The Vegas Golden Knights continue to amaze in only their sixth year of existence. Entering the season nobody expected the Golden Knights to be this good. Especially with the questions surrounding their goaltending. With Robin Lehner lost for the season due to double hip surgery, and Laurent Brossoit missing the beginning of the season as well, it was Logan Thompson to anchor the Golden Knights between the pipes.
Thompson’s performance to begin the season has exceeded expectations as the Golden Knights are sitting in first place in the Pacific Division. An all too familiar place for Vegas since entering the league. Thompson’s play should not come as a shock to anyone as he did his best towards the end of last season also with Lehner out due to injury. Injuries to the rest of the team caught up to Vegas as they lost to teams they should not have thus missed the playoffs.
Lehner came over in a trade during the 2019-20 season from the Chicago Blackhawks after he had a career resurgence with the New York Islanders prior to that as he documented his struggle with mental health issues. At the time Vegas had Marc-Andre Fleury as the number one and this tandem was the best in the NHL at the time.
During the team’s run in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoff bubble, Lehner re-signed with the Golden Knights. His new five-year contract carried a $5 million salary cap hit. With the Golden Knights becoming a cap-strapped team, Vegas moved on from Fleury in favor of Lehner. There was no way Vegas was going to pay $12 million to two goalies.
Now a couple of years later, Vegas is in a similar situation. Thompson will be due a raise as he currently plays on his entry-level deal that carries a salary cap hit of $766,667. So the Golden Knight have time as Thompson is signed through the 2024-25 season. But if they want to keep Adin Hill as well, they will likely have to increase his cap hit from $2.175 million to around $2.5 million or more, especially if he keeps these numbers up.
So that leaves Lehner on the outside with a $5 million cap hit, especially if Vegas wants to add pieces elsewhere.
Another concern for Lehner is that he is coming off double hip surgery. It takes goalies a full season to come back from that surgery. Just ask Jonathan Quick, Cory Schneider, and Pekka Rinne. Schneider is currently in the AHL and never recovered from that surgery. It took Quick and Rinne some time.
So it will be a tough ask to be thrown right back into the starter’s role especially if Thompson gets them deep into the playoffs.
Now Lehner controls the narrative as he has a modified eight-team no-trade list for this season. In the following two seasons that modified no-trade list is just five teams. So there is a slew of teams that he could go to. But if they are on the list then he can veto any trade.
Again, teams will want to see what Lehner can do before trading for him. Or maybe they won’t. However, if a trade does happen, Vegas may have to retain some money. No way a contending team will want to take on the full $5 million salary cap hit. But that will be on general manager Kelly McCrimmon to decide.
Say Hill prices himself out of Vegas, the Golden Knights may try to ride the duo of Thompson and Lehner for one season and then try to trade Lehner. Especially if Thompson keeps this pace up.
We have seen Robin Lehner overcome the odds before. It would be another notch in such a remarkable story.
But this is a situation that is worth watching as the season progresses and when the offseason comes around.