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.
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.
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).