The Vegas Golden Knights have their man locked up.
It was expected but today it became official after it was announced that the Vegas Golden Knights had signed goalie Robin Lehner to a five-year, $25 million extension.
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It is a deal that makes a lot of sense for both parties and it starts what should be a busy and compelling truncated off-season for the Golden Knights.
Lehner was one of the top goalies set to hit free agency prior to today, but he will now spend his prime years in Sin City with the Knights.
And, on that note, let’s really delve into this extension and break it down from all angles…
It has been an interesting journey for the 29-year-old.
With his personal struggles well documented, Lehner has become a fantastic advocate for mental health and addiction issues, opening up and shedding light on his own battles.
Lehner’s incredible bravery has helped to lessen the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction issues, and his story on the ice has also been like a fairytale.
After leaving the Buffalo Sabres, Lehner signed a one-year, prove it deal with the New York Islanders and boy did he do just that.
He posted a 2.13 Goals Against Average and a .930 Save Percentage with six shutouts in 43 starts during the regular season, stats that saw Lehner named a Vezina Trophy finalist for the 2018-19 season.
A .936 GAA and a 2.00 SV% in eight postseason games for the Islanders also saw Lehner’s stock rise on Long Island, but he was allowed to become a free agent where he signed a one-year, $5 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Lehner went 16-10-5 with the Blackhawks with a 3.01 Goals Against Average and a .918 Save Percentage, but then we were dealt a stunning twist in the tale.
In a move very few people could have foreseen, the Golden Knights did something they had never previously done by acquiring Lehner as a pure rental in a blockbuster trade from the Hawks.
Backup goalie Malcolm Subban and prospect defenseman Slava Demin were sent back to Chicago along with a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft, while the Knights also acquired forward Martins Dzierkals from the Toronto Maple Leafs who retained some of Lehner’s salary in exchange for a fifth-round selection.
It didn’t take long for Lehner to establish himself as the main man in Sin City, beating out Marc-Andre Fleury for the No. 1 job in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Lehner was stellar inside The Bubble in Edmonton, going 9-7-0 with a 1.99 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage along with four shutouts.
He led all NHL goalies in shutouts in the postseason and it became clear that Lehner was the guy to help the Golden Knights win a Stanley Cup in the eyes of the front office.
As such, it makes sense that the Knights moved quickly to lock up Lehner and prevent him from hitting free agency for the fourth time in as many years.
And, for Lehner who has carved out quite the second act, he finally gets the stability and the leap of faith he was craving after betting on himself with a series of one-year deals.
Lehner will now enter the 2020-21 NHL season as the undisputed starter for the Vegas Golden Knights with the first multi-year deal under his belt since 2014, and it caps what has been a remarkable resurgence for the netminder.
This is where it gets interesting.
We looked at the future of Marc-Andre Fleury a few weeks ago and, while fans don’t like hearing it, it seems almost certain that a divorce between team and the face of the franchise could be coming.
Fleury endured a down year in 2019-20 and one of his worst stastical years ever, going 27-16-5 with a 2.77 Goals Against Average and a .905 Save Percentage with five shutouts.
It is worth noting, however, that Fleury lost his father before Christmas and that will have a profound impact on anyone, so you can’t blame the 35-year-old for not being completely dialled in given the personal tragedy he was dealing with.
Also, while still one of the best goalies in the NHL on his day, we have seen with Henrik Lundqvist that father time defeats all and Fleury certainly has plenty of wear and tear on his body.
But it was still a surprise when Robin Lehner quickly established himself as the undisputed starter in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, leading the Golden Knights to the Western Conference Finals.
We were given a reminder of how good Fleury can be inside The Bubble, however, with the future Hall of Famer stellar in the limited games he did start.
Fleury went 3-1-0 in his four starts with a .910 Save Percentage and a 2.27 Goals Against Average, stealing at least two of those games for the Golden Knights.
However, in the wake of Lehner’s extension, the Golden Knights are now committed to spending $12 million on two goaltenders and that isn’t conducive to success in a hard cap sport.
Plus, Lehner’s deal pushes Vegas $59,876 over the $81.5 million flat cap, although teams are permitted to go over the cap by 10% during the off-season.
They will need to be cap compliant by the start of the 2020-21 season though, whenever that may be, and the Knights still have four pending free agents to deal with, including forwards Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins.
Therefore, you don’t need to be a Harvard graduate to come to the conclusion that the Golden Knights will need to make another big move during the off-season.
If that is Fleury then it will be a sorry ending to what has been a marriage made in heaven since the Knights took the goalie in the 2017 NHL Expansion Draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Fleury has served this franchise with distinction on and off the ice and deserves better, which is why it wasn’t a surprise when his agent spoke out over how the goalie situation was handled or wasn’t handled heading into The Bubble.
With two years remaining on his current contract with a $7 million AAV, Fleury won’t be easy to move and a buyout is unlikely according to Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet.
As a result, if Fleury does depart this summer then it will be via a trade although that will present some complications given that the Knights will likely have to retain some salary or part with a high draft pick in order to avoid that.
Also, Fleury has a 10-team no-trade clause but that still leaves plenty of options for the goalie to pick from, who deserves to go to another contender if his future is indeed away from Vegas.
The Golden Knights
This is a bittersweet day for the Vegas Golden Knights.
On one hand they lock up their goalie of the future in Robin Lehner at a team-friendly deal for the next five years through the 2024-25 team.
Let’s face it; $5 million per year for a goaltender with the resume of Lehner who is now in the middle of his prime is one hell of a deal for the Golden Knights.
It solidifies their goalie outlook for the foreseeable and buys them more time when it comes to strengthening that position in the draft with the future in mind.
On the other hand, though, the Golden Knights now face a huge and potentially defining decision when it comes to the future of face of the franchise in Marc-Andre Fleury.
As we mapped out above, committing $12 million to two goaltenders is a cardinal sin in a hard cap sport, especially when you consider that the Knights will have to deal with a flat cap of $81.5 million for at least the next couple of years.
Plus, with five pending free agents still to re-sign and making any improvements to the current roster, the Golden Knights will need to clear out a big contract.
That could be a piece of their explosive top-six forward unit but, given what we’ve already mentioned, it seems likely that the end of the road is coming for Marc-Andre Fleury and the Vegas Golden Knights.
All of that will unfold over the coming couple of weeks but, for now, the Golden Knights have their man in Robin Lehner.
And, if you need any more evidence of why the Golden Knights are absolutely right in locking up Lehner long-term, then check out this impressive stat from The Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn:
Over the last two seasons, only Ben Bishop has saved more goals above expected than Robin Lehner’s 23.8, which is six goals better than the third-best goalie.
That’s what the Vegas Golden Knights are getting in Robin Lehner – an elite goalie who can take this team to a championship.