Exactly one month ago, February 9th, the Golden Knights were sitting as pretty as they have all season between the pipes. Logan Thompson was posting a strong game against the Minnesota Wild and played great in the games leading into the break, Adin Hill played well in the previous game, and Laurent Brossoit was healthy and performing in the AHL.
28 days later, Jonathan Quick is set to start tonight’s game for the Golden Knights in Tampa Bay, Jiri Patera will back him up, and AHL goalie coach Fred Brathwaite served as the backup for the Silver Knights last night.
And maybe the craziest part about it all is… this isn’t new for Vegas in its sixth season in the NHL.
Let’s hop in the time machine for a moment to remember the 10-game stretch back in early 2017 when the Golden Knights also lost not one, or two, but three goalies to injury inside of a month.
It all started when Marc-Andre Fleury took a nasty knee to the head in the Golden Knights’ fourth regular season game ever. The game would go down in history as the first defeat in franchise history, but the short-term effects were more on the mind at the time.
That thrust Malcolm Subban into action, a goalie who just days earlier was described as “not quite sure he’s ready for this level” by the team’s GM, George McPhee. Subban had recently been claimed on waivers from Boston which led to the trade of Expansion Draft selection Calvin Pickard. The Golden Knights acquired just a 6th round pick for what they expected to be an extraneous goalie. It turned out, he was far from that.
Note: This picture is NOT from today’s camp. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
The Golden Knights unveiled their roster of 18 forwards, 12 defensemen, and three goalies Saturday night.
Here’s the full roster.
Forwards: Patrick Brown, William Carrier, Nick Cousins, Reid Duke, William Karlsson, Keegan Kolesar, Peyton Krebs, Jonathan Marchessault, Tomas Nosek, Gage Quinney, Max Pacioretty, Ryan Reaves, Nicolas Roy, Reilly Smith, Paul Stastny, Chandler Stephenson, Mark Stone, and Alex Tuch
Defensemen: Jake Bischoff, Dylan Coghlan, Deryk Engelland, Nicolas Hague, Nick Holden, Alec Martinez, Brayden McNabb, Jon Merrill, Nate Schmidt, Jimmy Schuldt, Shea Theodore, and Zach Whitecloud
Goaltenders: Oscar Dansk, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Robin Lehner
Vegas’ Phase 3 Training Camp roster didn’t come without a few surprises.
He was around the organization for an extended period of time in the fall as he rehabbed his injury and we were all very impressed by his professionalism. He’s an elite young player that at worst is going to get great experience. It’s a chance for Peter DeBoer to see Peyton Krebs, which he hasn’t had that opportunity. To get through the playoffs there are going to be situations where you are going to rely on your depth and we wanted to see Peyton in this setting to evaluate him further. -Kelly McCrimmon
Krebs missed Development Camp, Rookie Camp, Training Camp, and exhibition games so it would make sense to give him a chance at recovering some lost time, but according to McCrimmon the decision was made because they believe he can help this team win playoff games now. That’s definitely an exciting statement for the 17th overall pick in the 2019 Draft.
Over the past weekend, I spent four days in San Diego watching the Chicago Wolves play three games in the Western Conference Final of the AHL’s Calder Cup. My focus was specifically on the Golden Knights draft picks and the players Vegas has under control for beyond this season.
To make this easiest to write, and hopefully to read, I’ve listed every player that either played or I was able to talk to while in San Diego, that has time left on their contract with VGK or are RFAs.
Cody Glass (1st Round, 6th overall in 2017, $863,333 AAV through 21-22)
Anyone who reads/follows me closely knows I haven’t been as high on Glass as the rest of the world seems to be. I’ve come to the realization that the reason for this isn’t because I necessarily view him as a player much differently than most, but that my expectations are substantially higher. As the 6th overall pick in a draft class that includes Elias Petterson, Miro Heiskanen, Cale Makar, Nico Hischier, and many others that have already had major impacts in the NHL, my expectation for Glass is massive. Top-six forward, impact player, one of the faces of the franchise. That’s what I’m looking for, and still, even though the next paragraph is going to make it sound otherwise, I’m not sure he’s going to be that guy.
Glass literally does everything on the hockey rink that you want to see from a center. The skill that jumped out most to me over the three games was his backchecking and breakouts. Every time his line turned it over in the offensive zone, he was flying back to negate any transition chance. His skating speed really showed in that sense, but also showed once the Wolves recovered the puck and began their transition back into the offensive zone. He’s terrific carrying the puck out of the D-zone, through the neutral zone, and into the O-zone. I’ve seen him do it with ease at the CHL level, but to see it look exactly the same at the AHL level gives me a strong belief that it’ll continue in the NHL.
I liked how he played along the walls, I loved his vision, his positioning, his movement in the offensive zone. Pretty much everything he did, I thought, yep, this guy is pretty darn good. But still, over the course of three games, there wasn’t enough shown in his ability to create offense. It’s the only thing I can knock him for, but at the same time, it’s the thing I value most in a high draft pick forward. Aside from the occasional chance created directly off an entry (which I do believe will continue in the NHL), there wasn’t a ton created beyond rebound chances. Again, I’m aware that my expectations are gigantic, and I’m asking a lot out of him having played a month in the AHL, but I still didn’t see enough of what I needed to in order to completely change my mind and say he’s going to be a superstar in the NHL.
Cody Glass is going to be an NHL player, and I’m probably going to be on the bandwagon calling for him to make the roster out of camp, but I’m still on the fence of whether I think he’s closer to a Cody Eakin or a William Karlsson. When all is said and done I’m confident he’ll fall somewhere in between these two, however, my opinion still shades more towards 21 than 71.
Nic Hauge(2nd Round, 34th overall in 2017, $791,667 AAV through 21-22)
I came into the weekend expecting to come out saying Hague is the surefire #1 defensive prospect in the Golden Knights system. That’s not what I ended up seeing. That’s not to say Hague was bad, because he certainly wasn’t, it’s just that the fears I had, which I’ve been told by multiple high-ranking people that I shouldn’t have, didn’t go away.
The biggest among those is whether or not his skating is good enough to keep up with the elite skaters at the NHL level. The place it showed up most was in gap control. When a player would enter the zone, sometimes not even moving that quickly, far too often Hague would be more than a stick length away from him (which is a long way with his long arms and stick). Then, once he did enter, it took too long to close down that space which often led to an easy pass or on multiple occasions a dangerous shot. It’s important to note that I watched him play against the same team, on the road, three times, so there could be a gameplan piece here that I’m missing (and when speaking to Rocky Thompson about Hague he didn’t seem to have any issues with the way he was defending). However, that style won’t work in the NHL and his recovery plan (reaching out with that long stick and poking pucks away) won’t work as often against Nathan MacKinnon as it did Corey Tropp or Sam Carrick.
I still love Hague in the offensive zone and on the power play though. His instincts at the blue line are tremendous and he’s going to be a threat to do some damage when he does eventually make it to the NHL. Really looking forward to watching him play in the preseason against NHL level forwards, but at this moment, he no longer ranks as the “most likely defenseman to make the NHL roster in the Golden Knight system” on my list.
Zack Whitecloud (Undrafted, Signed as free agent, $925,000 AAV through 2019-20)
There’s a spot that’s been a real point of contention with the fan base that at some point is going to stop hiding in the shadows and actually make its way to the forefront. As much as we don’t want to admit it, Marc-Andre Fleury isn’t going to be the goalie of the Golden Knights forever. Whether age catches up to him in the next few years while under contract or whenever he decides to hang it up for good, the goalie of the future still seems to be somewhat up in the air.
The clear frontrunner is Malcolm Subban. After being claimed off waivers three days before the Golden Knights first ever game, Subban has been on the NHL club ever since firmly entrenched as the backup. However, as a restricted free agent and coming off another year filled with injuries, Subban’s long-term future is not exactly a certainty.
You don’t want to look too far ahead, I like to live in the moment. Right now I just take care of what I can control and that’s having a good offseason and coming into camp next season ready to go. -Malcolm Subban
Subban will be extended a qualifying offer worth $715,000. As a 25-year-old with a few years of NHL experience, he’s eligible for arbitration, which he will likely file for. Backup goalie salaries range widely, but Subban likely won’t be in line for much more than $1 million, if he even reaches that high.
That being said, the Golden Knights will have to make a decision on where they stand with him. At this very moment, Oscar Dansk, who under contract in 19-20 for $675,000 is leading the Chicago Wolves in a Western Conference Final series in the AHL. Dansk has taken over the starting spot and has played every playoff game for Rocky Thompson’s Wolves. He hasn’t been amazing, but he’s been good enough to be considered for a job behind Fleury moving forward.
Then there’s Max Lagace, who the Golden Knights have turned to every time they’ve needed an extra goalie at the NHL level. He’s an unrestricted free agent, but will almost certainly not command more than the league minimum.
The group of prospects, Dylan Ferguson, Maxim Zhukov, Jiri Patera, and Jordan Kooy are all still a ways from making their ascent to the NHL level. (According to CapFriendly.com, VGK must sign Zhukov to an entry-level contract by June 1, 2019 or they will forfeit his rights.)
The question of “who will be Vegas’ backup goalie in 2019-20” and “who is the goalie of the future” are two separate questions, but at some point they need to overlap and this offseason may be the beginning of that process.
When Subban was asked about being “the guy” on a team, his answer was non-committal, consistently saying he likes to live in the present, but when asked if he wants to remain in Vegas, he instantly answered, “Yes, of course.”
The options are wide open for the Golden Knights front office, and the cost shouldn’t be prohibitive on any front to retain each of the Golden Knights three options. However, what they decide to do will tell a strong story about what they believe they have in their future.
Subban’s contract isn’t going to be the most noteworthy one this offseason, but that doesn’t mean it’s not important for the organization. A one-year qualifying offer tells a much different story than a multi-year $1.5 million AAV deal.
The franchise has displayed nothing but faith in Subban with its words, but actions always speak louder, and that action is coming fairly soon.
Never could anyone have imagined the Golden Knights goalie depth would be tested the way it was. Five goalies used in the first 17 games gave George McPhee a pretty solid look at the present and the future of the most important position on the ice.
It would seem not much needs to happen between the pipes for the Golden Knights with Marc-Andre Fleury the clear starter, Malcolm Subban a solid backup and Oscar Dansk plus Maxime Lagace manning the crease in the AHL. However, it’s not that simple, and in fact, McPhee has plenty of decisions in the net not only this offseason but moving forward.
It’s a bit of a shame Fleury will not win any awards after that incredible season. (Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)
After posting Vezina quality numbers in the regular season and then racing out to become the Conn Smythe favorite before the final series of the playoffs, it appears Fleury’s days as a full-time starter aren’t as numbered as they appeared during the last days in Pittsburgh.
He’s mentioned playing for many more years and recently said he wants to finish his career in Vegas. Fleury has one more season left on his contract scheduled to pay him $5.75 million. Then he would become an unrestricted free agent, something the Golden Knights probably aren’t interested in letting happen.
Things do get a bit tricky though when dealing with the long-term future of a 33-year-old goalie. While it certainly appears his age isn’t getting in the way at this point, that could change at any moment. Signing Fleury to a four or five year deal is risky as his production could slip at any moment, but letting him constantly play on expiring deals keeps the control in the hands of the player rather than the organization.
If Fleury is being completely honest that he wants to finish his career with the Golden Knights, they should play the short-term contract game with him on a gentleman’s agreement that he’ll get a new deal every time he wants one and the price will be fair. There aren’t many players who any GM would be willing to go down that road with, but if there’s one, it’s probably Fleury.
There’s one concern there though, and that’s Pittsburgh. What if they come calling at some point? It’s easy to say he wants to finish his career in Vegas while sitting on stage in the same building as the Campbell Bowl, but if the idea of going back to the Penguins ever became a realistic possibility, he’d likely want to hear it out.
The best course of action for the Golden Knights is likely to keep him one year away from free agency at all times. Extend his contract each offseason so he feels comfortable, while also protecting the organization against the inevitable father time induced decline.
Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk, Max Lagace
Only one of these three players currently has a contract with the Golden Knights and that’s Subban. Dansk remains under Golden Knights control as he’s a restricted free agent with arbitration rights. Lagace is an unrestricted free agent set to hit the open market on July 1st if he doesn’t reach a deal with Vegas before then.
Subban still seems to be the clear #2 behind Fleury, but his injury-riddled season has to bring pause to the organization’s desire to commit to him as the heir-apparent. Subban was hurt once during a game early in the year and then found himself unavailable two more times due to injuries that occurred during practice. Subban missed a majority of the postseason and the team opted to use Lagace as the backup over Dansk.
For the second time this year, the Golden Knights will be without their backup goalie, luckily this time the starter isn’t hurt as well.
Malcolm Subban sustained an upper-body injury during morning skate prior to the Golden Knights game in San Jose. Subban was dressed and was seen sitting under the bench during the game, but was apparently not available to enter that game.
All Star coach Gerard Gallant confirmed the team will recall Maxime Lagace. Lagace started 13 games during the Golden Knights goalie fiasco at the beginning of the year in which they lost three goalies in the team’s first 10 games. Vegas went 6-6-1 in those 13 games while Lagace allowed 3.79 goals per game and posted .872 save percentage. Lagace returned to the AHL with the Chicago Wolves where he has played in 14 games posting a .910 save percentage.
Oscar Dansk, who was sent back to the Wolves on January 24th has yet to start a game.
Both Dansk and Lagace are waiver-exempt this season, so the Golden Knights can freely rotate between the two assuming Dansk is healthy enough to play.