Nearly half of the 24 teams returning for the NHL’s “second season” have questions to answer in goal before taking the ice, per ESPN’s NHL Insiders. One net in question belongs to the Vegas Golden Knights. Marc-Andre Fleury has been known to block a shot or two, but midseason acquisition Robin Lehner made Vegas’ goaltender competition a two-man race. The sample size is small for Lehner, but he finished the season in spectacular fashion. On the year, Fleury’s 2.77 GAA bests Lehner’s 2.89 GAA – but Lehner leads the pair in save percentage (.920 to .905). The Insiders give the nod to Fleury, and one would think coach Peter DeBoer will too. Lehner provides top-shelf insurance, but this early in DeBoer’s Vegas tenure, it’d hurt to go down with Fleury riding the pine. On the other, less-risky hand, it’s much harder to blame the guy for playing the face of the franchise when the games matter most.
- Long-term, however, the Golden Knights have to balance an aging Fleury, 35, and Lehner, 28, potentially leaving as a free agent. The Golden Knights are in a decent position financially, but they won’t be without casualties this offseason. With the salary cap likely to freeze at $81.5MM, Lehner feels more-and-more like a textbook rental, per David Schoen of the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Besides, after his strong play this year, there’s a good chance a starting job awaits him somewhere. He could command a salary close to Fleury’s $7MM for next season -though likely a touch less – depending on how the next few months play out. Even though Vegas isn’t saddled with a cumbersome cap sheet, they’d probably have to want Lehner as “the guy” moving forward to get him back.
- Longer-term, the Golden Knights could have their goaltender of the future in Jiri Patera. Patera begins his professional career next season after signing his three-year entry-level contract with Vegas a few weeks ago. The Czech netminder will join the Vegas organization after a strong season with the Brandon Wheat Kings. He won’t join the Golden Knights for 2020-2021, but he’s a prospect worth tracking. Per The Athletic’s Jesse Granger, after Patera signed his ELC with Vegas, Wheat Kings goalie coach Tyler Plante gave this assessment: “They definitely drafted a good person, for sure. He’s a special player and a special person. He’s so coachable and respected by his teammates that it’s tough to see a guy like that go. Love that he’s progressing, and that he’s going to continue on.”