Even though he had been in a timeshare with Corey Crawford in Chicago this season, it seemed like there was a possibility that Robin Lehner could return for next season. Following the trade and his recent comments to reporters, including Justin Emerson of the Las Vegas Sun, that doesn’t appear to be a likely scenario anymore:
I went to Chicago to help them out and got promises of getting a fair chance to play. I came there with a good mindset, fit into the team. I didn’t play much in the beginning, or middle, beginning of the season, even if I played well, had a good camp.
Eventually, I took over and I won — I think I won like nine out of 10, 12 out of 15 — and we walked up one point out of a playoff spot. Then, all of a sudden, I found myself on the bench for no reason. That was tough. Plus, negotiations totally died out.
Lehner and Crawford were very close in appearances before the trade with Lehner only getting into one more game. Statistically speaking, the two were very close in save percentage (Lehner .918 and Crawford .915) while Crawford’s goals against average of 2.80 was a bit better than Lehner’s 3.01 so with both goalies playing at a similar level, the timeshare wasn’t that surprising. The fact that both players are making a sizable salary ($6MM for Crawford, $5MM for Lehner) only made that outcome an even likelier one.
What was a bit surprising, however, was the contract situation. While he had indicated early last month that he wasn’t willing to take a hometown discount, he was certainly open to the idea of sticking around at that time. Perhaps part of the reason of that was the Blackhawks’ unwillingness to make a long-term commitment; Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported in his latest 31 Thoughts column that the team was only willing to go as long as a two-year term on an extension.
Considering he has played on short-term deals throughout his career and the fact he’s in his second straight strong season, it’s understandable that he’d want a long-term pact. Lehner’s struggles before that played a role in him having to take a one-year deal this summer and it’s reasonable to surmise that GM Stan Bowman had some similar reservations given their approach to negotiations.
This trade probably doesn’t help his free agent case as his playing time will be somewhat limited behind Marc-Andre Fleury. Even if he plays more than his predecessor in Malcolm Subban, Lehner will be hard-pressed to match the timeshare situation he had in Chicago let alone improve on that. Not surprisingly, when asked if he was hopeful that his stint in Vegas would be for more than just a few months, he was non-committal.
I don’t hope anymore. We’ll see what happens. We’ll see what happens this summer.
With his track record, Lehner’s case is certainly going to be one of the more interesting free agency cases around the league regardless of position. He has played well enough to earn a similar payday but will he be able to get the long-term security as well? As Lehner himself said, we’ll see what happens this summer.