Goaltending could be a major advantage for the Vegas Golden Knights in 2020-21.
Now, given that elite netminding is crucial to success in the National Hockey League, that statement seems fairly obvious and it is even more of a moot point when you consider that the Vegas Golden Knights boast two high-end goalies.
Robin Lehner was acquired from the Chicago Blackhawks as a pure rental at the Trade Deadline and went on to flourish in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, going 9-7-0 with a 1.99 Goals Against Average, a .917 Save Percentage and four shutouts.
That hugely impressive showing led the Golden Knights to locking Lehner up to a five-year, $25 million contract in the off-season, giving the 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist the stability he has long craved.
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It gave the Golden Knights a bona fide No. 1 starter in the NHL who is at the peak of his powers right now, while they also boast a surefire future Hall of Famer in Marc-Andre Fleury, who has two years remaining on his current contract with an Average Annual Value of $7 million.
After enduring a down year in 2019-20 with a 2.77 GAA and a .905 SV%, although he did rank second in the entire NHL in shutouts with five, Fleury was the subject of trade talks heading into the postseason.
Those rumors only intensified after Lehner signed a new deal in Vegas, with it seeming almost certain that an ugly divorce between Fleury and the franchise he helped to put on the map was coming.
However, after winning Free Agency by signing elite defenseman Alex Pietrangelo to a seven-year, $61.6 million contract, the Knights struggled to move Fleury due to the inflated goalie market this off-season and opted to move forward with a goalie tandem of Lehner and Fleury for the 2020-21 season.
And, while spending $12 million on two goalies isn’t conducive to long-term success in the National Hockey League, especially in a hard cap and now a flat cap era, the Golden Knights may actually boast a significant advantage heading into next year.
Let us explain.
At the time of writing this, no one really knows when the 2020-21 NHL season will start, and how exactly it will look.
While both the 2021 NHL Winter Classic and All-Star Game has been canned, the league still hopes to drop the puck on the new season on Jan. 1, 2020, or somewhere in that region.
If that’s the case, then the NHL will be able to play as close to a full 82-game schedule as possible with no mid-season distractions and still be able to finish before the Summer Olympics and also still protecting the integrity of the 2021-22 season, which is rightly a top priority.
However, and while there are a lot of questions still to be answered including division realignment because of the ongoing border issues with Canada, teams will likely face a congested schedule no matter what happens and no matter when the 2020-21 season eventually starts.
In an era when the 60, 70 game a season starter is all but extinct, having two goalies that can split the load has never been more important, something that will only crank up a notch or two in 2020-21 if teams are indeed dealt a congested schedule.
That’s why the Golden Knights should be better positioned than most given that they boast two elite goalies who both give their team an excellent chance of winning on a nightly basis.
With more back-to-backs and more three games in four days situations likely in 2020-21, goaltending will never be more important and the Golden Knights will have the luxury of swapping out Lehner with Fleury and vice versa whenever they see fit.
Very few teams in the NHL will have that luxury and both Lehner and Fleury have experience of timesharing the crease, so that shouldn’t be a problem for either player.
Plus, should either goalie get hurt at any point during the year, and it is worth remembering that Lehner is currently recovering in the wake of shoulder surgery, then the season won’t be lost because they will be able to fall back on another elite starter.
Already boasting a talent-laden roster, which is better for the addition of Alex Pietrangelo, the Golden Knights can rest easy knowing that the prospect of an even more gruelling schedule will be made easier by the fact that they have not one, but two elite goalies who should be able to get the job done.
In a game where fine margins can be the difference between winning and losing, meeting lofty expectations and falling way short, the Vegas Golden Knights enter the 2020-21 season with a major advantage that could help propel them to the Stanley Cup glory this organization so craves.