3:55pm: The Toronto Maple Leafs were actually involved in the Lehner deal as well, part of a complicated three-way salary-retaining trade that makes the deal quite affordable for the Golden Knights. The Maple Leafs will sent Martins Dzierkals to the Golden Knights as well, and receive a 2020 fifth-round pick for picking up part of Lehner’s remaining salary.
1:50pm: The Vegas Golden Knights have swooped in at the last moment to land the best goaltender on the market, snatching Robin Lehner from the Chicago Blackhawks according to multiple reports including Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. Chris Johnston of Sportsnet reports that the Blackhawks will receive Malcolm Subban, Slava Demin and a second-round pick for Lehner. The Golden Knights have also acquired Nick Cousins from the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for a 2021 fourth-round pick.
Lehner’s arrival in Vegas comes as the team is playing their best hockey of the season, on a six-game winning streak and in first place in the Pacific Division. The big goaltender is having another excellent campaign, registering a .918 save percentage in 33 appearances for the Blackhawks. Lehner is on just a one-year $5MM deal that he signed in the summer to prove his worth once again, but just a small portion of that will have to be covered by the Golden Knights at this point in the season.
The fact that they’ve now brought in another legitimate starter only strengthens Vegas’ position in the Western Conference, and makes them a contender once again for the Stanley Cup. Marc-Andre Fleury’s struggles had been the only thing really holding the group back, but with Lehner added they should be hard to beat.
The question now is what happens in the offseason, if Fleury doesn’t bounce back down the stretch. His contract carries a $7MM cap hit for each of the next two seasons, but the team now has an opportunity to convince Lehner to stay if they choose. Mark Lazerus of The Athletic (subscription required) reported today that the goaltender offered to sign below market value three-year deal in Chicago but “never got an offer.”
Cousins is also not to be overlooked. The 26-year old is also on an expiring contract but will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season. In 317 career games he has just 95 points, but Cousins can offer some secondary scoring and defensively reliable minutes in the bottom-six. He represents some extra depth for a team that is loaded at this point.