The 2018-19 season may not have ended the way Robin Lehner had hoped, but there’s no denying that he was one of the pleasant surprises in the NHL this season.
Despite suiting up in just 46 games, the 27-year-old played well enough to be one of the three nominees for the Vezina Trophy. He finished the regular season with a 25-13-5 record, a 2.13 goals-against-average and a .930 save percentage. Not bad for a guy who signed a one-year, $1.5 million with the Islanders last summer.
Here’s the big question: Will the Islanders commit to Lehner long term?
“It’s a little bit too much emotions right now,” Lehner said after the Isles were eliminated from the playoffs, per NHL.com. “I really like everyone here. This group is incredible, some of the best people I’ve been around. I’ve been in the League for a while now. We’ll see what God has in store for me.”
Even though the Islanders were swept by the Carolina Hurricanes in the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, no one can really blame Lehner for the end result. He allowed just three goals in the first two games of the series and his team still couldn’t find a way to score enough to get themselves at least one victory.
So he had a good year and his story is an inspirational one, but how much term and money can you commit to a goaltender who played less than 50 games?
Thomas Greiss also managed to post strong numbers whenever he was between the pipes for the Isles. So were the goalies that good or was Barry Trotz’s system the real reason for their success?
As Paul Campbell from The Athletic and In Goal Magazine pointed out during this radio interview, Lehner was ranked second when it came to easiest quality of shots faced throughout the 2018-19 season. That means that the danger of the shots he faced weren’t as high as virtually every other starting netminder outside of Stars goalie Ben Bishop. So Trotz’s system definitely played a part in Lehner’s success.
There are a few things he should consider before he hits the market on July 1st. First, he’s played for Ottawa and Buffalo but he clearly became comfortable in New York. Could he get more money from another team? Yes, but being in a good environment on the ice should count for something. And most of the good teams in the league already have their starting goaltender in place. So leaving the Islanders would probably result in him going to an inferior team.
Second, he has to realize that as good as his season was, he still made less than 50 appearances. Would he be as effective if he had to play 55 or 60-plus games in a season? We don’t know for sure, but that would be a big gamble for a player looking for stability from an NHL club.
Lastly, sometimes you just need to realize that the situation you’re in might be the best fit for you. Lehner has opened up about personal demons that have haunted him over the last few years. In New York, he seems to have found the right balance between hockey and his personal life. Situations like this are difficult enough and moving to another city may only make it tougher.
So, assuming the Isles want him back and assuming he wants to be back, what’s a fair contract for both sides?
It would be mildly surprising to see New York commit to Lehner for more than three years. As well as he played this year, the sample size just isn’t big enough to garner a five-plus year contract. If he can get that type of deal, good for him. It just isn’t likely. On the flip side, he’ll likely want more than a one or two-year contract, so let’s say they agree to a three-year deal. That appears to make sense on the surface.
One comparable that comes to mind is Cam Talbot, who played 36 games with the New York Rangers in 2015-16. During that season, Talbot had a 21-9-4 record with a 2.21 goals-against-average and a .926 save percentage. He was also the same age as Lehner is now. That performance resulted in the Edmonton Oilers giving him a three-year extension worth $12.5 million ($4.16 AAV).
The Islanders have to realize that even though Trotz’s system helped their goalies out a lot, they still managed to find a guy that could produce results for them between the pipes. There’s no guarantee that the next guy you bring in will be able to do the same thing. So they have to be willing to fork out a decent amount of money too.
Since Lehner has way more experience than Talbot at the same age and he had a better season, you’d think that his deal would be worth more.
How about a three-year deal worth between $14.25 million and $15 million ($4.75 million to $5 million per season)? That gives Lehner some stability and a nice raise. If he continues to get better, he’d be scheduled to hit the open market again at 30 years old.
That seems reasonable.
Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.