Robin Lehner

Islanders sign Brock Nelson to six-year contract

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After a stunning 2018-19 NHL season that saw them reach Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the New York Islanders have some big work ahead of them this summer as they not only work to add some firepower to their lineup, but also keep some of their most important players in place.

Forwards Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson — three of the team’s top-five scorers this season — as well as Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner are all eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer. That is a lot of big names to keep while also maintaining enough flexibility under the salary cap to build around them.

On Thursday, they made sure at least one of those players will remain with the team when they announced a six-year contract extension for Nelson.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Islanders, but it is reportedly worth $6 million per season according to The Athletic’s Arthur Staple.

The 27-year-old Nelson is coming off of a career-year that saw him score 25 goals (second best on the team) and finish with 53 total points (third on the team).

Originally a first-round pick (No. 30 overall) by the Islanders in 2010, Nelson’s career has been about as steady and consistent as a player can be. He has missed just 12 games since entering the NHL during the 2013-14 season (with 10 of those coming during his rookie season) and has been a lock for at least 20 goals and 40 points every season. You know he is going to be in the lineup and you know pretty much exactly what you are going to get from him offensively.

Is that level of production worth $6 million per year? It might be pushing it and it might be a slight overpay from a team standpoint, but the Islanders didn’t really have many other options here. If they had let Nelson walk they would have needed someone to replace him and there weren’t many (if any) realistic options on the free agent market that are going to outperform Nelson for a better price, and they only have five draft picks in their 2019 class to use as trade chips.

With Nelson’s contract now completed, the Islanders have 17 players under contract for the 2019-20 season at a total salary cap hit of $53.7 million. Assuming an $83 million salary cap that still leaves them with more than $29 million in cap space to fill out the remainder of their roster.

That should be more than enough to re-sign Lee, Eberle and Lehner if they choose, while also working out new deals for restricted free agents Anthony Beauvillier and Michael Dal Colle.

Mathew Barzal, who has one-year remaining on his entry-level contract, will also be eligible to sign a new contract on July 1.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

What will Lehner’s next contract look like?

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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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Hurricanes end Islanders’ magical run with sweep

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The New York Islanders exceeded just about all expectations this season, and getting swept doesn’t erase all of the great memories, but the run is now over.

After the Islanders swept the Penguins in Round 1, they suffered that fate against the comparably magical Carolina Hurricanes, who managed an emphatic 5-2 Game 4 win to clinch the series 4-0.

For much of this Round 2 feud, every goal and bounce seemed to count. The Hurricanes won both games in Brooklyn despite only scoring three goals combined, and things were tight going into the third period of Game 3, as both teams were tied 2-2.

The Hurricanes really ran away with the series from that point on, though.

Carolina scored three third-period goals to win Game 3 by a score of 5-2, and convincingly closed down the sweep with another 5-2 win in Game 4. Overall, the Hurricanes scored eight of the last 10 goals to end the Islanders’ season, limiting the Islanders to just five goals overall in Round 2.

It really felt like the series was over once the Hurricanes transformed a 1-1 tie to a 3-1 lead with two quick goals in the second period, chasing Robin Lehner in the process.

Curtis McElhinney looks sharp since replacing an injured Petr Mrazek in Game 3, making 26 saves to close this one out. It’s a testament to McElhinney’s work, as he’s been a gem since the Hurricanes claimed him off of waivers. It’s also a testament to the Hurricanes that they’ve weathered so many injuries without really missing a beat.

Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen remain red-hot for the Hurricanes, as both generated one-goal, one-assist point nights in Game 4. They factored into the first goals of Game 4, when things were still looking very close. Those two are becoming more prominent to casual hockey fans during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and at this rate, could become household names.

Ending this series quickly could be huge for Carolina

Getting this sweep isn’t just about the optics of a perfect round.

The Boston Bruins and Carolina Hurricanes are currently locked up at 2-2, and the earliest that Round 2 series can end is on Monday. (The two teams bid for a 3-2 series lead in Game 5 on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET on NBC; Stream here).

The Hurricanes were battered thanks to that seven-game series against the Capitals, with Andrei Svechnikov missing most of Round 2 because of that ill-fated fight with Alex Ovechkin, while Jordan Martinook and Micheal Ferland also suffered injuries. That only continued against the Islanders; Petr Mrazek’s injury was the most significant of the series, while Trevor van Riemsdyk and Saku Mäenalanen also missed time.

From players who were playing flat-out injured to those who were simply less than 100 percent, this break is big.

And, yes, this means the Hurricanes avoid games where they could have suffered new injuries. Sure, you can make a “rest versus rust” argument, but I’d be confident this is a net-positive for Carolina.

[The Hurricanes discussed finishing this heading into Game 4.]

Islanders run out of gas

Barry Trotz’s system can throw offense in a wood chipper. Even stars like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can struggle to score against a Trotz team when it really clamps down.

That said, the Islanders often had to walk a tightrope where they had very little margin of error. Maybe the Hurricanes’ strong defensive personnel and deep rotation of two-way players simply presented a bad matchup for the Islanders. Perhaps Lehner and others were tired. It could be that the bounces dried up.

And that’s what GM Lou Lamoriello and others need to grapple with. This was a magical, affirming run, but he also must do his best to take a sober look at this team once the sadness from the sweep dissipates.

Is this club in more of a “rebuild” mode like people anticipated when John Tavares left for Toronto? How much should they weigh their success with troubling thoughts, such as only managing five goals in that entire series against the Hurricanes? Are they a few moves from being a contender, and thus should spend big to keep some key players from leaving? Lehner is on a list of pending free agents who could put a dent in the wallet, joined by prominent names such as Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson.

[Dive into the big decisions the Isles face here.]

For now, though, it’s all about mixed feelings. After finally winning a Stanley Cup, Trotz may have indeed topped himself with the work he did with the Islanders, and is almost certain to win the Jack Adams as a result. Sweeping the Penguins proved to be an emphatic statement. By my eyes, Mathew Barzal also confirmed his status as a legitimate star after his sensational Calder-winning 2017-18 season. Islanders fans had to love this ride, whether they were jeering Tavares or their team’s many doubters.

But for now, the magic’s over; we’ll have to wait and see if the Islanders have even more tricks up their sleeves. The Hurricanes, meanwhile, await the Bruins or Blue Jackets in the 2019 Eastern Conference Final.

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.

Should Isles turn to Greiss in Game 4?

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Well, this is it for the New York Islanders. They’re officially in must-win territory heading into Game 4 (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN; live stream) against the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh.

Now that their backs are against the wall, head coach Barry Trotz admits that changes could be coming to the lineup tonight. That’s normal considering the predicament they’re in right now. But the interesting twist here, is that Trotz said he’s considering tweaks “at all positions,” including between the pipes.

So, the team that’s scored three goals in the first three games of their series is thinking about swapping out a goaltender who has allowed six goals. Changing goaltenders isn’t necessarily based of performance either, though. It could just be a way to get his players’ attention, but it’s probably not the right way to go about it. Nothing against Thomas Greiss, but Robin Lehner deserves to stay in the net with the season on the line.

The biggest issue for the Islanders, is that they simply can’t find the back of the net. No team is good enough defensively to score three goals in three games and have a series lead. No one. Trotz should take a page for Stars head coach Jim Montgomery’s book and make the necessary changes to his forward lines.

Ahead of Game 4, Montgomery decided to move Roope Hintz to the top line with Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, and Tyler Seguin dropped down to the second line with Mats Zuccarello and Jason Dickinson. The result? Every one of those players showed up and made a difference in a crucial game.

That’s what Trotz has to do.

 [NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He has to figure out a way to get his team’s attention by mixing up lines. Is it time to break up the best fourth line in hockey? How do you get Anders Lee going? Mathew Barzal has just one goal in three games. If he doesn’t get going, there’s no way they can come back to win this series. Where has Jordan Eberle gone? He scored in every game in the first round, but he hasn’t found the back of the net against Carolina.

Trotz isn’t exactly in an enviable position given how quiet this offense has been. But we have to give him the benefit of the doubt. After all, he came in to New York and turned this team into a 100-point squad in short order. That’s not to say that you have to believe the Isles are coming back in this series, but you can’t bury them yet.

“There’s 23 teams that would love to be playing (tonight), and they’re not,” Trotz said, per NHL.com. “You get an opportunity. You can’t look back. You can’t correct what’s already done; you can only correct what’s right in front of you. (Tonight’s) a chance to start correcting it in the right way. Focus on that. It’s always a great opportunity. You’re still alive.”

MORE: Hurricanes aiming to close out Islanders as quick as possible

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Isles’ Lehner thrives after confronting mental health issues

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EAST MEADOW, N.Y. (AP) — A sign hangs above the door between the locker room and the ice at the New York Islanders’ practice facility that reads, ”GET BETTER TODAY.”

It carries a powerful double meaning for Robin Lehner, who before the season disclosed his struggles with mental illness and is now a finalist for the Vezina Trophy as the NHL’s top goaltender. He was a huge reason the Islanders returned to the playoffs after a two-year absence.

”It’s been a fun year,” Lehner said. ”I feel like I’m playing good. … Obviously I made some changes. Yeah, it’s clicking.”

It’s finally clicking in every possible way for Lehner, who has figured out how to manage a bipolar disorder and thrive on and off the ice. The 27-year-old Swede set a career high with 25 victories, posted a 2.13 goals-against average and .930 save percentage and, in tandem with Thomas Greiss, helped New York go from worst to first in the league in goals allowed.

Lehner stopped 130 of the 136 shots he faced in a first-round sweep of the 2016 and 2017 Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins to get the Islanders into the second round against Carolina. He didn’t do it all himself, but teammates are quick to say Lehner shouldered the burden to solve his problems.

”Robin’s handled a lot of this with his support staff and his family and people that are closest to him, and he’s done a wonderful job with that,” captain Anders Lee said. ”The biggest thing is just being there for him, letting him know that we have his back and if he needs to reach out to any of us, just being an outlet.”

Lehner first detailed his demons and diagnosis of bipolar 1 with manic phases in an essay published by The Athletic in September. He documented his suicidal thoughts, the game that forced him to seek help from the NHL/NHLPA Substance Abuse & Behavioral Help program and his path back to the ice.

Islanders winger Matt Martin recalls meeting Lehner last summer. Lehner was fresh out of a stint in alcohol rehab and had just landed a contract.

”He was kind of on his way back,” Martin recalled. ”He had a clear head, but he still had a long way to go from a fitness standpoint and he worked hard every day. He was here all summer getting better.”

It had been a rocky road. After he was revealed as a Vezina finalist, Lehner said eight or nine teams were interested in him as a free agent last summer before that list shrunk to two after he and his agent were transparent about his coming out of rehab; one meeting ”didn’t go well at all.”

Conversations with new Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello changed Lehner’s life.

Lamoriello signed Lehner to a $1.5 million, one-year contract that is known in hockey circles as a ”prove-it” deal. Lehner has outperformed it by leaps and bounds and the organization has helped him.

”It’s not like I’ve been a special case that I need someone holding my hands,” Lehner said. ”They’ve been incredibly supportive and open-minded and nonjudgmental and all that stuff.”

Lehner said plenty of people deserve credit for his spectacular season, from Lamoriello and new coach Barry Trotz to goaltending guru Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco. But those around the league believe Lehner also deserves a lot of credit for the courage to tell his story.

”We are extraordinarily proud of him both in terms of what he’s been able to accomplish for himself and his family personally,” NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. ”I do believe that players and the league based on the profile we have can be role models, can let people who are not processional athletes but who adore the games and professional athletes understand that everybody can have problems and everybody can have issues, it doesn’t matter what your walk of life is and that there is hope and that you can address these things.”

Attitudes in hockey have changed since Corey Hirsch tended goal in the NHL and dealt with his own mental health issues, largely in hiding. He, too, has disclosed details publicly to help others learn and understand.

”You’re seen as mentally weak. … I know what I went through and I know the strength you have to have to get to practice every day,” Hirsch said this week. ”The excuse that we don’t want someone who has mental illness because I can’t win a Stanley Cup with them or have a successful team, Robin Lehner just blew that out of the water.”

Lehner did so after the Islanders made him part of their plan at goaltender after struggling at that position last season. They’ve since watched him turn into a leading piece of a playoff run for a franchise starved for postseason success over the past quarter century.

”Robin has got his life in order,” Trotz said. ”When your life is in order, your career is in order. It’s amazing how it sort of goes hand in hand. If it’s not in order, I guarantee you it will fall apart. He’s done a really great job. Really proud of him for getting all that stuff in order and he’s been rewarded with a real great year.”

The Islanders by extension have been rewarded for their belief in Lehner, who has been in an ongoing battle while having a career year.

”I know if I go into depression, if I go into mania, I know now and my wife knows, ‘OK, maybe I need to fix something, tweak something,’ and I’ve had to do that throughout this whole season,” Lehner said. ”I’ve had bad days. I’m always going to have them. It’s like everyone else on their team, they’re going to have bad days. It might get a little worse, but I know how to handle it now and it’s nothing to be scared of.”

Lehner revealed his struggles as a way to educate the public and try to influence others who are dealing with similar things.

That, more than anything else, is what impresses teammates about how Lehner has handled his journey.

”He just really wants to help other people now because he’s been obviously in a dark place and he wants to help other people out of that dark place because he’s an example of kind of that sort of success story,” Martin said. ”I’m sure it’s not easy for him. I’m sure he still has his demons, I guess, on a day to day basis, but he’s done a great job and we’re all here for him.”

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

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