Almost a month ago now, the Vegas Golden Knights shipped their Vezina-winning netminder, Marc-Andre Fleury off to Chicago to dump some salary. Fleury had been arguably Vegas’ best player since the franchise’s inception in 2016. He’s been without a doubt, the most beloved player as the face of the franchise.
He helped lead the team to three Conference Finals appearances and one Stanley Cup Finals appearance in four years. All the Vegas fanbase has ever known is success and top-tier goalkeeping, and with Fleury gone, it’s Robin Lehner’s time to keep that train rolling.
Don’t get me wrong. I think Lehner is a phenomenal goalkeeper and has been for a few years now. I mean, over the course of the past three seasons, Lehner has 29.17 Goals Saved Above Expected (GSAx) — more than any other netminder in the NHL. However, Lehner has spent most of his career in goaltending committees. When he was with the Islanders, he’d split time with Thomas Greiss, and both played well, although there is the concern that Barry Trotz makes all goalies look good. In Chicago, Corey Crawford was still a golden child, and Lehner never really had the opportunity to take the starting job all for himself. And most recently in Vegas, Lehner was forced to take a back seat to Fleury, in part due to a concussion he suffered at the start of the season, and partly because Fleury was playing some of the best hockey of his career. Now, the job is all his, and the pressure is on Lehner to continue that winning culture in Vegas alive.
It shouldn’t be too difficult. Vegas is a very well-built, well-managed team, but that’s just all the more reason why Lehner shouldn’t fail. How could he? He’s got a great team around him, spent the last season and a half learning from a three-time Cup champion and Vezina winner, and the team made it more than clear through the signing of Laurent Brossoit that they want to provide Lehner with a solid backup to keep him fresh for the entire season. As the team’s general manager, Kelly McCrimmon, said earlier this offseason:
“We want [Lehner] to be at his very best, and I feel strongly for your starter to be at his very best, you have to have a backup you can trust.”
The Golden Knights have that with Brossoit, who recorded a 2.42 GAA in 2021 through 14 games with the Winnipeg Jets.
Vegas’s decision to opt for Lehner over Fleury is obviously a risk, but it’s a calculated one. The Golden Knights are willing to bet on Lehner to improve in upcoming seasons, and Fleury to regress as he enters his age-37 season. There were even rumors that Fleury didn’t want to play if forced out of Vegas. While he has ultimately decided to play for Chicago next season, he was clearly troubled at the prospect of leaving the Golden Knights.
Lehner has all the confidence in the world from his organization and teammates. While it may take the Knights’ fanbase some time to see what Lehner brings to the table and why ditching Fleury after the best season of his career was a smart move, Lehner will prove that the team made the right decision. Vegas’ success has been built on strong defense, skating, efficient shooting (10.4 shot percentage in 2021), and stout goaltending. There’s no doubt whether or not the Knights will have the first three next season. Lehner is the only question mark heading into 2022. He’s a stud, though. I wouldn’t be worried.