Robin Lehner could be a steal for Red Wings, other seekers

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However the Buffalo Sabres feel about his relative skills, it makes total sense that they didn’t hand Robin Lehner a qualifying offer.

Going 14-26-9 with a weak .908 save percentage isn’t going to get you a $4 million+ per year, even if it probably burns Buffalo to think of the first-rounder former GM Tim Murray gave up to land Lehner. Ultimately, management decided that they didn’t want to sink any more assets into this sunk cost.

Lehner should absolutely be considered one of the best goalie options on the UFA market, however, which is both a compliment to the rambunctious netminder and an insult to the crop of netminders available.

There’s at least some interest in Lehner already. The Athletic’s Craig Custance reports that he’s already had a meeting with the Detroit Red Wings, for one.

[More: Lehner to Red Wings among five free agent fits.]

Here are some pros and cons regarding the 26-year-old goalie.

Strange even by goalie standards?

It’s a well-worn trope that goalies can be a little different, yet Lehner stands out even by those standards, it seems.

Let’s ignore his mask for the sake of sanity and ponder some of his odder incidents. As ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski noted in late December, Lehner viewed a controversial review not as a shaky call, but instead as a conspiracy against Buffalo. Or … something.

“I know Toronto already made up their mind it was a goal before they shot the puck. It’s just how it works in this League,” Lehner said of this moment. “Everything is predetermined against us. It’s not to be sulking or anything. We’re not where we want to be or anything like that. It’s just how it is. The Islanders are in a playoff spot, and you know, it is what it is.”

There was also this staredown, which didn’t result in a fight (to Ben Scrivens’ amusing relief.)

Lehner isn’t afraid to call out his teammates. Some might admire that fire; others will look for a goalie less likely to rock the boat.

Mixed results

Again, Lehner’s 2017-18 season was troubling, even if you acknowledge that the Sabres defense frequently resembles Swiss cheese.

Lehner quietly showed signs of promise over the years, particularly during his first two seasons with Buffalo. While his record was always below .500, he generated a .924 save percentage in 21 games during the 2015-16 campaign and a .920 mark over 59 games in 2016-17.

His .916 save percentage during three seasons with the Sabres ranks him 20th among goalies with at least 50 games played.

Although that’s not light-the-world-on-fire stuff, goalies are tough to predict. Seeing two seasons of very strong play opens up the possibility that Lehner could be a diamond in the rough, though.

It doesn’t hurt that there’s buy-low potential, either. That rough season (and a team saying he’s not worth $4M) limits his leverage. Maybe a team can sign him for low money and term, or possibly even provide a few years in hopes of getting a bargain.

***

Overall, there are quite a few pros and cons regarding Lehner. He’s not necessarily a guy you’d pencil into a 2019 All-Star spot.

If you adjust expectations, however, he could be a decent find. While there are a few free agents who are slated to make big money and carry big pressure, much of the field is of the bargain bin, dented-can variety.

A goalie-needy team might end up being better off signing Lehner for cheap rather than taking a comparable risk that also will almost certainly cost more money (example: hoping Carter Hutton is closer to the near-star he was last season, rather than the guy who has the same .915 career save percentage as Lehner).

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Golden Knights captain Mark Stone undergoes back surgery

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LAS VEGAS — Vegas Golden Knights captain Mark Stone is out indefinitely after undergoing back surgery in Denver, the club announced.

The Knights termed the procedure as successful and that Stone “is expected to make a full recovery.”

This is the second time in less than a year that Stone has had back surgery. He also had a procedure May 19, 2022, and Stone said in December this was the best he had felt in some time.

But he was injured Jan. 12 against the Florida Panthers, and his absence has had a noticeable effect on the Knights. They have gone 1-5-2 without Stone, dropping out of first place in the Pacific Division into third.

Stone is second on the team in goals with 17 and in points with 38.

Devils associate coach Andrew Brunette charged with DUI

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DEERFIELD BEACH, Fla. — New Jersey Devils associate coach and former Florida Panthers head coach Andrew Brunette was arrested in South Florida while driving home from a bar in his golf cart, authorities said.

Brunette, 49, was pulled over just blocks from the ocean in the Deerfield Beach area, north of Fort Lauderdale, according to a Broward Sheriff’s Office arrest report. He was charged with one count of driving under the influence and two counts of disobeying a stop or yield sign. Brunette was released on $500 bond.

The Devils said in a statement that the team was aware of Brunette’s arrest and gathering additional information.

According to the arrest report, a deputy was in the process of giving Brunette’s illegally parked golf cart a ticket around midnight when Brunette walked out of a nearby bar and told the deputy he was about to leave. The deputy said Brunette seemed unsteady on his feet and slurred his speech, and when he was joined by his wife, the deputy said he overheard the wife tell Brunette not to drive while the deputy was there.

The deputy remained in the area and reported watching the couple drive away about 17 minutes later, according to the report. The deputy said he watched the golf cart run two stop signs before pulling Brunette over on a residential street about a mile away from his home. According to the report, Brunette had difficulty following instructions during a field sobriety test before eventually quitting and asking for an attorney. He also declined to take a breathe test to measure his blood-alcohol level, officials said.

Online jail and court records didn’t list an attorney for Brunette.

Brunette is in his first season as associate coach of the Devils. He was interim coach of the Florida Panthers last season after taking over when Joel Quenneville resigned for his connection to a 2010 Chicago Blackhawks sexual abuse scandal.

The Panthers fired Brunette after they lost in the second round of the playoffs last spring despite him leading them to the Presidents’ Trophy as the league’s top team during the regular season.

The Sudbury, Ontario, native played 1,159 NHL games for Washington, Nashville, Atlanta, Minnesota, Colorado and Chicago from 1995-2012. He was a Wild assistant in 2015-16 and worked on Florida’s staff from 2019-2022.

Stars aligned with new coach DeBoer, Nill-constructed roster

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DALLAS — General manager Jim Nill sensed things were coming together for the Dallas Stars even before the season started with new coach Pete DeBoer and a roster mixed with proven veterans, up-and-coming young players, and even a teenaged center.

At the NHL’s All-Star break, after 51 games together, these Stars are leading the Western Conference.

“Every year you start, you put a team together, and there’s always going to be question marks,” said Nill, in his 10th season as the Stars GM. “You have ideas how you think you’re going to come together, but there’s always the unknown. . This year has been one of those years where right from the start, you could just see everything was kind of jelling.”

The Stars (28-13-10, 66 points) have their trio of 2017 draft picks that just keep getting better: All-Star winger Jason Robertson, goaltender Jake Oettinger and defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The seemingly ageless Joe Pavelski, at 38 and already re-signed for next season, is on the high-scoring top line with Robertson and point-a-game winger Roope Hintz. Wyatt Johnston, their first-round pick in 2021 and half Pavelski’s age, has 13 goals.

There is also the resurgence of six-time All-Star forward Tyler Seguin two years after hip surgery and 33-year-old captain Jamie Benn, who already has more goals (19) than he did playing all 82 games last season.

The Stars have a plus-40 goal differential, which is second-best in the NHL. They are averaging 3.37 goals per game, more than a half-goal better than last season when they were the only team to make the playoffs after being outscored in the regular season. They are also allowing fewer goals, and have improved on power plays and penalty kills.

“Where we sit at this break, I think guys are happy with that,” Seguin said, before being asked the keys to the Stars leading the West and on pace for a 100-point season with their new coach.

“Our style, our team speed, our puck speed, being predictable. All the clichés, knowing where the puck’s going. Really how we play the five-man unit,” he said. “Our pace this year, it’s been a lot quicker. There’s been some solid depth scoring this year while we’ve got one of the best lines in hockey.”

The Stars went into the break on their only three-game losing streak of the season, all 3-2 overtime losses at home.

“Those aren’t real losses,” said DeBoer, who twice has gone to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with a new team. “I’m happy where we’re at. I like how we’re playing.”

Plus, Dallas won’t have to worry in the playoffs about 3-on-3 hockey, which has been the only real stain on their season so far. Only one team has more than its 10 losses after regulation.

“We’ve played a lot of good hockey. We’ve made a lot of good strides in our game,” DeBoer said. “We still have another level we have to get to when we get back, but there are a lot of good things that have happened. They’ve worked to have us where we are right now in the standings. Good spot to be in.”

The Stars have 31 games left in the regular season. The first four after the break at home, like the last four before their week-long hiatus.

Robertson’s 33 goals rank sixth in the NHL, and the 23-year-old has the same number of assists while averaging 1.29 points a game even after he missed most of training camp before signing a four-year, $31 million contract. Pavelski has 48 points (14 goals, 34 assists) while playing every game, and Hintz 46 points (20 goals, 26 assists) in only 43 games.

Oettinger, who is 21-7 in regulation, has a .923 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average since signing his three-year, $12 million contract. That deal came after 223 saves in a seven-game playoff series against Calgary last May, capped by 64 in the series finale that went to overtime.

Nill said Robertson’s production has improved even with the league adjusting to the high-scoring forward, and that Oettinger is proving to be one of the league’s best goalies. But they are just part of what has been a tremendous team effort.

“They kind of had that mojo right from the start, and it was kind of this team’s got the right mix,” Nill said. “It’s come together well, and it’s shown in the standings. It’s been good to watch.”

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.