Any Vegas Golden Knights training camp preview article you read between now and the Sept. 21 opening of camp will surely highlight the battle for the crease above all other storylines to follow. Given the importance of who cements themselves as the No. 1 option in net to start the season, however, it’s a battle that at least merits its own article.
So here we are. Rarely do we see a training camp clash that is a) so wide open and b) so integral to the direction of the Golden Knights — in both the short- and long-term. Following the disappointment of the 2021-22 season, the upcoming campaign looked to have make-or-break implications with regard to the club’s current veteran-heavy core. Then came news of Robin Lehner’s season-ending double hip surgery, and, well, all heck broke loose.
The cynical fan might suggest that there is little to be excited about between a trio of options in Logan Thompson, Laurent Brossoit and Adin Hill that have never before served as a full-time No. 1 on an NHL team. Still, the unpredictable nature of these options, as well as their ceiling as young netminders, makes for possibilities that are at least intriguing. This probably isn’t the situation that new Director of Goaltending Sean Burke signed up for, but it’s compelling nonetheless.
With any further moves for the Golden Knights to add a goalie looking unlikely, let’s break down where each of the three candidates stands and what they must do to stake their claim to the top job.
As the homegrown and least expensive option of the three goaltenders, it stands to reason that Vegas would love to see Thompson win the job outright. The 25-year-old is not only the youngest of the three, but he will make over $1 million less this year than either Hill or Brossoit. And if he plays the way he did last season, when he was one of the few highlights amidst a frustrating 2021-22 campaign, then he might just do it.
The Golden Knights were facing eerily similar injury issues in net last February when they called Thompson up from the Henderson Silver Knights, as injuries to Lehner and Brossoit and cap restrictions limited their options. Despite his inexperience, the former Brandon Wheat King looked steady and composed en route to a 10-5-3 record, .914 save percentage (SV%) and 2.68 goals against average (GAA) in 19 games.
While the team ultimately fell short, Thompson was instrumental in steadying the ship down the stretch. He recorded a 22-save shutout against the Seattle Kraken and stopped 35 of 36 shots on two separate occasions during 6-1 wins over the Calgary Flames and Nashville Predators. That Vegas suffered shootout losses in three of their final four games before falling three points shy of a playoff spot is hardly Thompson’s fault.
Even as the most experienced of the three goaltending options (not counting likely fourth-stringer Michael Hutchinson), the 29-year-old Brossoit still has only appeared in 106 career games. Within that, he’s never started more than the 21 contests he saw last year. That season, Brossoit’s first in Vegas, saw the British Columbia native struggle to a 10-9-3-1 record with a .895 SV% and 2.90 GAA after being signed to be Lehner’s primary backup.
Another concern with Brossoit is his ability to stay on the ice. The 2011 sixth-round pick missed the final 20 games with an undisclosed injury before undergoing offseason hip surgery. Head coach Bruce Cassidy admitted that he wasn’t entirely certain of Brossoit’s status to start the season, which represents a big red flag and likely looms as one of the primary motivators behind the Hill acquisition.
The only other time that Brossoit has logged over 20 games during his eight-year career, he was exceptional. He went 13-6-2 for the Winnipeg Jets while sporting a .925 SV% and 2.52 GAA. That, however, was back in 2018-19. In the four years since, he simply hasn’t demonstrated a track record that projects value in a backup role, let alone as a starter. GM Kelly McCrimmon can’t afford to lose any more goaltending options right now, but he could be looking to shed Brossoit’s $2.325 million salary before long.
With no bona fide No. 1 to be had (or to be had at a less than exorbitant price, anyway), Hill’s potential and relatively low acquisition cost (a fourth-rounder) was a sound bet to make. Of course, sound bets don’t stop pucks, and Hill will ultimately need to perform at a higher level than he’s shown to this point in his NHL career.
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Optimistically, a move from some pretty terrible teams in Arizona and San Jose to one that, while flawed, possesses a deep and experienced blue line could pay dividends for the development of the 26-year-old. As I mentioned in an article last week, Hill was deemed worthy (by the Sharks, anyway) of a second-rounder just a season ago. Even after an uneven, injury-marred season in San Jose in which he failed to emerge from a crowded crease that included James Reimer and Kaapo Kahkonen.
Even if you go by Hill’s performance last season, his .906 SV% and 2.66 GAA represented an improvement upon what Lehner (.907 SV%, 2.83 GAA) and Brossoit (.895 SV%, 2.90 GAA) provided and weren’t far off what Thompson offered in a small sample size (.914 SV%, 2.68 GAA). However leaky Vegas’ netminding was last season, it was still enough to help keep them within three points of a playoff spot despite rampant injuries. If Hill can improve upon that even slightly, it could be a huge boon for the Golden Knights.
To be clear, it’s unlikely this is a battle for the undisputed role as No. 1. More likely, Cassidy and the Golden Knights will use training camp to determine the best tandem arrangement moving forward. In that sense, the decision may well be a straightforward one — have Thompson and Hill share responsibilities before seeing if Brossoit, upon making a full recovery post-surgery, can unseat one of the incumbents.
Of course, the situation in net will likely look far different at season’s end than it does now. And if Vegas does find itself in the postseason mix come April, at least one of these three men will have had a significant role in making it happen.
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.