The Vegas Golden Knights have a huge opportunity in front of them that very few teams/GM’s are gifted, the ability to construct their goalie pipeline from scratch. No ties or bad contracts to hold them back from making the moves necessary. They don’t have to expend assets in bringing in goalies as the expansion draft allows them to take goalies for free plus there’s the all-important 2017 NHL Entry Draft right after the Expansion Draft. Not to mention access to UFA’s to supplement their goalie depth at the pro level or amateur level if need be. Vegas GM George McPhee and goalie coach Mike Rosati are for sure giddy with excitement over the possibilities in front of them.
So let’s get started with the upcoming Expansion Draft. Vegas is required to take three goalies and can take a maximum of seven. There are a few avenues that Vegas can take here ranging from just taking the minimum amount of goalie then supplementing them in free agency to taking a lot of goalies and trading off the ones that would garner the biggest returns. First we’ll look at the 47 goalies available to Vegas. I left out the UFA’s because it just doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to go after any of the UFA goalies when there are plenty of signed goalies to bring in via the draft.
The next step for Vegas will be to look at which of the 47 goalies are suitable targets. I highlighted 13 goalies that Vegas should consider bringing in via the draft. They can only take at most 7 of the 13 goalies so now it’s time to get down to brass tacks and get into the thinking process.
The disadvantage for Vegas is no prospect pool and only 7 picks in their first NHL Entry Draft. This leaves Vegas with needing to flip skaters/goalies for picks/prospects. The hard part with flipping goalies is there needs to be a spot for them on other teams because there is not a glut of teams willing to put ~10M combined into two goalies. Without factoring in the expansion draft and its affects we’ll look at teams that currently have a spot open in the NHL for a goalie. (Note: This list assumes UFA’s are going to test the market and not immediately go back to their current team)
As of right now 12 NHL teams need goalies for their NHL rosters. The problem is only two teams need a starting goalie. Vancouver could run with Jacob Markstrom as the starter and I think they’ll do that but I also believe that GM Jim Benning wouldn’t mind bringing in a goalie to run tandem with Markstrom. With not a whole lot of expendable assets the best bet would be Vancouver bringing in a back-up via free agency. Can the nine other teams who need a back-up goalie bring one in via free agency as well? It’ll be close but they can. There are also teams that have internal options they can use as back-ups such as Minnesota (A. Stalock), Toronto (G. Sparks), Ottawa (A. Hammond), and Buffalo (L. Ullmark). They potentially aren’t the best options but they are options.
That leaves Philadelphia and Arizona as prime trade targets for Vegas. Both teams possess good value assets in terms of picks/prospects and have the spots open that need to be filled with no internal options capable of filling them quite yet. This means Vegas is looking at taking 4-5 goalies. The situation though becomes more complex when we throw in teams that will have spots potentially open up if they lose a goalie to Vegas in the draft.
The list above contains teams that have goalies whose exposed NHL goalies would have interest from Vegas and losing them would cause a need for those teams. It wouldn’t be a huge need but a need nevertheless. However there are still the rules in place that don’t allow Vegas to corner the market on back-up goalies and they’ll still need goalies of their own for their system. There’s also the issue of trying to hold onto four extra goalies who are waiver eligible and be forced to put them on waivers and lose them for free. With these factors and a few smaller ones taken in Vegas should be looking to take between 5-6 goalies in the expansion draft. Three goalies to jump start their goalie depth plus 2-3 others for trades.
The Drafted Goalies
We’ll look first at the three goalies Vegas will use to build its foundation on in: Marc-Andre Fleury, Philipp Grubauer, and Linus Ullmark. Marc-Andre Fleury is obvious. All signs point to Fleury being the Vegas starter for at least the next two seasons (or 1.75 seasons if he waives for the trade deadline). Having a veteran starter in Fleury who isn’t even that old and still provides plenty of quality starts is important because of the two other goalies that Vegas should be taking in Grubauer/Ullmark will need a goalie like Fleury to take the pressure off them when they transition into more starts. I’d take Grubauer because he’s 25yo and looking like he’s ready to start the transition into being the starter. If all goes well with his development in two years Fleury will be UFA and Grubauer will be the undisputed Vegas starter. Lastly is Linus Ullmark. I’m a big believer in having quality depth through the goalie pipeline and Ullmark would be an important part in ensuring that Vegas doesn’t go without quality depth. Ullmark is also important because he is waiver exempt. Being able to send him down to the minors and be the Chicago Wolves starter is important for Vegas to get a good start to their franchise.
Why did I choose Petr Mrazek, Antti Raanta, and Aaron Dell as the goalies to flip after the expansion draft? It’s because this is their opportunity to take advantage of a relatively dry goalie market. When a team like Detroit gifts you with a young goalie such as Petr Mrazek for free you take him. He’d be a good fit in either Arizona or Philadelphia who are both looking for that long term starter. Then you have Raanta who you can trade to whoever doesn’t get/want to pay the price for Mrazek. Dell isn’t a name you’ll see around often but he was one of the top back-up goalies in the entire NHL which is important because teams want quality depth and having someone who can give your team quality play on a consistent basis is important in a back-up. Dell is what a lot of teams want in a back-up but do struggle to get. If made available Vegas will get a decent asset for him. It won’t be starter level but there is a market for goalies like Dell.
Do I expect Vegas to stick to this plan? No I don’t. They have other options. For instance they could keep Raanta and trade Grubauer because the latter is worth more in a trade. Another option is just to not take Fleury at all and run with a Raanta/Grubauer tandem or even a Mrazek/whoever tandem if they want to go really young. There’s even the option of going Mrazek/Fleury if they don’t care about spending +9M on goaltending next season and most likely the season after. You may also want to point out that there’s no Joonas Korpisalo mentioned which is because it’s believed by nearly everyone Columbus has made a deal with Vegas to protect him. If not than you can swap out Ullmark for Korpisalo. Lastly is the issue of Pickard. I don’t see Vegas being interested unless they know they can get a better deal for Pickard than Dell.
But Wait There’s More!
The Expansion Draft is only part 1 of 3 for the construction of the Vegas Golden Knights goalie pipeline. If we go on the assumption that Vegas leaves the expansion draft with three goalies and one of them being the starter for the Chicago Wolves there is still one last spot that Vegas needs to fill, the 4th spot in the Pro System. This leads us to the question who should that 4th goalie be and what should be the means of acquiring him?
For Vegas the 4th goalie in their pro system will be one of two types: 1) NHL/AHL tweener who can be the starter in the AHL if the 3rd goalie is called up to the NHL because of injuries 2) Young goalie who can take the starting role with the Wolves in 1-2 seasons. If it’s the first type of goalie than there are good, accessible options out there for Vegas in goalies such as Michael Leighton or Jeremy Smith. If it’s the second type of goalie than Vegas will have some decisions to make in how they approach it.
With how many NCAA UFA goalies Vegas passed on leads me to believe that they don’t intend to get the 2nd type of goalie for no. 4 on the depth chart. There were some good options available and nothing showed that Vegas was even close to any of them. However they could be looking at one specific goalie and are confident in bringing him in. If they don’t than they’ll go with the type 1 no. 4 goalie. The goalie that Vegas could be waiting for is Cal Petersen, formerly of Notre Dame and whose rights belong to Buffalo but he hasn’t signed yet so it’s a growing possibility he’ll hit UFA. Petersen would be a good fit with Vegas as he could look to make his own path in the organization as everything is up in the air right now. There are no goalies with deep ties to Vegas yet which could allow Petersen an easier time breaking into the NHL.
The future is never set in stone which is why teams need to be consistently adding quality and depth to their goalie prospect pool to ensure that there are very few weak links. For Vegas this is especially important as they can’t afford to get off on the wrong foot with their prospect pool. This is why I believe it’s important that Vegas walks away with not just one goalie from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft but two goalie prospects. One top prospect goalie taken in the 1st three rounds of the draft and another goalie (the boom/bust type) taken in the later rounds. With this draft being a known for its quality prospect goalie depth there is no excuse for Vegas to skip on getting a good start on their goalie prospect pool.
There are factors to consider though when taking these two goalies. Generally you want to avoid them entering the pro system at the same time. What Vegas should attempt to do is aim for goalies whose arrival will be staggered into the AHL. That way you don’t end up with two pro rookie goalies that aren’t used to the difference between the AHL and their respective leagues. This can be done one of two ways: 1) Draft goalies of different birth years 2) NA based goalie and an International goalie (2 years vs 4 years to sign).
If Vegas goes with the first option the two goalies could look like Oettinger/Baribeau or Petruzzelli/Dhillon. If Vegas goes with the second than we could see a Luukkonen/Villalta combination. Now this could easily fall apart if one goalie falls behind in development and needs an extra year putting their arrival into the pro system at the same time. However the point remains the same, try and stagger the arrival of your goalies into the pro system because the last issue you want to deal with is two goalies who are struggling with the transition or having the no. 3 goalie on the depth chart being a 21yo AHL rookie.
I’m pretty jealous of the fun that McPhee and co. are going to have in building their goalie pipeline. It starts with the expansion draft and ends in free agency. Now this post/article was created as mostly a guideline as to what we’ll see Vegas get close to doing. It’s entirely possible there are backroom deals that completely send this post into the trash. Vegas could also see it fit to skip taking a goalie in the NHL Entry Draft if they believe skaters are of more importance than goalies. However I believe that if Vegas wants to create a sound foundation for their goalie pipeline they will get close to what I have mentioned here.
As always if you have any thoughts or questions of your own feel free to message me via the Contact Page or @CreaseGiants.