The New York Islanders gambled on Robin Lehner with a single year deal, but the former Buffalo Sabres starter has been exactly what the Islanders have needed.
At the time, it was a risky move by the New York Islanders to acquire recent unrestricted free agent Robin Lehner on a single year $1.5 million deal. Lehner became a UFA after the Buffalo Sabres opted to not tender him a qualifying offer.
With a 3.01GAA and a 0.908SV% during the 2017-18 season, it seemed that Buffalo was trying to get rid of a bad goalie, and the Islanders were inexplicably ready to sign a bad goalie.
Later last summer, Robin Lehner spoke to the Athletic (subscription required) about his mental demons. He bravely told the world about his bipolar and post-traumatic stress disorders. In that lens the actions of the Buffalo Sabres looked less like a team willing to get rid of a player than a team trying to give him the best option at a second chance.
With the Islanders Lehner is taking that chance.
What the Isles Needed
For the last few seasons, there have been a few things that have plagued the New York Islanders on the ice; defense and goaltending.
Before departing as a UFA himself, Jaroslav Halak finished his tenure with the Islanders by putting up a 3.19GAA and 0.908SV% last season. Greiss, still with two years on his $10 million deal put up a 3.82GAA with a 0.892SV% in 2017-18.
With only Greiss remaining on the Islanders roster going into this season it was clear that the Isles needed a starting goalie. And Robin Lehner was who Lou Lamoriello brought in.
It’s not like the goalie market was flooded with options. Philipp Grubauer was the main target for NHL teams in the last offseason, but Colorado was able to make a deal with the Capitals for his services. Leaving essentially Jaroslav Halak as the only option for the Islanders. Neither wanted to get back together.
Lehner certainly had a bad 2017-18 season, but with a 2.68GAA and a 0.920SV% in 2016-17, it wasn’t outside of the realm of possibility that Lehner could be a good goalie again.
What the Isles needed from Lehner is league average goaltending. Something they weren’t getting prior to his arrival. In 2017-18 the league average GAA was 2.78 and SV% was 0.912. Based on his stats from two years ago Lehner could be that guy.
So far in this short season, Lehner’s doing exactly that. With a 2.67GAA and a 0.926SV% Lehner is a huge positive factor for the New York Islanders. If not for some subject defending in front of him the Islanders might look better than their 3-4-1 record shows.
You wouldn’t say that Lehner is standing on his head, or pulling out highlight reel saves night-after-night. But Lehner is poised and calm in net, he puts his large 6’4” 240lbs frame square to the shooter, limits or eliminates shooting angles, and is simply right where he needs to be.
Again, this is exactly what the New York Islanders needed going into 2018-19. With a good defensive structure, and solid goalkeeping the Islanders were easily going to surprise people.
Look at that 4-0 win against the San Jose Sharks. The defense was solid and played a tight simple style that Barry Trotz has been preaching, and Lehner made routine save after routine save.
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If the Barry Trotz can get the defense to play like they did at home versus the Sharks with the current version of Robin Lehner in nets, the Islanders will surprise many.