VGK needs accountability and it should start at the top with McPhee and McCrimmon

The Golden Knights announced that starting goalkeeper Robin Lehner needs hip surgery and will miss the 2022-23 season.

Max Pacioretty, who was a classy as well as quality player for the Vegas Golden Knights for four seasons, pointed out one of the franchise’s biggest shortcomings last month following a trade to the Carolina Hurricanes.

The question that needs to be asked of Pacioretty, a one-time captain for the vaunted Montreal Canadiens, is why he didn’t go public with his critique of Vegas’ practices while he was still with the team and could have had impact in improving the problems he saw.

That aside, what Pacioretty said to hosts Chris Nilan and Tim Stapleton on the July 28 version of the Raw Knuckles podcast was absolutely on the money. 

“I mentioned that at the end of the year that no one is really holding us accountable,” Pacioretty said. “If we have a bad year like this, the city would be half on fire in Montreal. Here in Vegas, it’s 80 degrees, and it’s sunny. We’re getting our car washed and getting our organic food, and going to play golf.

“I was kind of like, ‘We’ve got to police this thing a little better amongst each other.’ I don’t want to say it was a country club, but you have no one from the outside holding you accountable.”

Thursday’s news that VGK goaltender Robin Lehner needs hip surgery that will keep him out for the entire 2022-23 season is another example of the lack of accountability surrounding this franchise. But this time, the questions of accountability are aimed at general manager Kelly McCrimmon and George McPhee, the VGK’s president of hockey operations.

The two have so badly mismanaged the team’s salary cap that they’ve become a joke around the NHL. Pacioretty and Dylan Coghlan were traded to Carolina for nothing. As was Marc-Andre Fleury to Chicago and Evgenii Dadonov to Montreal. Those moves — and the ill-advised trade for Jack Eichel that cost the Knights an enormous amount of talent — are why this franchise is facing such desperate times. There is a very real chance this team misses the playoffs for a second time in a row unless something is done to shore up the goaltending spot.

President of Hockey Operations George McPhee, owner Bill Foley and GM Kelly McCrimmon weren’t available to discuss Lehner’s injury after news broke Thursday.

If there were any accountability with McCrimmon, he’d have held a news conference to answer questions and explain how the Knights’ didn’t know about Lehner’s injury sooner. But Lehner had shoulder surgery shortly after the regular season (and the Knights’ season) ended. Theoretically, McCrimmon and McPhee were in constant contact with those handling Lehner’s rehabilitation from that shoulder surgery.

They should have known almost instantly of his hip issues. Now, it’s possible that Lehner injured his hip recently, saw a doctor and was told he needed surgery. It’s possible, though unlikely. As the great Gorilla Monsoon often would say to Bobby “The Brain” Heenan, it is highly unlikely.

But if it were a recent occurrence, it would be easy for McCrimmon to explain away. But if it happened a while ago, why didn’t they act? There are no legitimate goalies available and so the VGK will go into next season with rookie Logan Thompson and Laurent Brossoit, who is A) a career backup and B) not guaranteed to be ready for the start of the season after he had his own offseason surgery.

At least McCrimmon occasionally speaks to the media, which by and large treats him fairly and with kid gloves. But McPhee almost never does. He’s a ghost even though he’s believed to be the Wizard of Oz, the guy behind the curtains pulling the strings. He faces no scrutiny because he won’t give his own media the time of day but he’ll then go on a podcast in Canada and chat happily away.

But one of them or owner Bill Foley needs to face the media and explain this debacle. How did they get to the middle of August, essentially, and not know that Lehner needed surgery?

There were plenty of goalies traded and signed at the draft and during the free agent period in July. A guy you may have heard of by the name of Fleury was a free agent who took a one-year $3 million deal to return to Minnesota.

But there were plenty of other goalies that would have been acceptable under the circumstances. Minnesota traded Cam Talbot to Ottawa after re-signing Fleury. Talbot would look good in Vegas right now.

Jack Campbell signed as a free agent with Edmonton, shoring up the greatest weakness of a key divisional rival. 

Now, though, the pickings are slim. There is NO goalie capable of leading a team to a Stanley Cup available on the free agent market, and they’re next-to-impossible to acquire at this point in a trade.

Maybe, as Jesse Granger of The Athletic pointed out, they could throw an offer sheet at Jake Oettinger of the Dallas Stars. Oettinger is 23, a wonderful talent and, if they could get him, would be the long-term answer.

Dallas goalie Jake Oettinger is a restricted free agent.

But acquiring him would come at a hefty cost. The Knights have precious little in their farm system because of the slew of trades they’ve made. And to get Oettinger, they’d have to give up at least one first. if not two depending upon the size of the contract they give him. And then they’d have to move someone else to fit him on the roster.

The Knights are one of the most secretive organizations in sports and their paranoia almost knows no bounds.

They like to say they have the best fans in the league, but if they felt that way, they’d feel obliged to keep them in the loop on an issue of such critical significance. It’s high time that Foley, McPhee and McCrimmon acted as if they truly believed that.

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