Marc-Andre Fleury is the sexiest name of the goalies likely available to the Vegas Golden Knights at the NHL Expansion Draft next week. However, that does not guarantee he will be selected by the league's newest club.
While the three-time Stanley Cup champion would bring name recognition, a winning pedigree and an impressive resume to Vegas, he will be 33 next season, with two more years remaining on a contract with a salary cap hit of $5.75 million annually. And most importantly, there are likely going to be better options available to the Golden Knights, who must select a minimum of three goalies during the expansion draft.
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Of course, it is impossible to know the strategy of Vegas' brain trust when it comes to choosing goaltenders, or signing free agent goalies during the summer, for that matter. The Golden Knights could opt to select three younger goalies to groom, grow and battle it out. They could select and/or sign a veteran like Fleury, or fellow Cup winner Cam Ward, or Jimmy Howard, to mentor and share the load with a less-experienced netminder or two. As an added bonus, the latter move would help the club reach the salary cap floor as the likely available veteran goalies all carry healthy cap hits.
If you believe enough in him, Steve Mason has been a No. 1 in the NHL, is still just 29 and is an unrestricted free agent this summer.
Vegas might also draft a valued goalie next week with the idea of flipping him over the summer or during the season itself.
All of this doesn't even factor in side deals Vegas general manager George McPhee may make before the expansion draft that would take certain goalies off the market.
So, without any inside knowledge of the Golden Knights game plan, here's a look at the three best goaltending options next week.
Considering Grubauer's skill, age, success and that he was drafted by McPhee -- then the Washington Capitals general manager -- in 2010, it's hard to imagine he will not be a Golden Knight next season, if not their No. 1 goalie.
Grubauer, who turns 26 in November, will be exposed by the Caps -- barring a side deal, of course -- because Braden Holtby is the the team's star goalie of the present and foreseeable future. He's a restricted free agent this summer, due a fair raise from his $750,000 base last year, coming off a season where he established career highs in appearances (24), victories (13), save percentage (.926) and shutouts (3). Grubauer also had a career-low 2.04 goals against average.
Simply, Grubauer is ready to challenge for a No. 1 opportunity and Vegas likely is the team to give him that chance.
Coming off the best season of his career, Antti Raanta is a perfect for Vegas as the No. 2 goalie -- one who could push Grubauer for the top spot, or take over should he not be up to the challenge.
Raanta was a savior in New York last season, picking up the pieces as Henrik Lundqvist struggled through his most inconsistent year. Raanta set career highs with 30 appearances, 16 wins and four shutouts. His 2.26 GAA and .922 save percentage were far better than those of Lundqvist.
Entering his final year before unrestricted free agency, Raanta, 28, would also have extra motivation to keep performing at a high level. His likeable easy-going personality also makes him a great fit on an expansion team that may face some adversity in its inaugural season.
There are a couple of reasons Raanta may not be a Golden Knight in 2017-18, though. For one, the Rangers may strike a side deal for their valuable asset before the expansion draft to convince Vegas not to select him. The Golden Knights also may have more interest in selecting one of New York's exposed forwards -- Oscar Lindberg, Jesper Fast, or Michael Grabner -- instead of the Finnish goaltender.
No, his numbers were not great last season when he was pressed into full-time duty after Semyon Varlamov was injured, but Calvin Pickard is an intriguing affordable goalie to add to the mix. That, and given there's not much else to choose from with that awful collection of available players with the Colorado Avalanche, makes Pickard a solid No. 3 option in Vegas.
Pickard is just 25, was a 2010 second-round draft pick and had several strong outings a year ago playing for the league's -- by far -- worst team. He then excelled at the 2017 World Championships, leading Canada to a silver medal with a 1.49 GAA and .938 save percentage in seven games.
He is young and hungry enough to push Grubauer and Raanta, creating a competitive environment in the Vegas net. Should Pickard excel, Raanta could be traded to a needy contender.
Of course, the Avalanche could decide to protect Pickard and expose the 29-year-old Varlamov and his $5.9 million cap hit through 2019, which would scuttle this neat little plan.
Best of the Rest
Of the veterans, Fleury and Ward make the most sense for Vegas, though would the Golden Knights pass up a young, affordable defenseman like Brian Dumoulin, who likely will be made available by the Penguins, in order to select Fleury?
At 33 and on an expiring contract, Ward would be a terrific mentor who could step in to play and take on a larger role if needed.
Of the younger goalies likely available, Laurent Brossoit (24) of the Edmonton Oilers and J.F. Berube (25) of the Islanders are intriguing prospects with some NHL experience.
San Jose Sharks backup Aaron Dell (28) was good a year ago, and could be of interest to Vegas if it is specifically seeking a No. 2 or 3.
On the free agent front, Philly's Mason and Ottawa's Mike Condon could draw a look, depending on the results of next week's expansion draft.