The story of Robin Lehner is, without doubt, my personal favorite story of the 2018-19 season. Lehner’s battle with anxiety and depression is a gut-wrenching tale that so many can relate to, myself included. Almost no one wanted to sign him back in July when he was open and honest with teams about what he was dealing with, in fact only two teams were willing to take a chance.
The New York Islanders were one of those teams and boy, were they ever rewarded for that faith in him. Once seen as the starter of the future in both Ottawa and Buffalo, Lehner came to Brooklyn as little more than an afterthought.
He closes his first season with the club having reached the second round of the playoffs and being named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy and Masterton Trophy. Oh, and Lehner and Thomas Greiss were awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy following the regular season. Not bad at all.
Why Is He Out There?:
The Islanders showed faith in Lehner last July, but that faith had a limit. They were not willing to commit term to him and ended up inking Lehner to a one-year deal that carried an AAV of $1,500,000. Quite the decrease from his previous one-year deal that had a $4,000,000 cap hit.
Lehner turned in a stellar season, and was arguably the most valuable player on the NHL’s most surprising team in 2018-19. He’s earned himself a big raise, and has likely earned himself some serious term as well. At only 27, there appears to be some serious gas left in Lehner’s tank.
Will the Islanders, who have some key free agents coming up this summer and next, be able to shell out the kind of money and term Lehner has earned? That’s really the only reason why he would be on the open market in July.
What Does He Do Well?:
I’ve always liked Lehner’s ability and I always thought he was going to a legit starter in this league. Until this past season, Lehner had only shown signs of that over the course of his career.
2018-19 was, to this point, the highest level Lehner has been able to reach. He crafted a .930 save percentage in 46 regular season games, while posting a 25-13-5 record that included a career-high six shutouts. His 2.13 GAA was a sparking mark that also represented a career best.
His playoff performance was just as solid. Lehner went 4-3-1 in a wacky postseason that included a sweep of the Penguins and getting swept by Carolina. Lehner’s .936 save percentage and 2.00 GAA actually were improvements over his sensational season. Lehner was a beast from day one for the Isles.
Outside of his nightmare 2017-18 season, which as we now know included some serious personal issues, Lehner has been a strong netminder. He posted a .920 save percentage in 2016-17 with Buffalo (59 games) and a .924 mark with the Sabres in 2015-16, his first year with the club (21 games).
If you take out 2017-18 (.908), which included off-ice factors, Lehner is a solid starter at the NHL level.
Here’s a look at his scouting report via The Sports Forecaster.
Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:
No questions asked, in my opinion, Robin Lehner is a starting goaltender in the NHL. He’d immediately be the number one netminder in Edmonton and would fill said starting role in Northern Alberta.
What Will He Cost?:
Lehner is, rightfully so, going to cash in on his terrific work this past season. I think a team is looking at paying him around $4,500,000 to $5,000,000 per season on a multi-year deal. I could see five years at $5,000,000 being a fair offer for Lehner’s services. If that’s what it costs, I think he ends up staying in New York.
Although that is fair market value, I don’t think Edmonton would be able to afford that unless they dumped the overpaid Mikko Koskinen. It’s going to be tough to accomplish that unfortunately.
Lehner emerged in a big way this past season and caught the attention of everyone. He’s a role model, and was one of the best goaltenders in the world on one of the best stories in the sport.
Lehner will cash in, and he deserves every penny. He’s a tough guy with a leadership element and a swagger to him. I can’t help but think he’d be perfect as the workhorse in Edmonton, but I just don’t see how the money works unfortunately.
On top of that, Ken Holland isn’t known for heavily investing in goaltending in the cap era, and I don’t think that will change this summer. It’s a fun thought, but unfortunately for Oiler fans Robin Lehner is nothing but a dream.