One of the biggest surprise signings of the 2019 offseason was on Long Island. The New York Islanders inked goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a four year, $20 million deal on the opening day of free agency. Not because Varlamov isn’t an excellent goaltender but… the team already had a Vezina Trophy nominee in Robin Lehner who was willing to negotiate a new deal with the team. What gives?
Lehner, of course, was dumped by GM Lou Lamoriello and signed a one year, $5 million deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. The veteran goaltender has performed admirably with his new team and seems to be a fit moving forward, but he’s made it clear that he won’t be fooled again when it comes to contract negotiations.
Sportsnet reporter Chris Johnston recently caught up with Lehner to talk about his pending free agent status and relayed his conversation to colleague Elliotte Friedman who shared his thoughts below:
Lehner will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, and while he understands how his off-ice issues led him to this point, he believes it’s time for him “to be paid fairly, like any player would want to be.”
Chris asked specifically if a long-term deal is the biggest priority; Lehner responded he couldn’t say for sure, noting that stability would be good for his family, but that there are other factors to consider. Reading between the lines, we took that to mean he doesn’t necessarily want to take a lower AAV to get term.
Lehner was excellent for the Islanders last year and has been great for the Blackhawks this year. He pointed to his 2016-17 season (seventh in save percentage) as evidence that — until being derailed by addiction, anxiety and bipolar disorder — there is consistent above-average performance there. He rejects the notion signing goalies to longer-term contracts is any more risky than it is for skaters, saying, “Many of those deals don’t work out either.” This led into another conversation about how we are still looking for proper methods of evaluating goalies. He said performance is more tied to overall team play than most people acknowledge — that John Gibson didn’t all of a sudden get bad this season. Lehner did say, however, that NHL goalies should stop every clear-eye shot they face. “We get paid enough to do that.”
So the big man wants money and term? Don’t we all?
In all seriousness, Lehner has earned the right to command top dollar. He’s been one of the league’s best net minders for the better part of three seasons now and, frankly, was dicked around by Lamoriello and the Islanders in previous negotiations. Once bitten, twice shy.