What is the cost of a good fit, for both sides? And when the situation is a little more complicated than just money and performance, is there more value in simply getting a deal done rather than reading and playing the market?
These are the questions to be answered by Islanders team president Lou Lamoriello and goalie Robin Lehner, a pending unrestricted free agent as he enters the summer following a second-round sweep at the hands of the Hurricanes that ended with a 5-2 Game 4 loss in Raleigh, N.C., on Friday night.
Lamoriello made one of the best risk-reward decisions in recent memory when he took a flyer on Lehner and signed the 27-year-old Swede to a one-year, $1.5 million deal this summer. It was well chronicled that Lehner had about eight teams vying for his services — and that dwindled to two when his agents revealed he had just come out of rehab, dealing with substance abuse and mental illness.
The Islanders ended up being the professional beneficiary of his personal revival, as Lehner finished with one of the best goaltending seasons in franchise history — a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, the likely winner of the Masterton Trophy, and co-owner of the Jennings Trophy with fellow netminder Thomas Greiss for backstopping the team to the fewest goals allowed in the league.
After Lehner came off the ice Friday night, he had a big hug for a team staffer. It was a sign showing this season was far more important for him than the way it ended, with him being pulled in the second period in hopes of waking up an Islanders team that could never find any traction against Carolina.
“It’s been an incredible year,” Lehner said after the game, with break-up day set for Monday. “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, so we’ll see what God has in store for me.”
There are a ton of decisions Lamoriello has to make this summer with a roster that could turn over quite a bit. He has three other big-time players also coming up on unrestricted free agency — captain Anders Lee, and fellow forwards Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson. Useful veteran Valtteri Filppula is also up on his deal.
But one of the biggest reasons this team was able to have the surprising run that they did is because there was stability in nets. Lehner has a higher upside than Greiss, who is an able and consummate professional but not quite at the same talent level as the 6-foot-4, 240-pound Lehner.
But that talent is colored by his checkered past, so other teams might be hesitant to give him a long-term deal. At least the Islanders know what they had this season, have a feel how best to keep him on track, and feel confident he could repeat his performance from what was a turning-point season for the franchise.
“I’m not regretting anything,” Lehner said. “It’s a good year for the organization, just sucks that it ends. The foundation of this team is really, really strong. There are some things we have to get better at, and we know what we have to get better at.”
The main issue for these Islanders is adding some more high-end talent up front, and Lamoriello will have a bushel of salary-cap space to figure out how he wants to do it. But if Lehner leaves, that will create a big hole at the most important position. Highly touted Russian netminding prospect Ilya Sorokin looks as if he’s going to remain in the KHL for at least another year, and how his game translates to the NHL is still an unknown.
What’s known is that Lehner was a great fit this season, and could continue to be going forward.
“For me, personally, this is step one,” Lehner said. “There are a lot of things left for me to address and fix in my life. I have a long summer to address that. And I truly believe in my core that I’m going to be a better goalie next year.”
Source: Read Full Article