Two games into the Stanley Cup Final and it’s been all Vegas Golden Knights.
Goaltender Adin Hill has stolen the spotlight more than a few times (how many times have you seen his game one save by now?). The goaltender might also serve a pressing need for Vegas next season that doesn’t have to do with his in-net heroics.
Ever since the Golden Knights entered the NHL, owner Bill Foley has made it a mission to win now. That has put the Golden Knights dangerously close to the NHL’s salary cap in every year of their existence.
Vegas, at this exact moment, currently sits with a cap hit of over $96 million, well over the projected $83.5 million it will be for next season. That’s due to the salary cap being suspended for the playoffs and a perfectly-timed return for Vegas captain Mark Stone, who had been on LTIR.
Adin Hill can help the Golden Knights solve their cap situation next season.
Vegas is going to shed some cap before next season, especially with the likes of Ivan Barbashev, Jonathan Quick, and Phil Kessel coming off the books, but they’ll probably need some more.
Also expected to come back next season is goaltender Robin Lehner and his $5 million cap hit. Lehner has two more seasons left on his contract after this past season.
With Logan Thompson and Adin Hill showing that they can be a more than formidable goaltending duo for Vegas, should the Golden Knights look to move Lehner’s contract?
It wouldn’t be the first time they shipped a goalie off for pennies on the dollar to free up cap space. They did the same with franchise legend Marc-Andre Fleury after his Vezina-winning 2020-2021 season.
Lehner is going to be harder to move, with his large contract and coming off an injury that kept him on the shelf all season. It’s almost as if any potential trade partner is buying him sight unseen.
There is always a market for goaltending, though, and Lehner had a remarkable track record before his injury. Of course, Vegas would have to sweeten the deal with a draft pick, but considering Vegas has a history of picking later in the first round, it might not mind giving that up.
A potential trade partner would be getting a good goalie for two years and draft capital while the Golden Knights get much-needed cap relief.
If the Winnipeg Jets go into a rebuild and Connor Hellebuyck wants out, they could be in the market for Lehner’s services. That’s especially true if it’s a first-round pick in the mix and Winnipeg wants a good enough goaltender that could sell their rebuild as a “retool” and remain competitive.
After Jacob Markstrom’s lackluster year in net, perhaps the Calgary Flames might want Lehner and his change of scenery.
The Arizona Coyotes, the dumping ground where NHL contracts go to waste away, could be part of the equation as a third party looking for some salary retention.
The Coyotes’ current netminder, Karel Vejmelka, had a strong year in net (11.10 goals saved above expected and 0.226 goals saved above expected per 60 minutes), which leads me to believe Arizona doesn’t want to change who’s in net. That takes Arizona off the list of potential landing places for Lehner.
The X-Factor in this is Adin Hill himself. Logan Thompson remains under his affordable rookie contract, but Hill is a pending unrestricted free agent. Vegas can’t pay a lot for who would be a part of a goalie tandem, but perhaps Hill takes a “hometown” discount to remain on the winning team he contributed to.
Then again, maybe he goes looking to sign with whoever would overpay for his services after watching his playoff heroics.
Lehner’s time with Vegas was eventful for the wrong reasons. It lead to the departure of franchise legend Fleury, didn’t end with a Cup (that he was active for, at least), and included a year-long IR stint.
Lehner might just have to be the latest cap casualty as Vegas struggles to get NHL compliant in its payroll.