Strong goaltending is so often the make or break between the good and the great. For expansion side Vegas, it could be the thing that keeps them competitive in their first season. Luckily for the Vegas Golden Knights, they have options.
With June and the 2017 NHL expansion draft quickly approaching for the Vegas Golden Knights, what was once a spec on the horizon is now a cause for headaches for general managers around the league. Hockey player sized headaches.
If you’ve been following the news you’ll know that each team must submit a list of players which will be protected from the draft by mid-June. That means clubs can protect either:
1 – Seven forwards, three defensemen, and one goalie.
2 – Eight skaters and one goalie.
You might have noticed one constant between the two options – only one goalie can be protected no matter the scenario a team chooses. For teams like Toronto, their protected goalie is a no-brainer. But for those with two stand out ‘tenders, it could be a little more complicated. So here are five potential options that the NHL’s newest franchise could take a chance on.
Fleury has been in fine form for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2017 postseason. After largely playing backup to Matt Murray during the regular season, where the 2003 number one draft pick started 34 games, Fleury has posted a .929 save percentage and a 2.56 GAA through nine starts -seven of which are wins.
May 1, 2017; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury (29) looks on against the Washington Capitals during the first period in game three of the second round of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs at the PPG PAINTS Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
At 32, the two-time Stanley Cup champion isn’t getting younger and is signed until 2019 at a $5.75m cap hit. It would give Vegas time to find a young understudy while remaining flexible in resigning Fleury come 2019.
With Rival Murray being more of one for the future as well as now, it could be likely that the Pens opt to protect Murray, leaving Fleury open to being picked.
Clutch performer Fleury was far from stellar in the regular season with a GAA of 3.02 and at almost $6m a year for the next two seasons, the two-time NHL All-star may be a risk for a squad who are likely to struggle in their debut. But if he is the Fleury we are seeing in the 2017 playoffs he could give the Golden Knights a chance.
Both Pickard and Varlamov have been through a season they would like to forget with the Colorado Avalanche. The Avs put up just 48 points through the regular season and topped it off by dropping to fourth pick in the NHL draft. Now they might be faced with yet another difficult decision come the expansion draft.
Dec 22, 2016; Denver, CO, USA; Colorado Avalanche goalie Semyon Varlamov (1) watches a shot go wide in the first period against the Toronto Maple Leafs at the Pepsi Center. The Maple Leafs won 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Pickard, 25 started 48 games of the Avalanche’s disaster of a season, with the lowest save percentage of his NHL career – which, in fairness to the Moncton, New Brunswick native, still stands above .900 (.904), with a sub 3.00 GAA (2.98).
On the flipside, Russian ‘tender Varlamov’s stats in 2016/17 were on the wrong side of the same targets (.898SV%, 3.38GAA). It was the first time the nine-year veteran has sunk below .900 and on a team which allowed a league-high 278 goals against, it seems unfair to point the finger at either Pickard or former Capitals goalie Varlamov. Which is where things get tricky for the Avs.
Do they opt to protect youth in Pickard, or experience in 29-year-old Varlamov? Either way, Vegas could look to Colorado for their first starter between the pipes in franchise history – and neither would be a bad choice.
Playing in the blue of the New York Rangers, any goalie is going to be playing second fiddle behind the king, Henrik Lundqvist. For Antti Raanta, this is no different.
Dec 15, 2016; Dallas, TX, USA; New York Rangers goalie Henrik Lundqvist (30) and goalie Antti Raanta (32) during the game against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center. The Rangers shut out the Stars 2-0. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Raanta does appear to have the credentials to be a number one. An NHL save percentage of .917 and eight shutouts in 78 career starts is a solid base for a backup, and at 27, Raanta has time to develop. And where better to prove himself than at a team who are expected to struggle early?
There is an argument to be said that the Finnish stopper has never started more than 26 games in a season, however, that career high starts was last season, and given the chance, Raanta could be a good pickup if Vegas are looking to build something long term.