When the expansion draft comes around this June, George McPhee and Kelly McCrimmon will have some tough decisions to make all over their team. They are having mock-drafts each month to prepare for the event, but there is one position that shouldn’t cause any headaches over how many solid options there are.
With each team only able to protect one goaltender, front offices around the league will have to either move a netminder before the draft, or risk losing one for nothing. While that would protect them from losing anyone else, it’s been clear this year more than maybe any other that an all-world goaltender can make your team special right from day one. Here are a few options for Vegas in net come the summer.
In what will be the most interesting situation around the league, the Pittsburgh Penguins are currently required to protect Fleury over Murray due to his no-movement clause. While they’ve said time and again that they’re fine with keeping both through the year, Murray’s play at such a young age makes him a mouth-wateringly attractive asset.
It’s in Fleury’s court at this point, as he’ll have the option to waive his clause for any trade before the deadline or prior to the draft to make him eligible. If he does, it’s not certain that the Vegas team would select him, but he’d obviously be an elite option. At 31, Fleury is having one of the worst seasons of his career, but is still a two-time Stanley Cup champion with an impressive life-time record.
The Penguins must find a way to protect Murray, or he’ll surely be the pick to start in game one at the T-Mobile Center in Las Vegas.
Before the season began, most people likely thought that Lack would be the easy decision to protect in Carolina. Then Ward went out and started the season better than he had since 2010, leading the team to a solid start and showing that he can still be an excellent goaltender in this league.
Lack recently suffered a concussion in practice, making his future even more cloudy. If the team wants to keep their long-time netminder Ward in town, Lack would still be an interesting option to at least be part of a tandem in Vegas.
Both are set to become free agents in 2018, meaning the team would either have to re-sign them or find another option after Year 1. While that’s not necessarily an issue, it does lessen their value a bit as a piece the new club can build around.
While Varlamov has been the standout in Colorado for several years now, it’s the backup that’s shown he may be ready for a bigger role. Pickard has been outstanding in his small sample this season, and at 24 is an interesting option to build around in Vegas. Through 42 career games, the former Seattle Thunderbird holds a .927 save percentage.
Varlamov, on the other hand is having arguably the worst season of his career, though is still only 28 years old and has an established record of excellence. While he’s still likely the protected goaltender, his $5.9MM cap-hit may make the Avalanche flinch and decide to move on. If they were to leave him unprotected, he’d be a great fit for the Vegas team to compete right away, with some long-term upside if you can get him re-signed in 2019.
Even outside the draft itself there are options for the Vegas team. Ben Bishop, Ryan Miller and Brian Elliott are all still unsigned as of now. With only Elliott looking like he may have a contract incoming with his current club, the Golden Knights will have a great option in net for next year and those to come.