Top Vegas options among expansion exposed goalie lists
The complete list of players that will be protected from and exposed to the Vegas Golden Knights was made public on Sunday and while it pretty much mirrored the detailed breakdown already done by InGoal Magazine last week, there were still some decisions that caught others by surprise.
So with three days until the Expansion Draft takes place as part of the NHL Awards ceremony in Las Vegas, and plenty of wheeling and dealing still possible after Golden Knights GM George McPhee said he would give every team the option to make trades to protect their rosters, lets take a closer look at some of the names and situations worth monitoring the next few days:
Fleury has been the NHL’s most talked about goalie ever since a report from Renaud Lavoie of TVA Sports shortly after the Pittsburgh Penguins won their second-straight Stanley Cup that the popular veteran had waived his no-movement clause for the Expansion Draft. Since then, Fleury has been linked to any team in need of goaltending help, including the Calgary Flames, who instead acquired Mike Smith in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday. Like Smith, Fleury had two years left on his contract and would have arguably provided a better bridge to the Flames talented young prospects both on and off the ice, so why didn’t Calgary go this route? Simply put, the Flames were told Fleury wasn’t coming to Calgary. Whether this came from Fleury, who also has limited no-trade clause protection that nixed other options earlier in the process, or the Golden Knights, who intend to keep him for the same reasons he would have been a perfect mentor in Calgary, all signs point to the Flower establishing roots in Vegas.
This move seemed to catch a lot of people off guard despite indications last week that it was coming and has since been widely panned on social media, but the question now is how it affects the Expansion Draft. For all the criticism being directed at Red Wings general manager Ken Holland for exposing Mrazek, an athletic 25-year-old, to Vegas in order to protect an injury prone 33-year-old Jimmy Howard, the reality is Detroit didn’t find any other takers for Mrazek, including the Flames. So assuming the Golden Knights will be able to pick Mrazek and quickly flip him may be a tad presumptuous, though their job is easier than Holland’s simply because the acquiring team no longer needs to worry about protecting Mrazek from Vegas after the Expansion Draft. As for the possibility of keeping him, there is no doubt the Czech goalie appears to fits the active preferences Vegas goaltending director and coach Dave Prior has shown in the past while with the Washington Capitals. Ironically it was Mrazek’s over reliance on the natural skill that allowed him to play that way, and an inability to quiet his game the way Howard successfully did when healthy last season that may have played a role in Detroit’s decision.
Antti Raanta/Philipp Grubauer
Considered the top options among group of 1B/potential future starters, at least one other team inquired about adding Raanta but found the price too high, which suggests the New York Rangers may have an option in place to insure he isn’t picked by Vegas, despite a report to the contrary. While this means losing an asset as important as Raanta for nothing when there was an opportunity to get an asset back in a trade, it’s also possible that in a market loaded with available quality goalies the Rangers, like the Capitals with Grubauer, might not mind losing their current backup to Vegas instead of a position player.
The Columbus Blue Jackets backup to finish the season was considered by many goalie coaches around the NHL to be a no-brainer pick for Vegas, not only because of a skill set that projects beyond starter to potential star, but also because he does not require waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League for the upcoming season, which would have given the Golden Knights flexibility even if they also picked two more established goalies. However, with a report Columbus has a deal in place to protect Korpisalo and other top forwards, it appears the Blue Jackets will keep their talented Finnish goaltender.
Michal Neuvirth/Calvin Pickard
While some speculated Neuvirth would be protected after signing a two-year, $5 million contract extension that kicks in next season, there was never any chance the Philadelphia Flyers were going to expose talented prospect Anthony Stolarz. Stolarz would have been coveted in part because he does not yet require waivers to be sent to the AHL next season. So with the young American indeed protected, don’t be totally shocked if Vegas claims Neuvirth, whose history with Prior in Washington had many expecting the Golden Knights to sign him as backup option in free agency before the Flyers gave him the contract extension. If not, Pickard offers similar upside at a lower $1 million price tag. He doesn’t come with the same NHL resume after posting a .904 save percentage behind a bad Colorado Avalanche team last season but Pickard has reigned in some of the wasted movement that plagued him in the past and showed what he can do behind a better team at the recent World Championships, backstopping Canada to a gold-medal showdown with Sweden before settling for silver in a shootout against Henrik Lundqvist. Colorado’s decision to protect oft-injured Russian Semyon Varlamov, who played for McPhee and Prior in Washington, was slightly surprising given Pickard’s play but less so with word Varlamov’s old KHL goaltending coach, Jussi Parkilla of Finland, is coming over to coach in Colorado full time. Pickard doesn’t hold the same future trade value as a Raanta or Grubauer but might be a better bargain than Neuvirth. That said, the smart money is still on Neuvirth ending up in Vegas.
Linus Ullmark/Malcolm Subban
Vegas needs goaltenders for the AHL too, and selecting more than two goalies that require waivers doesn’t make much sense since other teams know they can claim one before the season starts. With Korpisalo reportedly off the market, Ullmark appears to be the next best option, in part because he does not need waivers to be sent down this season, but also because the 23-year-old, 6-foot-4 Swede has looked good in 21 NHL appearances over the past two seasons, posting a .913 save percentage. Subban may not be quite as attractive because he requires waivers but the athletic 23-year-old Boston Bruins prospect does have a skill set Prior has prioritized in past drafts with the Capitals and is unlikely to get claimed on the way down to the AHL after being passed in the Bruins organization by Zane McIntyre this season. Several goalie observers have speculated he might be a good project for Vegas.
Eddie Lack/Cam Ward
The Carolina Hurricanes have a goaltending glut after signing Scott Darling to a four-year, $16.6-million contract, and there is a sense they may be willing to give up assets to have Vegas solve their problem for them by claiming the final year of either Ward ($3.3 million) or Lack ($2.75 million) in the Expansion Draft, something general manager Ron Francis hinted at in an interview with The News and Observer. It’s hard to see either having a lot of value in a flip but if Vegas can get an asset from the Hurricanes, who don’t have a lot to offer on their unprotected list, and then even a small return from another team, this deal may not be as far fetched as it seems. As for which goalie is traded, there may be a sense in Carolina that new goalie coach Mike Bales can have the same affect on Ward he did on Fleury in Pittsburgh by stabilizing his game with more conservative positional staples and improved post play.
Luongo being exposed should not be a surprise; InGoal reported this would happen as soon as James Reimer signed with the Florida Panthers as a free agent last summer. However, as much as a poker playing star with a great personality and strong history of mentoring young goalies might make sense for a new franchise in Las Vegas, it’s hard to see this happening. In part that’s because his style doesn’t fit the past preferences of Prior, but also because after waiting so patiently to get back to Florida, it’s not hard to guess the 38-year-old Luongo wouldn’t be interested in uprooting his family again.
Hmmmmmmm such a tough choice man………. pic.twitter.com/52cB2g2jAa
— Strombone (@strombone1) June 19, 2017