Realistically, this was never going to be a particularly fun offseason for fans of the Vegas Golden Knights. Evgenii Dadonov, Max Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan, traded off for essentially nothing, were necessary casualties for a club still contending with salary cap issues that prioritized retaining Reilly Smith. But the announcement of Robin Lehner missing the 2022-23 season due to hip surgery was a blow that no one saw coming.
While you could argue that the organization should have seen it coming given the spotty track record of the injury-prone Swede, Vegas did manage to build up suitable depth in net behind Lehner – even if that depth is short on No. 1 experience. Now, his insurance policies, plus newly acquired Adin Hill, will be asked to backstop a team with legitimate playoff ambitions.
This could be new territory for any or all of the relatively inexperienced trio of Logan Thompson, Laurent Brossoit and Hill. Sure, they’ll have some help in front of them thanks to a deep blue line and talented forward corps, but there’s no question that the pressure will be on them to perform.
What was widely expected to be a compelling battle for the crease doesn’t appear to have turned into one at all. In all fairness, Golden Knights head coach Bruce Cassidy has not yet officially announced a starter for game one of the regular season. But Thompson’s play this preseason, coupled with the unavailability of Brossoit and the disappointing early returns of Hill, made for a pretty foregone conclusion.
Logging two full games and a one-period appearance, Thompson has registered a .922 save percentage (SV%) and 2.00 goals-against average (GAA). The 25-year-old stopped 25 of 26 shots last week in a 7-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche but struggled in allowing four goals on 29 shots on Thursday night in a 6-4 win over the Los Angeles Kings. He also turned away all nine shots he faced in the first period of an earlier 2-1 overtime loss to the Kings, a performance sharply contrasted by Hill’s two goals allowed on the same amount of shots through the rest of the contest.
In a perfect world, Golden Knights’ brass probably would’ve liked to see more internal competition for the net to this point. Ultimately, however, it’s reasonable to assume that Thompson winning out was the result that the front office wanted. Not only is the Calgary native the youngest of the three goaltenders, but he also carries the lowest cap hit ($766,667) and, more significantly, is the lone Vegas netminder signed past this season (through 2024-25).
Of course, solid play in an extremely small sample size during the preseason doesn’t say much. More encouraging is Thompson’s small taste of being the de facto No. 1 last season, when he made 17 starts and 19 appearances, going 10-5-3-1 with a .914 SV% and a 2.68 GAA. Among eligible goaltenders last season, those numbers would have put him somewhere near the league average and certainly represented an improvement on what either Lehner or Brossoit offered.
Speaking of Brossoit, we still have to wait and see what last year’s backup might be able to offer. The 29-year-old won’t be in the lineup when the Golden Knights open their season on Oct. 11 as he continues to slowly recover from offseason hip surgery. While he’s hardly a savior in goal, he does bring experience to the table, with more career games played between the pipes than Thompson and Hill combined.
Brossoit’s role once he does return to the ice will hinge heavily on two factors: how sharp the BC-born netminder looks, and how Hill has fared fulfilling his share of the goaltending duties to that point. While he didn’t show it much last year, Brossoit was signed in the summer of 2021 to be a safe backup option, as he was when he went 13-6-2 with a .925 SV% and 2.52 GAA with the 2018-19 Winnipeg Jets. Depending on how things go as we get deeper into the season, more may be asked of the 2011 sixth-rounder.
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Given the relatively unknown entities that are both Thompson and Hill, Brossoit probably needs to be part of the equation this season for Vegas to have even league-average goaltending. When he will be, however, is anyone’s guess at this point.
The addition of Hill at the end of August was clearly a quick, panicked response to the loss of Lehner, but the trade wasn’t without merit. For the low cost of a 2024 fourth-round pick, the Golden Knights took a gamble that the 26-year-old is better than he’s shown playing behind some pretty awful teams in Arizona and San Jose.
That doesn’t necessarily mean Hill will be stealing games for Vegas or standing on his head. You’d have to believe the club would be thrilled to get the 2019-20 version of the BC native when he sported a .918 SV% and 2.62 GAA in 13 games with the Arizona Coyotes and a 2.40 GAA over a 20-game stint with the Tucson Roadrunners of the American Hockey League.
In spite of a rough preseason (three games, .881 SV%, 4.74 GAA), Hill will play a role on this 2022-23 Golden Knights team, largely because they need him to. While their early schedule is mercifully short on back-to-back contests, there is an instance of three games in four nights and four games in six. That’s a lot of weight to put on the shoulders of the inexperienced Thompson, so unless Brossoit has some miraculous recovery, Hill will get his shot once the real games start.
This obviously isn’t the situation that Vegas envisioned between the pipes heading into the year, and is certainly a far cry from the Lehner and Marc-André Fleury tandem of the not-too-distant past. On a positive note, Thompson represents an in-house option, developed within the organization, with legitimate No. 1 upside. It’s the type of inexpensive, high-ceiling asset that the Colorado Avalanche, Toronto Maple Leafs, Edmonton Oilers and Washington Capitals, all contending teams that made significant commitments to middling options in net this summer, are envious of. Arguably the Golden Knights’ most important player this season, Thompson will likely dictate the overall performance of the club’s goaltending corps.
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I may be a Leafs fan at heart (I’ve witnessed their highs and lows first-hand as a Scotiabank Arena employee), but I’m also a veteran freelance sportswriter who loves a good story. And there’s been no better story in hockey over the past few years than the Vegas Golden Knights. I’m excited to be covering the NHL again on the Golden Knights’ beat.