Sunday, September 13, 2015

Building the 2015-16 Buffalo Sabres roster--G, Robin Lehner

Reprinted with permission from

Buffalo Sarbes GM Tim Murray ws hellbent and intent upon fixing a goaltending situation that had been in a constant state of flux since he came to the Sabres. During the 2013-14 season Buffalo suited up an NHL-record nine goalies because of trades and injuries.  Ryan Miller, Jhonas Enroth, Ryan Vinz (a HARBORCENTER employee,) Jaroslav Halak, Michal Neuvirth, assistant coach Arturs Irbe, Connor Knapp, Matt Hackett, and Andrey Makarov all donned the Blue and Gold that year.

Last season was better although they still had five goalies play in at least one game for the team:  Enroth and Neuvirth started a combined 62 games for the Sabres before both were traded. Anders Lindback, who came over from Dallas in the Enroth trade started 15 games while Makarov (one game) and Hackett (four games) hit the NHL ice to round things out. The also had Chad "No, I'm not Ocho Cinco" Johnson, who was acquired in the Neuvirth to NY Islanders traded deadline deal. At the time of the deal Jonathan Willis of the Edmonton Journal called Johnson "a nightmare" on Long Island writing that the duo of Lindback and Johnson was "laughably bad" and that they "should give the team the push it needs to finish dead last."

Oddly enough, the only one left standing (other than Yinz who’s still with the Sabres, but got a wiki page out of his 15 minutes of fame) is Johnson who will be back up to Robin Lehner this season.

Lehner was acquired from the Ottawa Senators the morning of the 2015 NHL Draft. Murray, who had drafted the Gothenberg, Sweden native in 2009 (46th-overall,) watched Lehner develop while he was AGM in Ottawa. On June 26th, Murray sent the 21st pick, one of three first-rounders the Sabres had, to the Senators for Lehner and forward, David Legwand  and many thought that Murray paid an above-premium price for the 23 yr. old Lehner.

Eric Duhatschek of the Toronto Globe and Mail called it "larceny." He wrote that Senators GM (and uncle to Tim Murray) Bryan Murray had been trying to make a move in "a crowded NHL goalie market." And, although Lehner was considered the best of the lot, Duhatschek wrote that "it would be difficult [for Bryan Murray] to get good value for him in trade, given all the other goalies on offer out there.

"Happily for Murray, he made a liar of himself Friday morning by pulling off a neat bit of larceny."

That was the overall theme of the pundits both amateur and professional concerning the trade for Lehner. And it very well could be as hindsight will eventually tell us.

One only needs to look at what just transpired in goal for Buffalo from the time Murray traded Miller to the end of the 2014-15 season to come up with one reason why Murray pulled it off.  Also of note is the fact that Buffalo's pipeline was overflowing with prospects. During the three previous drafts the Buffalo Sabres used a total of 28 draft picks (the equivalent of four drafts.) They picked five first rounders and seven second-rounders during those years and came into the draft with three more first rounders and two more in the second.

Murray had been using the wealth of assets at his disposal since the deal for Evander Kane and he continued to use them in the Lehner trade as well as the trade for Colorado's, Ryan O'Reilly. He would go from five first and second-rounders in the 2015 NHL Draft to the usual two, one in each round. But the gist of the argument against him, other than a first round pick being a hefty price to begin with for a goalie, was that the 2015 draft was said to be the deepest in a decade. Kyle Woodlief of the Red Line Report and USA Today called it a "special draft because of the depth."

"You go back, 2013 was a deep crop, 2003 was a very deep crop and this crop is as deep as we've seen in the past decade," wrote Woodlief pre-draft. "There are players we have ranked in the mid-40's in this year's draft who'd be in the mid-20's on our rankings last year."

For posterity's sake, Ottawa used the 21st pick in the draft to select C, Colin White. The Sabres still came out of the draft with C, Jack Eichel (2nd overall) and D, Brendan Ghule (51st) who signed his entry-level deal this off season.

Lehner enters the 2015-16 season as clear-cut No.1 in Buffalo while Johnson takes on the role of back-up. As noted, Murray had drafted Lehner and watched him develop. Murray had seen him win the Binghamton Senators to the Calder Cup as he was named playoff MVP as a 19 yr. old and Lehner would become the youngest Senator ever to start and win his first game that same season. And he's convinced Lehner is a starting goalie in the NHL. "I think he's a No. 1 goalie. I think he becomes a starter," he said, at the draft, then defined what he meant. "When I say a starter or a No. 1 center or a No. 3 defenseman or whatever, I mean on a good team, on a contending team, on a competitive team, on a playoff team."

The playoffs seem like a reach for this young Sabres squad this season, but as we've found out, a hot goalie can take a team far. Conversely, if said goalie gets cold, a team like Buffalo who's in the first year of their "build" could end up near the bottom of the league.

Lehner has the full confidence of Murray. During a conference call in June, just after being acquired, Lehner said of Murray, "He believes in me an that's special [to me]. We have some memories when we won the Calder Cup in Binghamton (with Murray in charge) and he's been a big part of my development. It's a special moment, for sure. He shows [me] a lot of respect and I have a lot of respect for him."

There have been many a quizzical looks thrown Murray's since the trade for Lehner was announced, especially with the price paid, and it may take a few years to find out "who won," but for right now, Murray has his starting goalie. And, as scheduling luck would have it, the Sabres start the season at home versus the Ottawa Senators and a probable goalie match-up of Lehner vs. the goalie who replaced him, fan-favorite Andrew "The Hamburglar" Hammond.

Gotta love the intrigue in that match-up.

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