Some will make the argument that the most important thing for Ken Holland to do this off-season is arm the Edmonton Oilers with an upgrade in net. Mikko Koskinen posted a .917 save percentage last season, while Mike Smith was up-and-down and finished with a .902 mark.
The 2020 free agent class may be the deepest in recent memory. In addition, a number of options will be available to Holland via trade. Of course, he has Koskinen under contract for two more seasons at $4,500,000 per year. Smith, meanwhile, is a free agent.
If Holland wants to really address the position, there is one elite level starter that will hit the market in October. He’s currently leading the division-rival Vegas Golden Knights to what appears to be another Western Conference Final appearance.
Could Robin Lehner be the answer in Edmonton?
Why Is He Out There?:
Lehner has bounced around a bit as of late. The Swedish goaltender played the 2017-18 season with the Buffalo Sabres, then had a spectacular 2018-19 season with the New York Islanders. After failing to sign a deal in New York, Lehner inked another one-year contract in Chicago and produced strong numbers for a bad Blackhawks team.
At the trade deadline, before COVID-19 changed everything, Lehner was traded from the Blackhawks to Vegas. Now, Lehner is the number one for the loaded Golden Knights.
It seems obvious that Vegas would just re-sign Lehner, but there is one major issue there. Veteran Marc-Andre Fleury is in the first year of a three-year deal that carries an AAV of $7,000,000. That’s not an easy pill to swallow in a flat-cap world.
It may be what prevents the Golden Knights from keeping Lehner moving forward.
What Does He Do Well?:
Lehner stops the puck, and he does it consistently. Not only that, but he’s done it consistently behind bad teams. There is value in that, especially considering the Oilers recent history at five-on-five.
Lehner posted a .918 save percentage behind one of the worst defenses in the NHL over the course of 33 games in Chicago. In Vegas, he played three regular season games and had a .940 save percentage with a shutout. So far these playoffs, Lehner has a 7-2-0 record, two shutouts and a .921 save percentage.
Last season, in eight playoff games, he went 4-4-0 with a .936 save percentage for the Islanders. During the regular season? Lehner posted a .930 save percentage and 2.13 GAA (25-13-5 record) in 46 appearances. He also, along with fellow pending free agent Thomas Greiss, won the William M. Jennings Trophy.
Lehner’s numbers at five-on-five might be the most impressive thing about him. With the Islanders in 2018-19, he produced a .934 save percentage at five-on-five. The year before that? A .916 mark on a putrid Buffalo Sabres team. He also had five-on-five save percentages of .926 (2016-17) and .925 (2015-16) while in Buffalo. The Sabres were not a playoff team in any of those three years.
What he does is stop the puck at five-on-five behind bad teams and good teams. He’s a high-level goaltender, boarding on elite based on the numbers.
Here’s a look at Lehner’s scouting report via The Sports Forecaster:
Owns a huge frame (6-4, 240 pounds), so he covers a ton of net. Is combative and moves very well in the crease area due to tremendous quickness. His confidence sets him apart. Can get flustered in the crease area, so he must shake off adversity better. Needs to continue to improve his rebound control to maximize his NHL output. Injuries are a factor.
Where Should He Play / Where Will He Play?:
Robin Lehner is a starting goaltender in the National Hockey League. He’d be the number one goaltender on at least 20 teams in the league. That includes the Edmonton Oilers.
The Oilers need either a tandem goalie for Koskinen, or a legit number one. Lehner is a legit number one. He’s got the resume to fill the role, and would be a great fit for Edmonton’s biggest need at this time.
What Will He Cost:
This is going to be tricky, because no one really knows what the market will look like. The salary cap will remain flat at $81,500,000 for at least the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons. It could remain flat even longer than that, and the possibility exists that it will actually decrease.
Lehner signed a one-year contract last July 1st with the Blackhawks that paid him $5,000,000. That came off of another one-year deal with the Islanders, where he made just $1,500,000.
Lehner, in a normal year, would command a long-term contract and an AAV starting with a six. It’s not a normal year, and anything is possible. Would Lehner sign a one-or-two-year deal in hopes of cashing in when the cap rises again?
Will a team pay him anyways, regardless of the financial climate? All of that remains to be seen.
If the Oilers are going to sign Lehner, they probably will need at least $5,500,000 of cap space to do it. He’ll cost at least that much, likely more.
I’m not sure there is really an argument to make, Robin Lehner is the best goaltender who will be on the free agent market this October. He’s a top-ten goalie in the NHL, consistently produces strong numbers and has done so behind some really bad teams during his career.
There is little doubt that Lehner would come to Edmonton and turn a weakness into a strength. That said, I’d be shocked if Lehner signed in Edmonton. In this flat-cap world, the Oilers simply will not have the financial resources to make it happen.
Their only chance? Move Mikko Koskinen’s entire contract off the books, and dump Kris Russell and his $4,000,000 cap hit, replacing him with Caleb Jones.