The Vegas Golden Knights have made headlines in the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs not only for their high level of play, but for a certain goalie situation that crept in out of nowhere. The battle between Robin Lehner and Marc-Andre Fleury for the starting job has caused headlines. The most prominent one being a now deleted tweet from Fleury’s agent of his client being stabbed in the back with a sword. However, with head coach Peter DeBoer’s decision of starting Lehner in Game 7 in the tail-end of back-to-back games, it seems like the drama is over.
Lehner Is the Starter
Lehner has proven his worth for the Golden Knights in his short time with the team. He went undefeated during the regular season and holds a record of 8-4 with a 1.99 goals against average in the playoffs so far. Lehner was not the first choice for many fans heading into the playoffs, but his performance is starting to turn some heads. In the Vancouver series, the 29-year-old goaltender posted three shutouts and looked dominant in the net.
Although it was shocking for some, the writing was on the walls for Lehner to inherit the net from Fleury. During the exhibition and round-robin series, Lehner played against arguably the two best teams in the Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche. Meanwhile, Fleury played the exhibition game against the Arizona Coyotes, but lost to the St. Louis Blues. What also helped Lehner take control of the net was that the Golden Knights took on his former team in the first round.
It seems as if history is repeating itself for Fleury. He was in a very similar position back in 2016 when he won his second Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, during that season, there was not nearly as much drama as there is now. Now, at 35 years old, this could mean much more for his future with the Golden Knights.
Although being ranked sixth all-time in playoff wins, Fleury is forced to take a back seat during this playoff push. He was seen as the face of the franchise when the Golden Knights came into the NHL, but now his time could be up. Fleury carries a $7 million cap hit for the next two seasons. This has the potential to be a giant roadblock for the team as it does not have much salary cap space to play with.
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If Vegas wants to re-sign Lehner, then Fleury might have to go. Even though Fleury has a no-trade clause in his contract, this only applies to 10 teams. However, his contract is not a favorable one. This leaves Vegas in a similar boat with the New York Rangers and Henrik Lundqvist. Ultimately, if the Golden Knights were to trade Fleury, they would have to eat at least $2 million of his salary.
Before the playoffs started, DeBoer touted how Vegas’ goalies were one of their biggest advantages. The further the Golden Knights’ playoff push continues, the more this rings true. Lehner is obviously the hot hand right now and DeBoer’s decision to play him over Fleury is justified. With his somewhat shocking decision to give Lehner the Game 7 nod, DeBoer also became the first coach to win his first five Game 7’s.
As it seems, DeBoer has a game plan and is sticking to it. As head coach, it is his responsibility to put forth the best lineup to ensure his team has the best odds of winning. The noise of the media and the fans calling for Fleury to play does not phase him, as he believes the best odds lie with Lehner. Sticking true to Las Vegas, DeBoer gambled and so far he has hit the jackpot. He is playing with house money right now and it will take a significant loss to alter his current plan.
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The Golden Knights had to deal with this off-ice adversity much earlier than they probably anticipated. However, with Lehner’s solid play and DeBoer sticking to his guns, the Golden Knights have found a winning recipe. This combination should end the drama in the crease for the time being. Lehner has proved his worth and nothing is going to change until the offseason comes around.