The “Next Man Up” philosophy is a common one in sports. It dictates that if or when one player struggles or falls injured, his or her replacement will be more than ready to take the reins. In the case of the Vegas Golden Knights, though, they’re somehow onto the Next Next Next Man Up in the crease.
On Tuesday night in New York, Maxime Lagace saw his first career NHL action under circumstances he likely never imagined. With Marc-Andre Fleury sidelined with a concussion, Malcolm Subban on injured reserve with a lower-body injury and Oscar Dansk hitting the IR himself after getting hurt midway through Monday’s game against the Islanders, Lagace, 24, got the call for 25 minutes of replacement duty against the Islanders on Monday before being tapped as the starter for the Halloween outing against the Rangers.
That Lagace was called upon by the Golden Knights was no small deal. Per the NHL, it makes Vegas the 10th expansion team in league history to use at least four goaltenders in their inaugural season and the first club to do so since the Minnesota Wild needed four netminders to get through the 2000-01 campaign. The way things have gone for Lagace, though, it wouldn’t be all too surprising if another netminder is added to the list and the Golden Knights’ goaltending situation sees another Next Man step in. Reason being is that Lagace has been picked apart.
On Monday, as the relief netminder for Dansk, Lagace surrendered four goals on 11 shots and what was once a 2-2 game turned into a 6-3 blowout victory for New York. And things weren’t much better for Lagace on Tuesday against the Blueshirts. After backstopping the Golden Knights to a 4-2 lead through the first 40 minutes, he allowed three goals in roughly nine minutes as Vegas watched their lead slip away. An empty-net goal late sealed the win for the Rangers. Clearly, allowing nine goals on 48 shots across 85 minutes of action – and in the process posting a .813 save percentage and 6.13 goals-against average – isn’t going to cut it. Not only that, but it brings into question whether or not Vegas decides that Dylan Ferguson, who's up with the Golden Knights on emergency recall from the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, finds himself in goal Thursday when Vegas travels to meet the Boston Bruins.
Granted, Ferguson, who is sporting a tough .878 SP and 4.05 GAA through 13 WHL games, isn’t exactly a top prospect netminder. The 19-year-old was a seventh-round pick of the Dallas Stars last June and signed with the Golden Knights after being acquired in the Marc Methot trade. Still, with Lagace suffering back-to-back tough outings, Ferguson might be given a chance to take an NHL start, and if he is, it will put the Golden Knights in rarer territory as one of only four teams to need five or more goaltenders in their inaugural season.
Not since the 1999-2000 season, when the Atlanta Thrashers debuted, has a team needed five goaltenders in Year 1. And prior to that, only the 1991-92 San Jose Sharks and 1979-80 Edmonton Oilers, who needed six goaltenders to get through the campaign, were in the five-netminder club in their first NHL season.
Should Ferguson get a start and struggle, though, and if the outlook on Dansk isn’t all that great, one has to wonder if the Golden Knights might be on their way to tying the Oilers’ mark. Because with the system exhausted, Vegas may need to look outside the organization to bring in a netminder, and the Golden Knights wouldn’t be without options. Here are five goaltenders GM George McPhee could look to bring aboard:
Michael Hutchinson, Winnipeg Jets
The inconsistency in the crease last season created another goaltending logjam in Winnipeg when the Jets brought Steve Mason aboard, and, almost from that moment, the writing has been on the wall for Hutchinson. He’s splitting time in the AHL with Eric Comrie and reports have surfaced that Hutchinson could be on the market. Is he going to be a full-time starter? Absolutely not, but Hutchinson has 99 NHL games under his belt with a .910 SP and 2.63 GAA. In a pinch, he might be the best option, and he might be able to be had for relatively cheap. Fitting Hutchinson’s $1.15-million cap hit shouldn’t be an issue, either.
Curtis McElhinney, Toronto Maple Leafs
Frederik Andersen has had his struggles this season for the Maple Leafs, but that seemingly hasn’t given Toronto any reason to call upon McElhinney, who has one start, a 30-save victory, through the first month of the season. And if the Leafs aren’t going to use McElhinney, who has seen 169 games in the NHL, the Golden Knights would surely take the help. Really, such a deal would benefit both sides. Even if Fleury returns soon, McElhinney could help hold the fort while Subban is out and keep Vegas from rushing him back, while the plus for the Leafs would be roster space to bring Calvin Pickard into the fold.
Jared Coreau, Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings shocked everyone when they made Petr Mrazek available in the expansion draft, but Detroit wasn’t about to cut ties with the netminder once he made it through the draft untouched. Instead, they held onto both Mrazek and Jimmy Howard and sent Coreau, who saw 14 starts last season, to the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. Coreau’s numbers in the NHL weren’t awe-inspiring last season — he had a .887 SP and 3.46 GAA — but his 6-foot-6 frame doesn’t give shooters much daylight. He’s having a decent start in the AHL, too, with a .909 SP in seven games.
Michael Leighton, Tampa Bay Lightning
The 36-year-old wouldn’t be the Golden Knights’ first choice, but there are a few reasons why bringing him in might be a move worth considering. First, he has a ton of experience. He has seen 110 games in the NHL, with an additional 16 contests in the post-season, and more than 300 games in the AHL. He’s serviceable at the big-league level and, when he goes back down, can offer guidance to the youngsters in the minors. He was brought aboard in the off-season by the Lightning in part for his ability to help rookie Connor Ingram get his footing in the AHL, but if Tampa Bay were approached with a decent offer for the veteran goaltender, there wouldn’t be much reason to say no.
Jeff Zatkoff, Los Angeles Kings
Another veteran with a lot of AHL experience. Over the course of his career, Zatkoff has suited up in more than 200 games in the minors and he boasts fairly good AHL stats with a career .915 SP and 2.45 GAA. In the back half of a two-year, $1.8-million deal, Zatkoff doesn’t come as cheap as McElhinney, Coreau or Leighton, but he has enough experience to make him a risk worth taking. It was ugly last season in Los Angeles and he ended up out of the backup job because of it, but before landing with the Kings, Zatkoff had a .915 SP and 2.66 GAA in 35 games.
Want more in-depth features and expert analysis on the game you love? Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.