in six of those 10. All six are when both games are being played on the road.
However, this isn’t meant to be an article about how Vegas plays in back-to-backs (that will probably come later as they have a bunch of them coming up.) Instead, it’s meant to take a look at goalie selection in regards to back-to-backs.
For the past six years, every team in the league has quickly adopted the same method to managing goalie starts on back-to-backs: splitting starts between their two goalies. That was based on data, data that created a rule each team learned to follow. Six years later, that same data has changed with the effect size being significantly smaller than initially thought. It might be time to break that rule. -Dom Luszczyszyn, The Athletic
I wondered if the Golden Knights were seeing the same effect.
The Golden Knights have actually been one of the most aggressive teams in using the same goalie for both games of a back-to-back. In 2017-18 the same goalie played both games in 5.1% of NHL games, 2018-19 saw the number decrease to 4.2%, while this season it’s a paltry 2.6%.
However, Vegas has used the same goalie in 11 of their 30 back-to-backs (37%). They’ve done it twice this season with Fleury playing against Calgary and Los Angeles early in the year and Subban playing against the New York Rangers and New Jersey last week.
Of course, both of those instances were forced upon the Golden Knights. Subban was injured for Fleury’s and Fleury was away with the passing of his father for Subban’s. Of the 11 times the Golden Knights have done it, I consider eight of the 11 to be “forced.”
That being said, the numbers indicate the Golden Knights should actually be using this strategy way more often, on purpose, every time they have the chance.
Of the 11 times, the Golden Knights have won both games in six. They’ve gotten at least two points in eight of the 11, and they’ve only been swept in regulation just one time!
Marc-Andre Fleury is an incredible 7-1-2 when playing in both games of a back-to-back. Malcolm Subban is a fantastic 6-1-1 as well. Max Lagace’s 0-3-1 pulls down the average. So, with either Subban or Fleury playing both games, Vegas is 13-2-3!
Same Goalie In Both: 13-2-3 (.801) Switch Goalies: 18-21-3 (.464)
Clearly, the Golden Knights need to be using the same goalie in both games of back-to-backs every single time. But, let’s just try to be fair and say that’s not possible due to the need for rest. Look at these numbers.