Bryan Murray’s trade of Robin Lehner to the Buffalo Sabres reaffirms the amazing work he’s done for the Ottawa Senators early this off-season.
Every time we blink, Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray pulls off another wise move.
A day after he locked up restricted free agents Mark Stone and Mika Zibanejad to highly reasonable deals, Murray delivered on his promise to trade a goaltender. Ottawa has shipped Robin Lehner and center David Legwand to the Buffalo Sabres for the 21st overall pick in tonight’s NHL draft.
The move is an obvious win for Ottawa. We knew it needed to lose a goaltender after re-signing Andrew Hammond and shoring up the future with NCAA keeper Matt O’Connor. We knew one of Lehner and Craig Anderson was as good as gone, and we also knew Buffalo was the ideal trading partner. Sabres GM Tim Murray is Bryan’s nephew and the Sens’ former assistant GM, so he knows Ottawa’s players well, and the Sabres desperately needed a goalie. The Sens also shed the dead-weight contract of Legwand, 34, who carries a $3-million cap hit one more year. So Ottawa can roll with Anderson and Hammond as a tandem, it will retain all its key young free agents, it has freed up a few more million in spending money and it picks twice in the first round tonight? My goodness. Murray is on fire.
The move is much more complicated from Buffalo’s side. The good: Lehner, 23, is a big, young goaltender oozing talent. He has two years left on a deal paying him a $2.225 million annually, which is perfectly reasonable if Buffalo intends to roll with him as a starter – and it better if it deemed him worth a first-rounder. Lehner was a highly regarded prospect out of Sweden and delivered on his potential in his first few tastes of the NHL. He’s regressed two straight seasons, however, and dealt with concussion woes in 2014-15.
Still, the act of acquiring Lehner makes plenty of sense for Buffalo. Young goalie, high ceiling, good cap hit, and the Sabres needed a goalie. Even the Legwand component is understandable since the Sabres are a salary floor team and he helps them climb closer to it (which is why Ottawa retains no salary in the trade). They are still more than $5 million away from reaching it. And if they struggle again this season, Legwand’s expiring deal and veteran experience makes him flippable to a contender.
But the first-round pick… yikes. Considering how badly the Sens needed to move Lehner, and how much removing Legwand helps their finances, shouldn’t Buffalo have had a bit more leverage here?
The move also should have Glen Sather and the Rangers licking their chops. Lehner just fetched a first-rounder plus cap relief. Maybe Sather’s demands for RFA goalie Cam Talbot are realistic after all?
Matt Larkin is an associate editor at The Hockey News and a regular contributor to the thn.com Post-To-Post blog. For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine. Follow Matt Larkin on Twitter at @THNMattLarkin