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Opinion: Could Trading Kari Lehtonen to Vegas Make Sense?

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With both of Vegas’ goalies injured, a trade makes more sense now than ever for both sides of the equation

Vegas Golden Knights v Dallas Stars Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

The big news for the Vegas Golden Knights before their opening match-up against the Stars kicked off with the team deciding to trade their backup goalie Calvin Pickard to the Toronto Maple Leafs after they claimed Malcolm Subban on waivers from Boston. And as it made some sense at the time, now it’s looking to hurt the team more than ever.

With Marc-Andre Fleury being placed on IR after taking a knee to the head in Vegas’s game against Detroit, Subban took over duties in between the pipes. But the injury woes continued. Subban was placed on IR with a lower body injury occurring midway through the Golden Knights’ match up against St. Louis. He is expected to miss a month, according to reports.

So what does that mean exactly for the Golden Knights, now down two goalies?

Prospect Oscar Dansk was called up from the minors prior to their match-up against St. Louis, who filled in after Subban’s injury, and the former Texas Star Maxime Lagace is expected to help fill in on backup duty as well.

Dallas Stars v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

But what if the Dallas Stars had a better solution than two young goalies from the minors with zero NHL experience for Vegas’ woes? What about a proven NHL starter by the name of Kari Lehtonen?

Lehtonen has spent 14 seasons in the NHL, five with the Atlanta Thrashers and nine (can you believe it?) with Dallas. He has 1,642 career saves and a career .912 save percentage. It’s no doubt he has earned his money and has proven to be a starter in this league, but if he is to continue to start on a regular basis, it may not be in Dallas after this year.

Lehtonen is in his final year of his contract with the Dallas Stars, and if not re-signed, he will become an unrestricted free agent. At 33 years old and with the addition of Ben Bishop in the off season, there is no need to hold onto a goalie that will more than likely sign someplace else in the off season where he can find ice time.

(No need, that is, so long as the Stars can find a suitable backup somewhere else in the meantime. Texas Stars goalie Mike McKenna might be able to do alright in the short term, if needed, but with Ben Bishop’s health history, this certainly bears mentioning. Still, should the Stars feel good about their ability to find that player, you could see them being willing to pry some other asset (say, another defenseman or some draft picks) out of Vegas if the Golden Knights got desperate.)

Lehtonen is currently costing the Stars $5,900,000 (and he also has a modified no-trade clause per CapFriendly, which is its own possible roadblock, but bear with us here) which is currently the 4th-highest salary on Dallas’ roster behind only Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza and Alexander Radulov; and it’s tied at 9th with Semyon Varlamov among goalies across the league. Trading away Lehtonen could free up cap space that, for the Stars, could give them a healthy cushion over their current number of $636,186, allowing for more moves at the deadline (or well before it).

Lehtonen is an asset that Stars general manager Jim Nill has two options on how to manage. One, his contract will expire, and he’ll sign somewhere else in search of more ice time. Or two, the Stars can try to trade away Lehtonen before the deadline and obtain something, whether that be a veteran type goalie or a prospect player, in return other than simply letting him get away for nothing.

The problem with that is teams may be wary of trading for a stop-gap goaltender with an expiring contract—but for the Golden Knights, who might look at acquiring veteran help to continue their early season winning ways, it could make sense to make a move now.

The Vegas Golden Knights’ cap space is at $3,946,777 per CapFriendly, so the money might be tricky (unless the Stars retain some salary). While Fleury’s timetable for return is uncertain and Subban is out for up to a month, the Golden Knights may not be able to afford to take the route of playing unknowns if they hope to sustain their momentum. A trade for veteran goaltending could make sense if they want to try to stay in the thick of things until Fleury returns. And Dallas may just be the place to find it.