The New York Islanders have found a new goaltending partner for Thomas Greiss with an agreement to sign former Senators and Sabres goalie Robin Lehner on a one-year deal, reported by CapFriendly as $1.5 million.
Lehner was basically the only somewhat promising goaltender left on the market, and the Islanders were virtually the only spot left for him to land. Former Stars goalie Kari Lehtonen is also a free agent, as is former Blue Jackets, Flyers and Jets goaltender Steve Mason. But their recent histories are not encouraging.
Like those two, Lehner has struggled with injuries and consistency, but he’s been on bad teams more often than not. At 26, hopefully he can find stability under Barry Trotz, and perhaps Mitch Korn, the longtime Trotz goaltending coach who has reportedly at least had talks with the Islanders. (He’s also, however, talked with the Capitals about remaining in D.C.)
Lehner became a free agent this summer when the Sabres declined to give him a qualifying offer, as he was coming off a $3.15 million salary in 2017-18. His stats have trended downward through is career, right along with the teams he’s played for.
In 2013-14, his first full-ish season, he put up .913 with Ottawa. That was followed by 2014-15 and a .905 save percentage in 25 games. After the move to Buffalo at age 24 he put up .924 in 21 starts, seemingly justifying their gamble on his potential as he successfully recovered from an ankle injury in his first game.
But the Sabres have remained awful, and the last two seasons with a 50+ start workload have seen .920 and then .908 in 2017-18, when the Sabres finished at the bottom of the league. It was a season interrupted with frequent injuries. Perhaps a year of health will be just what he needs.
What’s his game like? Cat Silverman broke it down last week in an overview of free agent goalies at The Athletic:
Lehner’s been linked to Henrik Lundqvist as an inspiration for his style, which dates back to Lehner’s early development under his father and coach, Michael. The elder Lehner worked with Lundqvist back in Sweden, and much of what had been taught to the elite Rangers starter was also taught to Lehner during his formative years. He plays deep in his crease and prefers to play from his knees, although he doesn’t have quite the depth or the wide butterfly that Lundqvist is known for.
Although his depth is far from aggressive, the rest of his game has enough aggression to spare. The 26-year-old former starter isn’t afraid to get physical with skaters in front of him, and he’s got as much Ron Hextall in him as he does Lundqvist when it comes to his willingness to mix it up after the whistle.
Many Isles fans will remember him from a between periods run-in with Kevin Poulin and, hey look, a whole bunch of fourth-liners:
Lehner psycho #Isles pic.twitter.com/ihXmrgKnuj— Magnus Larsson (@swedishislander) July 3, 2018
As Keith pointed out then and now, Poulin’s knee dislocated again the next game.
But that was, ohhhh that was just the beginning. Lehner is feisty alright. (In truth, he should really get that under control a bit. But we’re in a quasi-rebuild so I’ll take some entertainment.)
This absolute mad man is our starting goaltender and I love it #Isles pic.twitter.com/jI0aZi9MIz— Christian Farrelly (@Christian_Isles) July 3, 2018
Anyway, here he is. It’s a one-year deal, which smacks of marriage of convenience: “We’re in a fix, show us what you got” meets “I’m in a fix, I need to rebuild my stats to get a bigger payday.”
If Lehner tanks, the Isles will have no commitment to him to deal with. If he shines, he’ll revive his career and increase his chances for a big payday as a free agent (or re-signing) next year.