Malcolm Subban got the sweetest of NHL wins on the weekend. Not only was it his first career victory, but it came against the Boston Bruins, the team that put him on waivers earlier this month.
Vegas has undoubtedly benefitted from that wire pickup already, but the immediate future holds an even bigger opportunity for Subban, as starting netminder Marc-Andre Fleury has been put on IR after taking an (accidental) Anthony Mantha knee to the head. Can Subban help the Golden Knights maintain their red-hot start, or will Vegas begin to look more like the first-year expansion team that it is without Fleury?
While that is a potent question, I’m more interested in another discussion right now: when should a team give up on a goalie?
Subban was taken 24th overall by the Bruins back in 2012. It’s rare to see netminders go in the first round these days, since tabbing a teenaged pro prospect at the position is much harder than figuring out who the good forwards and defensemen will be. There’s a longer development curve; we all know that. The fact that Matt Murray has won two Stanley Cups by the age of 23 is basically the exception to the rule. In fact, Murray is one of just four NHL goalies younger than Subban right now. Andrei Vasilevskiy of Tampa Bay is the only other starter, with Juuse Saros and Joonas Korpisalo rounding out the field. Two more starters, John Gibson and Connor Hellebuyck (yes, I’ve moved on from Steve Mason already), were born months before Subban.
So even though it feels like we’ve been waiting forever for Subban, he’s really not behind schedule. We’ve just been hyper-aware of the young man because his older brother is pretty good at hockey and Malcolm was taken in the first round.
It’s also important to remember that Subban missed a crucial period of development when he fractured his larynx during the 2015-16 campaign after taking a puck to the throat.
Is it Boston’s fault that Subban is now tending the twine in Vegas instead of for the Bruins? Well, it’s not that simple. I suppose you could put forth the argument that signing Anton Khudobin back in the summer of 2016 put this whole situation into play, but the Bruins have been a playoff bubble team for a couple years now and obviously didn’t have enough faith in Subban or Zane McIntyre at the time. That’s fine; it’s a perfectly good argument.
And to be fair, neither Subban or McIntyre managed to push starter Tuukka Rask in their fledgling pro careers. But again, this all comes back to timing. Subban has size and great athleticism; perhaps he just needed to go through the wars in the AHL before he could put his whole game together. If Rask played less than 64 games in any of the three past seasons, perhaps Boston would have had more incentive to give the youth some more reps at the NHL level – but Subban bombed in his only two starts with the B’s, so maybe they got gun-shy.
It’s a very tough proposition. Back in the day, the Chicago Blackhawks gave Dominik Hasek a chance to be a star elsewhere, because they already had Ed Belfour. The Buffalo Sabres can be eternally thankful for that. Anaheim was happy enough with Gibson that Frederik Andersen became expendable a couple years back and now Toronto is reaping the rewards – but the Ducks are still one of the better teams in the West.
Goaltending is such a tough position to forecast, even if a player has NHL games under his belt. Maybe Subban finds a groove in Vegas and the Golden Knights have a steal on their hands. But maybe a bad game sends in Maxime Lagace and he surprises the hockey world. Stranger things have happened in a crease.