The Vegas Golden Knights announced some stunning news today, explaining that because of upcoming hip surgery, Robin Lehner will be out for the entire 2022-23 season. With Laurent Brossoit coming off hip surgery of his own, the team is left with Logan Thompson and Michael Hutchinson as their NHL tandem for the moment.
Even if Brossoit is able to return rather quickly, he doesn’t offer a huge upgrade. The 29-year-old has a career .905 save percentage, which includes an .895 in 24 appearances for Vegas last season. While he has NHL experience he certainly isn’t the kind of goaltender you feel comfortable with if you want to be a Stanley Cup contender.
So one can assume that they will make a goaltending addition at some point either before the start of the season, or at some point during it. The problem, of course, is that the free agent market has been picked clean at this point. There are only seven unsigned goaltenders who played a game at the NHL level last season. Braden Holtby, who leads that group with 24 appearances, is dealing with an injury of his own and is not expected to play this season.
Andrew Hammond, who is second with 11 games played last season, recently signed a professional tryout with the Florida Panthers. That certainly doesn’t block him from signing with Vegas but he isn’t the answer for a playoff contender at this point. Jean-Francois Berube, Garret Sparks, Cory Schneider, Michael McNiven, and Adam Huska are the others, who all come with similarly limited upside.
The team that immediately sprang to almost everyone’s mind is the San Jose Sharks, who have Kaapo Kahkonen, James Reimer, and Adin Hill all signed for at least $2.175MM next season. All three would need to clear waivers to be sent down, meaning there already seemed to be a trade coming at some point. The fact that San Jose signed Aaron Dell (and to a lesser extent Strauss Mann) only furthered that idea.
Both Reimer and Hill have just one year left on their contracts and either one could potentially be targeted. The 34-year-old Reimer had a .911 save percentage in 48 games last season and Hill, though he hast just 74 games of NHL experience, has performed pretty well whenever given the chance. The 26-year-old stands 6’6″ and has a career .908, despite never playing on a very good team.
There are some other interesting options around the league though. Veteran netminder Anton Khudobin was suggested by Saad Yousuf of The Athletic as a stop-gap option, while someone like Semyon Varlamov is an interesting candidate given the Islanders’ expected cap issues.
Part of the question for Vegas might be whether they believe Lehner is going to be return for the 2023-24 season, or if they need to look at a more long-term solution. Perhaps someone like 26-year-old Alex Nedeljkovic of the Detroit Red Wings could be an answer if it is the latter. The Red Wings recently made a hefty commitment to Ville Husso in free agency and Nedeljkovic will be an unrestricted free agent next summer.
John Gibson’s name always emerges in trade discussions, warranted or not, and he’ll likely be linked again this time around. The Ducks have Anthony Stolarz and goaltender-of-the-future Lukas Dostal in place, and the Golden Knights have never been shy about going after big (expensive) names. The potential trade candidates are endless, though because Vegas now has so much cap flexibility through long-term injured reserve, another option has emerged in the conversation this afternoon
Jake Oettinger still doesn’t have a contract, and if the Golden Knights wanted to really make a move, they could try to get him to sign an offer sheet. The important thing to note here is that because they don’t have their own 2023 second-round pick they would be limited in what they can put on the table. Unless they recover that pick from the Buffalo Sabres (who received it as part of the Jack Eichel trade) the Golden Knights will only be able to table an offer sheet with a certain average annual value.
This year’s compensation table looks like:
|$1,386,490 or less||No compensation|
|$1,386,491 to $2,100,472||Third-round pick|
|$2,100,473 to $4,201,488||Second-round pick|
|$4,201,489 to $6,302,230||First and third-round picks|
|$6,302,231 to $8,402,975||First, second and third-round picks|
|$8,402,976 to $10,503,720||Two firsts, a second and third-round picks|
|Over $10,503,721||Four first-round picks|
Anything with a second-round pick would be off the table. One other thing to mention about these totals is that it is either the average annual value or for a contract over five years in length, the total divided by five. For example, if they were to sign a goaltender to a seven-year, $42MM contract the cap hit would be $6MM but the value for compensation would be $8.4MM.
It would be a tricky needle to thread for the Golden Knights to find an offer sheet that Oettinger would actually sign, the Dallas Stars would actually fail to match, and fits their compensation abilities without that second-round pick.
There is of course the option of doing nothing, and allowing Thompson, who played well last season, to try and run with the job. If Vegas’ history is anything to go by, they’re at least considering a much bigger move. Will they be able to pull it off?