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Why Robin Lehner Isn’t On Injured Reserve (IR) Or Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR)

(Photo Credit: Jason Pothier, SinBin.vegas)

The Golden Knights have been without Robin Lehner since February 11th, 21 days ago. They’ve played nine games without him and have another four coming up in the next week. The whole time he’s been unavailable, he’s remained on the active roster as opposed to being placed on IR or LTIR. I’ll explain why.

First, NHL rules state that a player can be placed on injured reserve (IR) or long-term injured reserve (LTIR) retroactively to the date a player was injured. Thus, no matter how long Lehner remains out, the Golden Knights have the option to place him on IR or LTIR at any point.

We’ll start with regular injured reserve. The benefit of standard injured reserve is to open a roster spot for a team. NHL teams are allowed to have a max of 23 players on their active roster at any point. If a player is injured, he can be placed on IR and no longer counts against that 23-man roster. He does however continue to count against the salary cap.

For the Golden Knights, roster space is not something they are in need of. Because they are so close to the salary cap, they have not reached the roster limit of 23 at any point this season. For most of the year, they’ve actually had exactly 20, the league minimum, on their roster.

Of course, if Lehner is not available, someone has to take his place. So far, that has been either Oscar Dansk or Logan Thompson. Since the Golden Knights are under the 23-man roster limit, they are always eligible to add either goalie to the roster at any point. However, due to the salary cap, Vegas actually can’t afford to add either Dansk or Thompson to the roster without exceeding the cap. So, they have been using what is called the “emergency roster exception.”

This is a condition in the CBA that allows a team to add a player to the roster, without it counting against the salary cap, when they are unable to field a healthy roster of 12 forwards, six defensemen, and two goalies. Vegas has used that rule in nine consecutive games, and thus has yet to have either Dansk or Thompson count against the cap despite them serving as the backups for the last three weeks.

Whether Lehner is on IR or not, Vegas has the ability to use the emergency rule to replace him, so there really is no benefit of placing him on standard IR.

Now, let’s move on to long-term injured reserve (LTIR), where the salary cap gets involved. First off, it’s important to understand that LTIR is much more complicated than I’m about to make it and the actual procedures behind it require much more intricate math than I’m about to explain. But, in regards to this article, because of the Golden Knights’ situation, we can over-simplify it and the concepts remain the same.

In the simplest of terms, LTIR is a tool that allows NHL teams to exceed the salary cap. When a player is placed on LTIR, the team can go over the salary cap equal to the amount of that player’s salary. For instance, Brayden McNabb was placed on LTIR with a broken foot, thus Vegas is allowed to exceed the salary cap by $2.5 million, the amount of McNabb’s contract. (Again, it’s SO much more complicated than that, but there’s no need to worry about that right now.)

So, if the Golden Knights were to place Lehner on LTIR, they would then be allowed to go another $5 million over the salary cap for a total of $7.5 million over the cap. Sounds amazing, right? Well, it’s not because it’s only temporary. When players come off LTIR, the team must once again field a roster that is under the salary cap.

Let me illustrate this using the Golden Knights’ current situation.

Right now, McNabb is on LTIR meaning Vegas can exceed the cap by $2.5 million. Lehner is not, which means his $5 million still counts against the cap. With 13 forwards, six defensemen, Fleury, Lehner, and the free emergency exception goalie, the Golden Knights are currently fielding a roster worth over $82 million (or more than the $81.5 million salary cap). They have a full roster plus one healthy scratch (which has been Roy) and have not had to place anyone on waivers.

Let’s say they put Lehner on LTIR. They can now exceed the cap by another $5 million. The problem is, they currently don’t have any players to fill that newly available cap space. Every other goalie costs less than $1 million against the cap, and aside from Nick Holden ($2.2 million), every other skater makes less than $1 million too.

Simply put, any individual move the Golden Knights want to make with the current roster, they can with just McNabb on LTIR. Holden for Coghlan, Brown for Carrier, Dahlstrom for Hague, Jurco for Reaves, Roy for Nosek, whatever they want to do, they do not need more cap space to do it.

Now, if they wanted to make multiple moves at the forward position, such as benching Reaves and Carrier in the same game without risking either on waivers, then they would have to place Lehner on LTIR and replace his salary with the two new players who come up. Thus far, they haven’t shown any willingness to do so, but if at any point they change their minds, the option always remains open as LTIR can be done retroactively back to February 11th for Lehner. Simply put, at the moment, there’s no reason to do it.

If Vegas were to make a trade, and bring in a player worth $5 million, they could place Lehner on LTIR and use that player immediately. However, what do they do when Lehner is ready to return?  They’d no longer have the $5 million in LTIR cap relief and thus would have to subtract $5 million from the roster somewhere else.

Thus, the only way Lehner going to LTIR actually creates usable space for the Golden Knights to add to the roster is if he’s going to be out for the rest of the regular season. Since there is no salary cap for the postseason, he’d be eligible to play and Vegas could use whoever they added to fill his $5 million during the regular season. But, once again, until the Golden Knights add that player, there’s no tangible benefit to placing Lehner on LTIR.

Finally is the concept of “saving cap space.” This is something the Golden Knights did masterfully last season shuttling Nic Hague, Cody Glass, and Nic Roy between the AHL and NHL nearly 100 times combined to save upwards of $1 million in deadline cap space. (Read about how that worked here.) This year, that’s not an option.

Why? Because the Golden Knights are currently exceeding the salary cap by using LTIR relief on Brayden McNabb. Last year, the Golden Knights were under the salary cap the entire season (even if just by a few dollars). So, each day they could get further under the cap created more room for them to add at the trade deadline. This year, they are over the cap and have no way to field an eligible roster under the cap with Brayden McNabb out injured. So, they are not accumulating space each day like they were last year.

Again, to accumulate space, you must be under the cap. LTIR allows teams to go over the cap legally, it does not subtract a player’s salary from the cap. So, placing Lehner on LTIR would allow Vegas to exceed the cap by $7.5 million as opposed to $2.5 million, but still wouldn’t get them under the cap to accumulate space for the future.

So there you have it. Lehner isn’t on regular IR because there’s a rule allowing Vegas to replace him whether he is or not. And he’s not on LTIR because there’s no benefit unless they add a player making closer to $5 million or want to make multiple lineup decisions in the same game. And finally, no matter how long he’s out both LTIR and IR remain options Vegas can use at any point should the situation change.

(Kinda wishing you never asked that question or had that thought in the first place now aren’t you? I know I am.)

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34 Comments

  1. knights fan from minny

    Which goalie do you think goes on the road trip and will they get a game against SJ ?

  2. Douglas MacLeod

    Ken, this type of analysis and providing this information is the reason I continue to follow you. And I am grateful that the question was asked and that I was wondering about the answer!

  3. DOC (Go Knights Go)

    They absolutely NEED to play one of the other goalies this weekend. We can’t continue with Flurey in goal every game. He’ll be done with at playoff time if he doesn’t get some games off!

  4. THE hockey GOD

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  5. !Tim

    Ken very well done now a question. Ken Jason and you were all in on keeping Lehner and trading Fleury because at the time you felt Lehner was the better goalie.In hindsight trading Fleury would have been a disaster. My question is why in the playoffs you can go over the cap. We don’t know how bad Lehner’s injury is but I’ll bet management will wait to the trade deadline in April to see how close Lehner is to returning if he’s still a month away and with over two thirds of the season over they’ll put him on LTIR. See as you know management can’t help themselves they always need to make a splash at trading time it’s in there DNA. Ken I was always for keeping both goalies you weren’t but as things work out we may both have our cake and eat it too. Fleury stays like I wanted and you wanted a center so we both may savor in victory before this is all over.

    • You missed what we were saying during the offseason. We never stated whether we preferred Fleury or Lehner, we were working under the assumption that VGK preferred Lehner (which they proved during the playoffs and by signing him to a long-term deal.)

      It is still a horrendous mistake to have both goalies on the roster past the deadline.

  6. Pistol Pete

    Ken thank you for the excellent well written rundown. Worth following your site!

  7. Bob

    That is a very interesting wrinkle – Lehner could stay on LTIR for the remainder of the regular season and be eligible to play in the playoffs. The real drawback is that Lehner gets no opportunity to play himself into game shape for the playoffs. But if Fleury keeps playing like this that may not matter, and in the main time they could add a player for up to $5 million.

    • It’s important to note that the team can’t just decide to do this, he has to actually be injured for the duration of the season. Not saying that’s not possible though.

  8. Dean

    Can a player be traded if they are on IR? Maybe that is another reason he is still active? They made be seeking a trade partner for Lehner to help us out with the cap situation and don’t want anything to prohibit a possible move?

    • Yes, a player on IR can be traded. Not saying he can’t be traded but the decision to keep him off IR is unrelated to trades.

  9. Jim Rumpf

    But….. Why is Lehner not playing? Injury? If so, what is the injury?

    • Ask VGK. We’ve been trying to get a straight answer for 3 weeks and it hasn’t happened.

      • Ricardo

        This is a big problem with the NHL. No accountability with injury reporting. All other major sport leagues require full disclosure of injuries. NHL is a scam on injury reports.

  10. David Brown

    I couldn’t of said it any better myself. In the end I like how Vegas is doing it.

  11. Dean

    Great run down..but like you and everyone else , I want to know the status on lehner…I dont like the new injury status like upper or lower body crap…I’m all in on flowers camp..lehner is not his caliber…imo…

    • princeofcoffee

      Everybody is ignoring the elephant in the room – that Lehner is a liability not an asset. He is not that great, not reliable and status is unknown ??

      The real question is how to get out of the bad situation – keeping Fleury and getting a solid #2

      Untill that is resolved a cloud will hang over VGN and too much responsibility will fall on MAF

      • Dean

        This is why I don’t think that Lehner is injured at all. I think they are just sitting him until they can find a trade partner and don’t want him to destroy any potential market. We are likely going to have to eat salary to make it happen but if we can dump him while only retaining $1.5 million per year in salary, it still frees up $3.5 million per season to make the team better.

  12. Daryl

    I’m confused exactly how that emergency rule applies when we have a taxi squad full of eligible players? During a regular normal season I understand but I thought this was kind of the reason for the taxi squad. Do postponed or canceled games count when looking at how long a player must stay on LTIR?

    ALSO, am I right when I say VGK has only had 3 away games????

    • John Salerno

      6 away games so far with the next 6 on the road.

      • MikeLangeLV

        Yep.
        2 at Arizona
        2 at Colorado (Tahoe was technically @COL)
        1 at Anaheim
        1 at San Jose

        • Daryl

          Oooops, I missed the Arizona games and the SJS game. Still 6 away games in 19 contests is pretty lopsided. I haven’t looked at other teams though. Too bad locals weren’t able to watch any games live. Now that fans are allowed in VGK is going to be on the road

  13. VGKNet20

    This is not related to Lehner but a great read about our rookies…
    https://thehockeywriters.com/golden-knights-rookie-february-2021/

  14. VGKNet29

    misfired on name above

  15. Harriet Kaufman

    Hi Ken. So what do YOU think the solution is right now? I know not having any idea of a timeline for an unknown injury hurts to be able to predict, but we can’t have Dansk playing in the playoffs. If the injury is more serious than thought, do we use the $5m to get another back up goalie, and perhaps a 4th line center? We can’t afford to wait until the last minute to trade or to buy someone who can take us through the playoffs and WIN the cup. It takes months for them to adjust. And, we really need a better back up goalie NOW, and IMO NOT someone from the AHL. Whatever the decision, it has to be made very shortly. We simply can’t wait it out to see if Robin is going to be able to play or not. I say we use his salary and get a really good extra goalie. JMO. By the way, the article was great, as is your knowledge. 🙂

  16. Andrew White

    Wow! Excellent & informative article…and a comment section not filled with idiots!! I’ll be back to this site for sure, keep up the good work!

  17. Nick Grafton

    Really screws with my fantasy team though with him bouncing between out and DTD every other day. HAHA

    • I can simplify it a bit for you. He’s not playing until he shows up in practice for at least 3 or 4 days. So, until you hear that news (follow us on Twitter) you know he’s not gonna play.

  18. John Cashore

    Ken is Lehner on the road with the team?

  19. Ken – Interesting comment is that your way of saying they should dump Lehner if they can find a buyer.? Your not for keeping both and Lehner has proven they cannot depend on him. So now what – still in the hole they dug. Great explanation of what’s what but it does avoid the obvious question of now what come dead line – who should they keep. Probably a better question for mgt but your opinion would be nice.

  20. This is some excellent journalism! Thank you for the great explanation!

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