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The Future Of The Goalie Position For The Golden Knights And Malcolm Subban

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

The Golden Knights have re-signed Malcolm Subban to a one-year $850,000 contract lining him up to once again fill the role as the back-up behind Marc-Andre Fleury.

Since claiming him on waivers a few days before the first game in franchise history, the Golden Knights have never wavered on their belief in Subban. He was immediately installed as the back-up and has kept the position through rough patches, injuries, and inactivity. The main reason for this is because of Dave Prior. Anyone who has ever spoken to Prior knows that he has confidence in Subban’s ability, and if he has it his way, Subban will be the next full-time goalie when Fleury’s time is up.

On the flip side, there are Golden Knights fans, who for the most part want to bury their head into a pillow every time they see Subban’s name on the lineup sheet. Most fans point to his disastrous 2018-19 season in which Subban as their reason for concern (or hatred). He went 8-10-2 with a .902 save percentage, allowed three or more goals in 14 of his 20 starts, and lost each of his first five starts and five of his last six starts in 18-19. Along the way, Subban has been injured on four different occasions including during the 2018 Stanley Cup Final.

Then, there’s me, who falls somewhere in between but not really in line with either side.

First off, Subban is not bad… as a back-up.

Before we go into the future, let’s take care of the present. With the Golden Knights salary cap situation, it doesn’t get much better than Subban. There are 70 goalies with a contract equal to or greater than Subban’s new $850,000 deal. So monetarily, it’s perfect, if not cheap.

But beyond the money, Subban is exactly what you want as a back-up when you have a starter like Fleury. In a perfect world, the starts are split about 55/27 and Fleury takes the goal throughout a long playoff run. In that perfect world, all the back-up has to do is tread water. Subban has proven he’s more than capable of doing just that. In his Golden Knights career, he’s 21-14-4, has posted a .906 SV%, and allowed 2.81 goals per game. He’ll steal you a few, he’ll lose you a few, and he’ll hold down the fort in the rest. In short, he’s not going to be the downfall of a team.

(Photo Credit: SinBin.vegas Photographer Brandon Andreasen)

It’s the imperfect world that makes Subban an even better option though. Physically, he’s gifted enough to take the reigns and become a legitimate starter, he’s just never had the chance to do it. In the event Fleury is unable to play for a playoff run (or he just gets old and stinks), the Golden Knights need someone with upside. Filling in a player like Ryan Miller, Calvin Pickard, or Antti Niemi simply won’t work. This isn’t to say Subban will be Fleury, but the capability is there, even if the probability is rather slim. Backup goalie is an insurance policy, and with Subban the Golden Knights get a player that’s affordable, won’t hurt them, and could help them in the event of a disaster. It’s a win, win, win.

It’s the future that gets a little dicey. Personally, I can’t say I’m as confident with Subban as the heir apparent as the Golden Knights seem to be, but I’m definitely closer to VGK’s side than the fans.

Before we even get into the hockey stuff, the injury concern is real. He just hasn’t been able to stay available, and that’s under a back-up’s workload. Many of the injuries have come in practice too, which is even more alarming. Banking the future on an injury-prone goalie feels a bit risky to me. However, if we cast that aside, there’s actually a pretty strong case for Subban to get the first crack at the job.

Subban’s #1 issue in the goal has been inconsistency. One night he’ll stand on his head making unbelievable post-to-post saves that makes him look like a future Vezina winner, the next night he’ll allow three 1st period goals an average goalie would have stopped.

Consistency is often fixed with consistency. In other words, Subban is likely to become more consistent stopping pucks as his playing time becomes more consistent. His best stretch in the NHL was in November and December of 2017 when he was the primary goalie every night. The only other glaring issue with Subban is his ability (or inability) to see around screeners. Once again, a problem that is likely solved by seeing more and more game action. Because of this, and Prior’s terrific track record with goalies, I’m in favor of giving Subban a shot after Fleury is through. The question is, will the timing line up.

For 2019-20, Subban is the guy behind Fleury, we now know this. Beyond that, it becomes a little grey. Next summer he’ll be in the same free agency situation he was in this summer, as an RFA with arbitration rights. If he remains the back-up, he’ll likely once again be in line for a fairly insignificant contract against the cap. It’s after that which becomes the problem.

Fleury has three years left on his contract, but Subban only has two more under VGK control. What happens in the offseason going into Year 3? If Subban gets his chance sometime between now and then, the picture will become much clearer, it’s if he doesn’t that it gets tricky.

Imagine a 27-year-old Malcolm Subban, having spent the previous four years as a back-up for the Golden Knights, ready to hit unrestricted free agency. The Golden Knights have Fleury locked up for one more year. Is there a starting job out there for him at that time? Do the Golden Knights pony up the money to keep him around and keep him in line behind Fleury? What’s the cap situation look like at that time? The questions are endless, yet it’s the most probable bridge both sides will have to cross.

Vegas would like to have Subban on a cheap contract when he takes over as the starter. Therefore, if he succeeds, they’re in business, but if he doesn’t, they still have the ability to bring in a veteran from somewhere else. It’s if Fleury is still being paid, Subban’s making more money, and both are bad that becomes the real problem, which could very well happen in 2021-22.

For now, the Golden Knights and Malcolm Subban did the right thing. Vegas gets their back-up for cheap, while Subban remains in a position to become the eventual starter on a very good team. As for the future, let’s just cross our fingers there’s a little more clarity then than where it looks like it’s headed now.

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10 Comments

  1. DOC

    I generally agree with your thoughts about Subban. But, I’m an old man not in the greatest of health. I mentionthis because hell, I don’t know how many VGK seasons I have left to enjoy. What this means to me is: I don’t really give a hoot about the future. I’m all about NOW!!!!! This season, “maybe” next. I want the knights to do everything they can to put the best team on the ice NOW!!!!! Get the cap down so you can sign Gusev. I say trade Eakin, Reeves & Holden. Bring up Glass or another young center. Give one or two of our talented young defensemen a shot THIS year. Also, we have a couple of young, big, tuff wingers that can come up and provide the role Revo has filled. (and I love him). We CAN absolutely win the cup this year with a few young guys added!

    • J. Griffith

      My sentiments exactly!!!! Born in 1937, i say lets get er done!

  2. Vgk2018

    Great piece but I disagree with one thing. I actually think a lot of fans share your view. We all know what he is and that is a cheap option to back up our star goalie. For $850k on a cap constrained team, I challenge anyone one to find a better fit. Longer term, he gives us reason to get excited with his athleticism (and Prior working with him) but if it doesn’t work out we will at a minimum have a lot of cap room freed up when Fleury hangs em up. Let’s cross that bridge in a few years. Now go out and get Gusev signed!!!

  3. Michael Bedrosian

    I disagree with you pretty much on anything pertaining to Subban. I saw him as junior in Belleville. In Boston and Providence and now here. He had one okay season, 2 years ago, but as we saw Dansk would have had the same type season if he wasnt hurt. Hes horrible at angles. Has mediocre rebound control. Doesnt play the puck well. The Knights need to find a goalie of the future and get him started. David Rittich in Calgary is a RFA, Linus Ullmark is also. They need to address the future one to not burn out Flurey but two to get it ready for 2 or 3 years down the road. Subban is not it. Hes Chicagos starter at best.

    • RICHARD

      Everyone talks about how the team lets him down, where Fleury has very good rebound control Subban is terrible. Instead of blaming the defense, it’s pretty hard for “speed deamons” like Engelland & McNabb to look very good when the rebound comes out to the slot way too often

  4. schmitty 88

    I think a lot of people agree Malcom has to step up his game this year

  5. The hand

    Great article!
    We got Malcom on the cheap.
    But I’m still 100% sold on Subb.
    The only thing that scares me about him is the one timers that whistles by his head a couple times a game and he has no idea the puck almost tore the net off its moorings. A least Fluery acts like he saw them.
    A little more playing time would do him and the team good.

  6. vgk2019

    bottom line is this…the Knights MUST have a winning record when the backup goalie is in there…just like in year 1…

    year 1 with Fleury out= 22-11-3

    year 2 with Fleury out= 8-11-2

  7. Dennis

    I am a season ticket holder and having actually watched most of the games he played, I have a different perspective. Here is the offensive backing Subban got in each of his 12 losses last year:
    2
    1
    1
    2
    0
    3
    2
    1
    3
    2
    3

    In his first 5 starts (all losses) the team scored a total of 6 goals for him.

    In the 12 losses he started the team scored a total of 20 goals, an average of 1.66 per game.

    Add to that the documented defensive lapses he had in front of him and I have a different perspective on his actual performance.

    The biggest potential problem is that he has been prone to injury both seasons. Even if as I suspect he is becoming a very good goaltender he can’t help the team if he is on IR all the time.

    I think giving him another cheap 1 year contract is an excellent move. If he spends a lot of time on IR again it will be time to look for someone else for the long term. If he can stay healthy and get about 30 starts with some offensive backing I think we will be very happy to have him.

  8. Dennis

    OOOPS is just noticed that I missed entering the second consecutive shutout he had to suffer through last year. I was his 6th start.

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