Golden Knights bring back Subban; Will Vegas ease Fleury’s burden?

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With a tight salary cap situation that might just force intriguing forward Nikita Gusev out of town, it’s no surprise that the Vegas Golden Knights are going status quo (and cheap) when it comes to their backup goalie.

The Golden Knights are bringing back 25-year-old goalie Malcolm Subban to back up 34-year-old Marc-Andre Fleury in 2019-20, with Subban receiving a one-year, $850K contract. So you can cross Subban’s name off of the salary arbitration hearing list.

“We are pleased to announce this one-year contract for Malcolm. He’s been a valuable contributor to our team over the last two seasons,” Golden Knights GM George McPhee said. “We are excited to continue to work with Malcolm and help him reach his full potential as an NHL goaltender.”

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

Potential is an interesting word with Subban.

The Boston Bruins made him an increasingly rare first-round pick, taking him 24th in 2012.

So far, Subban hasn’t justified that pick, but it behooves the Golden Knights to give him more opportunities to sink or swim. Because, frankly, they’ve been leaning on Marc-Andre Fleury far too much, and it sure feels like head coach Gerard Gallant has been playing with fire in that regard.

Subban only appeared in seven games from October through Dec. 31, and only 11 by the month of February. It would seem savvy to rest Fleury and play Subban more late in the season to ready for the playoffs (Subban played 10 games from March 10 to April 1), but that happened in large part because Fleury suffered a lower-body injury.

With 798 regular-season games already on his resume, not to mention plenty of deep playoff runs, Fleury’s a high-mileage 34-year-old, and there’s increasing evidence that teams need to shy away from the Brodeurian workloads of old.

Vegas would be wise to protect its investment with Fleury. Some might look at Fleury’s $7 million cap hit (which runs through 2021-22) and think that they should get every penny’s worth by playing “The Flower” as much as possible, but that’s shortsighted. Instead of letting MAF wilt, they should do their best to conserve his energy for when the big games roll in April and on.

Of course, to get to April, they’ll need to win enough games, and that would require Subban to deliver.

After putting forth a reasonably promising 2017-18 (.910 save percentage, 13-4-2 record) with Vegas, Subban sputtered in 2018-19, going 8-10-2 with a mediocre .902 save percentage. Those aren’t the type of numbers that will convince Gallant to be more future-focused and give Fleury the sort of breaks that might pay off down the line.

Really, though, with the Golden Knights’ war chest of talent, they might want to just buckle up and hope they can win high-scoring games. Even if Subban struggles here and there, it’s conceivable that they can just survive a back-and-forth bout with all of that skill, plus a little help from the Vegas flu?

If the Golden Knights ultimately don’t trust Subban to hold down the fort, or at least spell Fleury during back-to-back sets, then they sorely need to find other options. Perhaps that will mean pouncing instead of passing when Curtis McElhinney-type goalies get placed on waivers during the 2019-20 season, but either way, these are discussions Vegas should be having.

Cramped cap or not, the Golden Knights have done a lot right for a team that’s already highly competitive after just two seasons in the NHL, yet finding the right goalie balance could play a role in Vegas enjoying a big run like they did in 2017-18, rather than finishing another year with the sort of gutting feeling they experienced ending last season.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.