For the third straight offseason, the Golden Knights must answer questions about their goaltending.
Eight days after announcing that Robin Lehner was being shut down because of a shoulder injury, the Knights on Tuesday provided their version of what happened to their No. 1 goalie during the final two weeks of the season.
But it’s still not clear where the sides stand entering the summer.
“It shouldn’t be a surprise that there’s friction at the end of a tough season between coaches and players or even players and players,” coach Pete DeBoer said. “Everyone is frustrated, and everyone is pushing. There’s lots of tough conversations that are had down the stretch in those situations, and you’re pushing people to max them out because we need it. This isn’t something unique to us or our group or Robin Lehner.”
There has been little clarity on Lehner’s status since he went from healthy to requiring surgery during a four-day span.
To review, Lehner battled injuries since the middle of December and sustained a shoulder injury Feb. 9 in a loss at Calgary, according to the club. After he returned April 3 from a separate injury, Lehner was inconsistent and fought the puck at times.
Still, with the Knights in must-win mode, DeBoer started Lehner against New Jersey on April 18.
“It wasn’t an easy decision,” DeBoer said. “I can tell you if I thought Robin was compromised either in discussion with Robin or with our medical team, I wouldn’t have started him. I wouldn’t have jeopardized our season or the athlete to start him. So I made the decision to start him based on the information I had.”
Lehner allowed two questionable goals in the third period of the loss to New Jersey, and DeBoer criticized his play after the game. But he came back with Lehner two nights later against Washington.
“I know the capability of Robin Lehner. We’ve seen it,” DeBoer said. “We’ve seen him get hot and go on a run, and I felt at that point we needed that.”
However, Lehner was pulled after stopping 12 of 13 shots in the first period. He also gave up a goal that was disallowed when the Knights successfully challenged for offside.
The Knights were off the following day, and Lehner met with general manager Kelly McCrimmon to discuss his injury. They met the next day, too. At that point, according to McCrimmon, the sides agreed that Lehner would practice April 23 and be available for the game against San Jose on April 24.
“The fact that he needed surgery wasn’t a big surprise,” McCrimmon said. “It was a matter of when the repair was going to be done.”
But Lehner met with team doctors on the morning of April 23, and that’s when the plan changed to shut him down for the final three games, according to McCrimmon.
Because the Knights did not have enough salary cap space after activating winger William Carrier for the game against San Jose on April 24, Lehner had to serve as the backup to Logan Thompson.
McCrimmon insisted the team did not jeopardize Lehner’s health by having him dress for the game a day before announcing he needed season-ending surgery.
“I’ve read it was almost like we played him with a heart condition. He wasn’t at risk,” McCrimmon said defiantly. “He’d been playing. He was having trouble playing to the best of his abilities. That was the nature of his injury.
“All the change was when the repair would be done. I think there was an understanding for some time that a repair was going to be necessary.”
Lehner is set to undergo shoulder surgery Wednesday, according to McCrimmon. No timeline for his return has been established.
In 44 appearances, Lehner went 23-17-2 with a 2.83 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.
Lehner was not available to the media during exit interviews to address whether there are irreconcilable differences between him and the team. He has not spoken since April 9 after a victory over Arizona and has three years remaining on his contract with a $5 million salary cap hit.
“If Robin Lehner wanted to play because he felt in his mind he could help — maybe he knew he was compromised, but he didn’t think it would be an issue — and told us what we wanted to hear in order to get that start, then credit to Robin,” DeBoer said. “That shows his gumption in wanting to be there.”
The Knights finished the season with five regulars on long-term injured reserve, and McCrimmon said goalie Laurent Brossoit is the only one who will require surgery.
Winger Reilly Smith (undisclosed) is close to fully recovered from his injury and would have been available at some point in the playoffs had the Knights qualified. The injury to forward Brett Howden, who was taken off on a stretcher March 24 after crashing head-first into the boards, is “very manageable,” McCrimmon said.
Defenseman Nic Hague (lower body) also might have been available during the playoffs, and forward Nolan Patrick (undisclosed) is out indefinitely.
Contact David Schoen at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-5203. Follow @DavidSchoenLVRJ on Twitter.