There have been rumors swirling around the future of Robin Lehner since the season ends, and now Bob McKenzie of TSN reports that the Buffalo Sabres are not expected to extend a qualifying offer to their starting goaltender. Lehner is a restricted free agent but would become an unrestricted free agent if he does not receive an offer. Sabres GM Jason Botterill said at the end of the season that Linus Ullmark would be one of the team’s goaltenders in 2018-19, but wouldn’t commit to anyone else.
This will bring to an end what has been an up-and-down tenure for Lehner with the Sabres. Former GM Tim Murray paid a first-round pick (which turned into center Colin White) to secure his services back in 2015 and they didn’t get a great return on that investment. He was injured for a big chunk of 2015-16 before bouncing back with a good 2016-17 campaign where he had a .920 SV% and a 2.68 GAA in 59 games which helped him earn a one-year, $4MM contract last offseason.
However, things went off the rails this past season. Lehner struggled throughout the year and didn’t exactly hide his displeasure with how things were going. Overall, his SV% dropped to .908 while his GAA jumped to 3.01, numbers that were worse than the league average. Accordingly, it’s not entirely surprising that the Sabres have opted not to qualify him at that same $4MM for next season.
Botterill will now need to decide if he is going to pursue a second goaltender via a trade in the coming days or look to the free agent market which is highlighted by the likes of Carter Hutton, Jaroslav Halak, and Jonathan Bernier, among others. Meanwhile, Lehner will likely have to settle for a one-year deal at a considerable discount from what he made in 2017-18 in the hopes of restoring his value around the league for next offseason.