Losing Marc-Andre Fleury was one thing, but with Malcolm Subban injured, goaltending duty falls to two netminders with next to no NHL experience. And Vegas can only blame themselves.
With six wins in seven games and the best start to an inaugural season in the century-long history of the NHL, the Vegas Golden Knights aren’t going to have many regrets. But if there is one reason to be second-guessing a decision by the expansion franchise less than three weeks into the campaign, it’s that Vegas is about to hand over its crease to two goaltenders who have about as much experience in the big leagues as two people pulled off the street.
That’s not to deride either Oscar Dansk or Maxim Lagace, who are the Golden Knights’ goaltending duo for the time being, but rather to state a fact. Sure, Dansk has two seasons as a split-time starter in the Swedish League and 22 games of AHL experience to call upon. And yes, Lagace has played 73 games in the AHL over the past four seasons. But, combined, Dansk and Lagace have played 13:46 between the pipes in the NHL. And every single one of those seconds came when Dansk found himself thrust into action when Malcolm Subban, who himself is no NHL veteran with a scant five games in a big-league crease, sustained a lower-body injury Saturday. It’s the worst of the worst-case scenarios for a team that was one of the early season’s great stories, a blow to a franchise whose success was creating even more buzz and excitement in its burgeoning market.
And what makes this situation all the more unfortunate is that, at least in part, it’s of Vegas’ own doing.
Of course, the Golden Knights had no say in the injuries that have befallen their two netminders, Subban and Marc-Andre Fleury, who is sidelined indefinitely with a concussion. And, of course, there was no intention to ever have Dansk and Lagace as the only options. To suggest as much would be foolish. But Vegas has no other choice but to rely on the two rookie netminders to keep them afloat until either Subban or Fleury can get back in the crease, and the Golden Knights have no one to blame but themselves because it’s they who made the misstep that left them without any experienced help in goal.
It started the day before the season began when Vegas plucked Subban, who had been cut by the Boston Bruins, off the waiver wire and brought him in with plans to make him the team’s backup netminder. To some, Vegas’ decision was an odd one. While Subban has untapped potential, he also has little in the way of NHL experience and it was worth wondering what the acquisition meant for Calvin Pickard. Reason being is that Pickard was a tried-and-tested backup option, a 25-year-old with 86 NHL outings under his belt who was fresh off a silver medal with Team Canada at the World Championship, and it felt as though he solidified Vegas’ crease much more than Subban could. Yet, days after Subban was acquired, it became clear there was no longer a place for Pickard in Sin City. Despite his experience, Pickard found himself on the waiver wire the day after the season began.
Now that, in and of itself, wasn’t all that big a deal. It was a simple numbers game and the Golden Knights had no reason to carry three goaltenders with the big club. Thus, with their faith in Subban, Pickard was waived to make some space on the roster. It’s the shuffle that organizations have to make throughout the season. But where the Golden Knights made the mistake was in not staying at least somewhat patient with regard to moving Pickard. Instead, shortly after he had cleared the waiver wire, he was dealt to the Toronto Maple Leafs for prospect Tobias Lindberg and a sixth-round pick.
Trading Pickard created a void, one Vegas shouldn’t have had a few reasons. First, what if Subban flopped as a backup? While that’s a dire outlook, it should’ve been considered. At the time, Subban had never made it through more than 40 minutes in either of his first two big-league starts, and the Bruins didn’t waive him without reason. A first-round pick in 2012, Subban was expected to challenge for an NHL job by this point in his career and hadn’t yet done so. Second, what was the Golden Knights’ plan if Fleury fell injured? Any lengthy injury to Fleury would result in Subban flying solo without the safety net of an experienced backup. And it left reason to wonder what Vegas would do if this, the absolute worst-case scenario, came to pass. We have our answer now, though, and, with all due respect to Dansk and Lagace, there’s some serious cause for concern.
There aren’t many available options for the Golden Knights, either. The open market is almost remarkably thin and Vegas would have to part ways with as asset or two to make a deal happen. Vegas could hit the waiver wire again, mind you, and pick up the freshly waived Antti Niemi. But beyond that, the options are thin. And after creating so much buzz and excitement in a burgeoning market with an almost unthinkably strong start, one has to wonder if the decision to move Pickard and subsequent injuries to Fleury and Subban don’t mark the beginning of the end of the good times in Vegas.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.