This post is part of Buffalo Sabres day at PHT…
It seemed Robin Lehner‘s 2015-16 season was defined by two things.
— A) A skirmish involving him and Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Jack Johnson. And judging by the replays, Lehner, the Buffalo Sabres goalie, was more than willing to have a go.
— B) A high-ankle sprain — a far more pressing issue than getting into a scrum and grabbing an opposing player — suffered in the first game of last season with his new team.
The ankle issue, which included a setback before he was able to finally return to the lineup, reached a pinnacle when the Sabres announced Lehner had undergone surgery and was done for the season.
By that time, Lehner had appeared in 21 games for the Sabres. He posted a 5-9-5 record and a .924 save percentage, eight points above his career average. Beyond that, his first season in Buffalo can be difficult to evaluate because an injury cut into three months, before he was shut down for good.
The Sabres paid a hefty price to bring the now 25-year-old Lehner to their team, which makes his health and his subsequent performance so important to their success, especially as they look to get beyond the rebuilding stage.
Last summer, Sabres GM Tim Murray sent a first-round pick to the Ottawa Senators to get Lehner — as well as veteran David Legwand — and bring in a goalie that could be the No. 1.
The Sabres have done a nice job of building their defense and top-six group of forwards, especially with the addition of Kyle Okposo in free agency and the acquisition of Ryan O'Reilly a year ago.
It helps, too, when a No. 2 overall pick can turn into Jack Eichel, and Okposo could play on a line with either Eichel or O’Reilly. Sam Reinhart had a strong first full season in Buffalo, breaking the 20-goal mark. And Alexander Nylander, the eighth overall pick this year, could perhaps make the jump to the NHL with a strong showing in the pre-season.
They didn’t make the playoffs last season, but improved dramatically on their point total, from 54 in 2014-15 to 81 in 2015-16. Their coach, Dan Bylsma, is setting the bar high for next season.
In goal, however, is where there are question marks.
The Sabres, right now, have Lehner, Anders Nilsson and Jason Kasdorf on their roster. Chad Johnson has moved on, signing in Calgary earlier this summer.
Nilsson and Kasdorf have combined for 53 games of NHL experience. One of those games belongs to Kasdorf, who signed a two-year, two-way deal with Buffalo in July.
Given their situation in goal, the Sabres need Lehner to stay healthy. Ideally, given the price they paid, the Sabres would love elite goaltending to be what defines Lehner’s upcoming season.