Robin Lehner gave it his all last year. After battling personal demons, Lehner won the Masterton Trophy, the William M. Jennings Trophy and fell just short of the Vezina Trophy. For a guy who battled consistency issues throughout his NHL career and had been let walk as a restricted free agent last summer, it was the league’s greatest success story.
That said, the New York Islanders didn’t end up bringing him back, Lehner instead signing a one-year deal with the Chicago Blackhawks. It was a surprising move, if only because Corey Crawford is still a Blackhawk and if he remains healthy (the biggest question mark of all), Lehner isn’t guaranteed the starter’s role. At 35, question remain as to whether Crawford still has the ability to lead the team, but, again, his lack of playing time over the past two seasons is concerning, even if he did play well to end the 2018-19 campaign.
Thus, Lehner’s deal is a big bet on his future. He probably could have found a longer-term deal at a similar salary, but this is his chance to prove the past campaign wasn’t a fluke. Right now, teams such as the Ottawa Senators, Detroit Red Wings and perhaps the Arizona Coyotes and Vancouver Canucks could be looking for true starting goalie next summer, and if Lehner plays well this season, he could have positioned himself perfectly for a payday next summer.
He’s not the only player who bet on himself, however. Here’s a look at 10 other players who could up their price tags next summer if they perform after inking short-term deals in free agency:
Corey Perry, RW, 34 (Dallas – one-year, $1.5-million deal)
Perry is still a good NHLer, but he wasn’t worth the $8.63 million cap hit the Ducks were swallowing for him to produce a handful of points per season. Injuries have taken a toll on his body, but Dallas is a good place for Perry to revive his career. He’s a low-risk addition who can play on the third line with Roope Hintz and potentially find some of that old 20-goal form. If it works, he’s set up to make more on his next contract.
Andrej Sekera, D, 33 (Dallas – one-year, $1.5-million deal)
The Stars were aggressive on Monday, but Sekera, who is coming off of two injury-plagued seasons in Edmonton before getting bought out on Sunday, is one of the more underrated signings from the opening day of free agency. Sekera played well when healthy in 2017-18 but was limited to third-pairing minutes last season. Sekera should fill a depth role again on an already strong blueline.
Jason Spezza, C, 36 (Toronto – one-year, $700,000 deal)
It was funny seeing one of Toronto’s old rivals join the team, but Spezza, a local boy from nearby Mississauga, was a smart depth addition by GM Kyle Dubas. Spezza is coming off of two poor seasons and has produced just 53 points in his past 154 games (he had 50 in 2016-17) and was a healthy scratch on occasion last season before picking up the pace in the playoffs. Spezza will fill a fourth-line role on a team loaded with talent. He’s a nifty power play and faceoff specialist, too.
Markus Granlund, C, 26 (Edmonton – one-year, $1.3-million deal)
Granlund was among the more surprising players who failed to receive a qualifying offer last week and the Oilers didn’t take long to snap him up as a free agent. Nobody will deny his talent, but his consistency and work ethic is questionable. Despite a 19-goal season, he never really found his groove in Vancouver, so Granlund’s opportunity to prove himself as an effective winger on a weak team is now.
Cam Talbot, G, 31 (Calgary – one-year, $2.75-million deal)
It’s been a rough few years for Talbot in the aftermath of his special 2016-17 campaign, during which he led the Oilers to a playoff run. He was traded to Philadelphia last season but played only four games. Talbot will battle David Rittich for the starting job in Calgary this coming season. With a better team in front of him, this is a perfect opportunity for Talbot to regain the throne and sign a more lucrative deal next summer.
Luke Schenn, D, 29 (Tampa Bay – one-year, $700,000 deal)
Schenn’s has had a lackluster career, with the Maple Leafs’ fifth-overall pick in 2008 struggling to find a consistent role with any club since moving on from Toronto. When Anaheim put him on waivers last season, some wondered if he would even remain in the league. Following some good showings in Vancouver, Tampa Bay decided to give him a shot to play a depth role on a true Stanley Cup contender. He’ll have to compete with Jan Rutta and Braydon Coburn for a spot next season, but this is good motivation for Schenn.
Daniel Carr, LW, 27 (Nashville – one-year, $700,000 deal)
Carr finished third in AHL scoring last year with the Chicago Wolves, recording 71 points and winning league MVP. The Predators must believe he’s got a shot at making the roster after inking him to a one-year pact. Nashville has some solid bottom-six depth, but Carr has scoring touch and can move up in the lineup if needed, something he did on a few occasions during his time in Montreal.
Curtis Lazar, C, 24 (Buffalo – one-year, $700,000 deal)
Lazar was once one of the best prospects in the league, but 246 games and 52 career points later, Lazar has yet to emerge as a viable NHLer. Lazar had a good season in the AHL and now has a shot to fight his way back to the show. He’s not the goal-scorer he was drafted to become, but he’s a good utility player who can play all forward positions and brings a speedy, physical force to Buffalo’s bottom six. He’s a reclamation project, but one with upside for the Sabres.
Calvin Pickard, G, 27 (Detroit – two-year, $1.4-million deal)
Pickard’s two-year deal with the Red Wings suggests the team isn’t confident Jonathan Bernier can be a consistent backup. Jimmy Howard is still the go-to guy and has another year left on his contract and at 35, but Pickard will serve as backup depth. This is Pickard’s fifth team since 2017 and he has yet to prove himself as an NHL regular, but at 27, training camp is his opportunity to put up or shut up if he wants to stick in the NHL.
Beau Bennett, RW, 27 (Arizona – one-year, $725,000 deal)
One of the kings of hockey social media, Bennett will have his hands full if he wants to make the Coyotes out of training camp. After getting released by the KHL’s Dinamo Minsk in September after five games, Bennett’s return will be challenging. With 200 games under his belt and a respectable 64 points in a depth role, Bennett will attempt to grind his way into Arizona’s bottom six, and given the team’s lack of offensive depth, the playmaking winger has a legitimate chance to do so.
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