One of the biggest question marks heading into the off-season for the Vegas Golden Knights will be their goaltending. However, there could already be a perfect solution out there waiting on a silver platter.
Since entering the National Hockey League in 2017, the Vegas Golden Knights have been able to call goaltending one of their greatest strengths.
However, they will likely need a new backup goalie in the off-season and they could strike gold with a Russian phenom in goalie Alexei Melnichuk, who is looking to make the jump to North America.
And he could be the perfect solution for the Golden Knights.
Boasting a future Hall of Famer in Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, Vegas can attribute a lot of their early success down to their superstar goalie.
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But, outside of Fleury, the Knights have had to deal with subpar goaltending due to their lack of talent on the depth chart.
However, Vegas addressed that in some style at the Trade Deadline by sending a package, including Subban and a 2020 second-round pick to the Chicago Blackhawks for elite goalie Robin Lehner.
It automatically gave the Golden Knights one of the deadliest one-two punches between the pipes in the entire National Hockey League, thus giving them another weapon for the postseason.
I mean, imagine heading into the playoffs with Fleury as your undisputed starter while being able to call on Lehner should he be needed.
That is a pretty scary thought for the rest of the NHL.
That was then, however, and we are now dealing with the reality of Lehner walking as a UFA in the off-season after playing just three games for the Golden Knights.
Although Vegas is paying just $1,400,000 of Lehner’s $5,000,000 cap hit with both Chicago and the Toronto Maple Leafs taking on some of the salary, the goalie will likely command a significant increase once he hits the open market in the summer.
If the Golden Knights wanted to re-sign Lehner, they would likely have to stump up a substantial figure between $6-$7.5 million which just isn’t possible.
With the salary cap likely to be frozen at $81.5 million for 2020-21 due to the coronavirus crisis, the Knights will only have around $11 million in cap space in order to try and deal with eight pending free agents while plugging any holes on the lineup and filling out the roster.
Plus, with Fleury already carrying a cap hit of $7,000,000 through 2021-22, the Golden Knights won’t want to commit a similar figure to another goalie.
In a hard cap sport, paying two goalies a combined total of $12-$14 million just isn’t a recipe for success.
As a result, the Vegas Golden Knights will need to go on the hunt for a backup goalie in the off-season, and there could be an unpolished gem out there for the taking right now…
From Russia With Love
Although hockey and the rest of the sporting world is on lockdown right now due to COVID-19, NHL franchises are still dipping their toes in the undrafted free agency market.
And there is an intriguing prospect out there right now that should be on the radar of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Enter Alexei Melnichuk.
A high-end Russian goalie, Melnichuk will hit free agency on May.1, and is expected to make the leap to the National Hockey League.
According to Darren Dreger of TSN, Melnichuk has whittled down his list of desired landing spots to four teams, all based in the US.
There is nothing out there to suggest that the Golden Knights are one of those teams but, if I was General Manager Kelly McCrimmon, I would be making a serious push for Melnichuk right now.
As mentioned above, Robin Lehner is likely to become a UFA in the summer meaning that the Knights will need a new backup goalie.
Melnichuk, while still raw in terms of development and untested in North America, has put together a very impressive resume in Russia, albeit a very small sample size.
Through 16 games in his rookie year with KHL powerhouse SKA St. Petersburg, Melnichuk tore it up with a hugely impressive 1.68 Goals Against Average and an equally admirable Save Percentage of .930 to go along with an 8-5-1 record.
Furthermore, Melnichuk also posted a 1.95 GAA and a .925 Sv% in eight games with SKA-Neva St. Petersburg in the VHL earlier this season, in addition to a 2.16 GAA and a .937 Sv% in 10 postseason outings.
Again, while a fairly small body of work, the 21-year-old has all the intangibles needed to become a very good goalie in the NHL.
Why It Makes Sense For Vegas
As we covered above, the Vegas Golden Knights will likely need a new backup goalie in the off-season, although they won’t have a boatload of cap space to play with.
That’s why Alexei Melnichuk ticks all the boxes.
A promising stud who hasn’t even scratched the surface of his potential yet, the 6’1″ 187 lbs netminder would sign an entry-level contract, meaning that his cap hit would be easy to manage.
Having shown he can handle the pressure of playing in the KHL, arguably one of the best leagues in the world outside of the NHL, Melnichuk seems built for North America and he already looks an upgrade on some of the goalies Vegas currently has in the system.
Plus, the opportunity to potentially learn behind a future Hall of Famer in Marc-Andre Fleury could be the deciding factor in Melnichuk’s final decision when it comes to picking a franchise to sign with.
And, if the Russian stud did need some time in the minors in order to develop and adapt to North America, then his entry-level contract would ensure that the Golden Knights could sign a cheap veteran backup goalie in order to plug the gap until Melnichuk is ready.
Overall, with a serious need for goaltending both in the short-term and in the long-term, the Vegas Golden Knights are in a position to really make a run at Alexei Melnichuk, who could morph into the long-term successor to Marc-Andre Fleury.