If the season ended today (which would be really nice), the Golden Knights would be raising their third division banner in four seasons to the rafters, they’d be among the top five in the NHL in points percentage, and they’d probably be the favorites to reach at least the semifinals, if not win the Stanley Cup.
Also, one prominent figure in VGK history would likely be in line for an award that has alluded him during his entire illustrious career. That, of course, is Marc-Andre Fleury winning the Vezina Trophy for best goaltender in the NHL.
Fleury has played in 19 of the Golden Knights’ 25 games, he’s won 14 of them and registered shutouts in four. He currently leads the NHL in save percentage, goals against average, goals allowed adjusted, and shutouts, and he is #2 in GSAA and #3 in goalie point shares.
To put it as simply as possible, Marc-Andre Fleury has been the best player on the Golden Knights, he’s been the best goalie in the NHL, and he’s among the top 10 players in the entire league this season.
And to think, this is a player the Golden Knights benched during the playoffs last season in favor of a trade deadline acquisition. It’s a player they essentially decided had seen his best years pass him by and were looking to move in the offseason. It’s a player, that, in all likelihood, if any other team in the NHL was willing to take on his $7 million salary, would not be on the Golden Knights right now.
So, that begs the question, where would the Golden Knights be if they had traded Fleury?
To answer that question, I’m going to attack it from a variety of different statistical angles. Obviously, the off-ice portion of his game cannot be qualified, but we’ll try to factor that in at the end as well. So, here goes.
Goalie Point Shares
The simplest way to try and determine how much different things would be without Fleury is to use Hockey-Reference.com’s “point shares” stat.
The stat is hockey’s equivalent to baseball’s WAR created by Bill James. Justin Kubatko created a mathematical formula to try and account for everything a player does on the ice both offensively and defensively. For goalies, since they only play defense, they account for double the number of defensive point shares of any skater, and the formula leads to goalies amassing many more defensive point shares than any skater.
The idea of the stat is to take the total number of standings points amassed by a team and assign them to each individual player’s offensive and defensive impact. For the Golden Knights, they have 37 points in the standings leaving about 37 available point shares to be handed out amongst the players.
Fleury leads the team with 4.8 point shares with Mark Stone about a point behind at 3.9. Thus, the stat believes that Marc-Andre Fleury has accounted for almost five of the Golden Knights’ 37 points. Lehner is currently sitting at 0.6 point shares in his five games played. Assuming he’d have played a bit more early in the season, we’ll round that up to a full one point.
So, we can reasonably remove four points from the Golden Knights’ total, bringing them to 33 points in 25 games or a .660 points percentage.
That would put Vegas in 2nd place, behind Minnesota by less than a full win in the standings. They’d remain ahead of Colorado, St. Louis, and the rest of the division and would be in 9th in the NHL overall (as opposed to 4th as they currently sit now).
Goals Against Average
Fleury’s 1.81 goals against average is unbelievably good. So good that if it continued throughout the whole season it would be the best in his 17-year career by almost half a goal per game. Lehner’s number currently sits just short of three per game at 2.96 and Dansk’s one game has him at 3.91.
Oscar Dansk’s career in the NHL is limited, which makes it challenging to determine what his GAA would look like over the course of a full season, but we have some history to go off in order to guess.
In 2017-18, Max Lagace was forced to play 16 games for the Golden Knights as the only healthy goalie and he amassed a 3.92 goals against average in that time. That had him ranked 88th in the NHL out of 95 total goalies. If you qualify it using at least 100 minutes played, Lagace ranked 2nd to last in the entire league. This year, the numbers are similar with Louie Domingue and Jimmy Howard rounding out the bottom of the league with GAA’s of 3.81 and 4.2o this season.
Let’s say Lehner was available to the Golden Knights for each of their first 10 games at a GAA of 2.96 and then Vegas was forced to used Dansk or Thompson which we will assign a GAA of 4.00.
To change results, I’m going back through all 19 games Fleury has played and change the score to add either one goal (if it’s a Lehner game) or two goals (if it’s a Dansk/Thompson game) at the end of regulation. If the adjusted score would have sent the game to OT, we will give VGK 1.5 points for the game, assuming they would win half and lose half of the OT games.
Based on how they have used Fleury, it’s fair to believe Vegas would have used Lehner in all of the first 10 games. (I would have given him one off, but with days between each of the first seven and then the COVID break, I’m giving Lehner all 10.)
ANA – Win to Loss (-2)
ARI – Win to Win
@ARI – Win to Tie (-0.5)
LAK – Win to Win
ANA – Win to Tie (-0.5)
Then, the remaining 14 games go to Dansk or Thompson adding two goals to the opposition’s total.
ANA – Loss to Loss
@SJS – Win to Tie (-0.5)
COL – Win to Loss (-2)
COL – Loss to Loss
@COL (Tahoe) – Loss to Loss
@COL – Win to Win
@ANA – Win to Loss (-2)
@MIN – Win to Loss (-2)
@SJS – Win to Win
@MIN – Loss to Loss
@MIN – Loss to Loss
@STL – Win to Loss (-2)
@STL – Win to Win
That’s an 11.5 point difference meaning Vegas would now have 25.5 in 25 games or a points percentage of .510.
This would have Vegas in 5th place in the West division, on the outside of the playoff picture. However, they’d be just .009 away from the Kings. In Lehner’s 10 games, Vegas would have been 6-2-2 for a points percentage of .700, keeping them in 1st place. If Lehner comes back any time soon, that tiny distance between the VGK and the playoffs would be made up easily.
Stars of the Game
It’s reasonable to say that any time Fleury was a star of the game that a replacement goalie would not have performed as well. Every game here on SinBin.vegas I assign my “VGK 3 Stars of the Game.” I select the three Golden Knights players I believe played the best and had the most impact on the game that night, win or lose.
If Fleury was a star in my VGK 3 Stars of the Game, we will add two goals for the other team to the regulation score and re-calculate the game.
ANA on 1/16/21 Win to Loss (-2)
@ARI on 1/20/21 Win to Win
@ARI on 1/24/21 Win to Loss (-2)
@SJS on 2/13/21 Win to Tie (-0.5)
COL on 2/14/21 Win to Loss (-2)
COL on 2/22/21 Win to Win
@ANA on 2/27/21 Win to Loss (-2)
MIN on 3/3/21 Win to Win
@SJS on 3/6/21 Win to Win
@STL on 3/13/21 Win to Win
That costs Vegas 8.5 points in the standings leaving them with 28.5 in 25 games or .570 points percentage. That would have the Golden Knights in 4th place, still easily in playoff position, more than two wins ahead of the Kings for 5th. They’d actually be closer to 3rd (STL) than 5th.
So, the various ways to calculate it have the Golden Knights losing somewhere between 5 and 11.5 points in the standings after 25 games. Those are pretty substantial numbers. However, this is assuming the replacement goalie was terrible every single night, which is unlikely.
In the absolute worst-case scenario, which is saying the Golden Knights literally lose every single game that was within two goals at the end of regulation, they would STILL be less a single point away from a playoff position in the West.
More likely, the number is closer to the smaller total, like maybe six or seven points (and probably even less if the other goalie was decent just a few times), which would have Vegas no longer in 1st place, but comfortably in a playoff position with Lehner’s return seemingly right around the corner.
Finally, we have to look at the intangible piece. This team loves Marc-Andre Fleury. They play hard in front of him every night and they don’t want to let him down. It means something. How much? Who knows? But it means something.
However, if Fleury weren’t here, we’d likely be in the same situation Vegas was in back in 2017-18 where they knew they had to give even more effort because they didn’t have the advantage in the net they know they often have with Fleury.
So, I’d say you can reasonably say it offsets… if not goes the other way.
In the end, that leaves me with my official thesis on where the Golden Knights would be without Fleury this season:
Marc-Andre Fleury has been the best player on the Golden Knights and the best goalie in the NHL, but if he had been traded in the offseason, the Golden Knights would still be firmly in a playoff position. Plus, they still have Robin Lehner on the roster for the potential end-of-season playoff push, presumably the entire playoff run, and they’d have $7 million in cap space in which they could add another piece to the roster. Yes, Fleury has been awesome, but even so, in the interest of winning the Stanley Cup, Vegas would still be in a better place without him.
(Though they’d be in a much better place without Lehner.)