The most heartwarming story of the 2018-19 season had a very, very short shelf life. Robin Lehner, who won the Masterton Trophy and was a finalist for the Vezina after publicly disclosing his mental health issues, is moving on from the New York Islanders where he reclaimed his life and revived his career. And with his new lease on life, Lehner decided it was time to bet on himself.
Rather than take a two-year deal for less than $5 million a year, Lehner accepted a one-year contract from the Chicago Blackhawks for $5 million, which now makes for one of the more intriguing goaltending tandems in the league. The goaltending carousel is an interesting place. The Islanders replaced Lehner with Semyon Varlamov on a four-year deal and the Carolina Hurricanes, who were seen as a possible destination for Lehner, re-signed Petr Mrazek. That left all three teams with quality goalies at both the starter and backup positions – Chicago with Corey Crawford and Lehner, the Islanders with Varlamov and Thomas Greiss and Carolina with Mrazek and James Reimer.
It’s pretty clear the Blackhawks have some very serious concerns about the short-term health of Crawford, who has had multiple concussions and goes into the last year of his deal at $6 million. Even if Crawford returns to good health, he’ll still be 35 at the end of next season and the end is near. In fact, it wouldn’t be a huge shock if Lehner were to take the net this season and play the majority of the games. If he can duplicate what he did this past season with the Islanders, Lehner will put himself in a perfect position for terrific payday and a long-term deal. He and Crawford could end up splitting the games, which would give the Blackhawks one of the better goaltending tandems in the NHL.
For whatever reason, the Islanders weren’t willing to go long-term with Lehner, despite his incredible season. Much of that has to do with the fact that Barry Trotz is their coach and they likely feel that there are a lot of goalies who could shine in his system. That said, Greiss played almost as well as Lehner did in the regular season, but the Lehner was clearly their No. 1 man in the playoffs.
So Lehner is once again betting on himself. A year after signing a one-year, $1.5 million show-me contract, Lehner still has to prove himself, albeit with a much more lucrative paycheck.
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