It was no surprise that goalie Robin Lehner is the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy nominee for the New York Islanders, but it gives us a chance to look back at how far he has come in less than a year.
The former Sabre and Senator, once a highly touted prospect with Ottawa, was almost a free agent afterthought last summer after the Sabres decided against issuing him a qualifying offer. Publicly it was clear he’d struggled — on bad teams — but privately there was much more going on.
With most free agent goalies off the market, the Islanders scooped Lehner up on July 3 on a one-year deal, a low-risk move on a player who still possessed impressive talent and would have a chance to nurture it under completely new management and goaltending coaches on Long Island.
Then on the eve of training camp, Lehner publicly shared just how much he’d gone through: A harrowing and relatable ordeal with addiction and previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder that he shared in a piece at The Athletic, to spread the word and hopefully inspire others dealing with similar challenges. Last year at this time, he was in a treatment facility with his career, and life, hanging in the balance.
The great news is that Lehner, by all accounts, is in a much better place now for himself and his young family. He’s felt support on Long Island and from friends around the league all season. May these words remain true:
“I’m working on my issues, but I’m working every day to be a better person. That’s my new journey and I’m just happy I came to a team with a really, really good organization that’s been showing tremendous support, supporting me a lot off the ice and on the ice. I couldn’t be happier.”
The cherry on top of that news is he is having an outstanding season with the Islanders, appreciating the heartfelt support from fans and backstopping a team on the verge of a playoff berth. He’s been among the league leaders in save percentage and goals against average all season long.
“It’s a nice honor. It couldn’t be done without everyone’s help and support… Just being accepting of the flaws that I’ve had and not being judgmental… Thinking about the person first is what this organization does.”— New York Islanders (@NYIslanders) March 28, 2019
Robin Lehner reacts to his Masterton nomination. #Isles pic.twitter.com/SIOvdKB0W1
Because of that one-year “prove it” contract he received last summer, Lehner is a pending unrestricted free agent again. This time, he’ll command more, and multi-year security. The Islanders will have a decision to make based on their own depth at the position and how they see the future.
(Thomas Greiss, also having a great season, is signed for one more year. Ilya Sorokin, the team’s top goalie prospect, has one more season on his KHL contract but is sometimes rumored to be interested in buying that out to come to the NHL sooner.)
Whether Lehner is re-signed long term or not, his story with the Islanders isn’t over yet. He’ll be a favorite to be a finalist for the Masterton (announced this spring) and winner at the awards ceremony in June. And it’s a good bet that Lehner will get first shot at the crease in the playoffs. However far the Isles go this spring is likely how far Lehner takes them.