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.
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.