An actual hockey team in Las Vegas is getting closer to reality as this past week the NHL revealed the protected lists for the other 30 teams in the league, and also put out lists of players who are available for Vegas to claim in Wednesday night’s expansion draft.
Now, there are plenty of big names out there who are technically available, though most of the stars and big names are Restricted Free Agents, who probably wouldn’t sign with a Vegas team that is likely going to be terrible for the first few seasons.
The team will either be painfully thin at both forward and defense, lacking guys who realistically should play on the top lines and defense pairings, or more likely, some combination of both.
But the one spot where Vegas could, and should, have legit players is goalie. They should have at least two NHL-caliber goalies next season, and could and should draft more of those NHL-ready goalies for assets in future trades.
The one name that has constantly been brought up since it was announced Vegas would get the 31st NHL franchise has been Pittsburgh goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, and why not?
He’s had solid numbers over his career, racking up a 2.58 GAA, and a .912 save %, nothing amazing, but very steady over his career and someone who can play a bunch of games for a Vegas team that needs as much help in back as possible, and has three Stanley Cup rings in his career. It is rare to have a goalie of that calibre fall into an expansion team’s lap.
And I’m here to tell you they should pass on him.
Here’s a list of some of the other notable goalies that are available in the expansion draft, and under contract for at least next season: Louis Domingue, Calvin Pickard, Petr Mrazek, Jeff Zatkoff, Antti Raanta, Aaron Dell, and Philipp Grubauer.
All seven of those goalies have either proven they could be an NHL starter, or shown flashes that they could be strong starters down the line, or have stat lines that are similar or better in limited duty. The one to really take a look at is Grubauer, who almost seems like a lock to be one of the minimum three goalies taken and might be starting if Washington didn’t already have one of the three best goalies in the NHL.
The other thing to consider with each of these goalies is they are younger, and cheaper than MAF.
And for a team that is going to be bad for minimum three years, you better try to load up on young assets so when it comes time to make the jump, you have a goalie who is ready to make that jump, not one that will be on the other side of 35 and has a history of injuries.
If you made me take just three goalies from the seven above, plus MAF, my picks are Mrazek, Raanta, and Grubauer. Let those three battle it out for your starting and backup spots, then if you need to, see if you can trade one for a pick or something later. Then grab a couple other unproven guys in the expansion draft for AHL depth in case of an emergency.
I get wanting to take MAF because he is the most proven goalie available, and maybe it might make sense if there were a goalie-needy team in contention who you could flip him to, but Calgary just traded for Mike Smith, and the Stars just locked up Ben Bishop, so there really aren’t a lot of teams where a goalie could turn them into an instant contender. Maybe Philadelphia?
But you also have the issue of MAF making $5.75 for the next two years, not exactly an easy contract to trade, especially considering he has a not trade, no movement clause in his contract. So you couldn’t just dump him off on some other team with room for his contract.
But again, you’re building for the future and any of those younger, cheaper goalies have a better chance of being there and in their prime when that happens. MAF is past his prime, having lost his spot to Matt Murray.
The only reason I can think of that I would take MAF in the draft would be to reach the salary floor for next season, because Vegas is going to load up on cheap talent that COULD produce, not expensive old talent where they’re doing a favor to a team by taking on a huge cap hit.
With a chance to solidify the goalie position for the next 10 years, Vegas should pass on the old, expensive, fading Marc Andre Fleury.