Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-25-2017
Salary arbitration is never a good thing. On one side you have the player and his agent touting his virtues while on the on the other side the team exposes every blemish, all in the name of dollars. Perhaps that's why nearly all of the cases scheduled for arbitration are settled before hand leaving the process there for what it is, an absolute last resort.
The Sabres have only one arbitration case on the books as it was announced this morning that starting goalie Robin Lehner signed a one-year, $4 million dollar deal. Lehner joined forward Johan Larsson as players avoiding arbitration with Buffalo by signing before their scheduled arbitration date. The lone player left is defenseman Nathan Beaulieu whose case is scheduled for August 4.
Sabres GM Jason Botterill (and more than likely Buffalo's vice president of hockey administration, Mark Jakubowski) did some nice work with this one. As a new GM with a new head coach in Phil Housley, the new Sabres front office and coaching staff will get the opportunity to see Lehner up close for a full season and evaluate how (or if) he fits into their plans. The $4 million deal is a definitive increase in year-over-year salary of $3.15 million last season with Lehner's cap-hit rising from $2.25 million. Buffalo has two more roster players to sign in Beaulieu and forward Zemgus Girgensons and are presently just about $11 million under the NHL salary cap ceiling.
For Lehner it's another "show me" season which is how his career has been defined thus far. Lehner, who just celebrated his 26th birthday yesterday, was drafted by the Ottawa Senators in the second round (46th-overall) of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. After leading their AHL affiliate in Binghamton to the Calder Cup in 2011 he graduated to Ottawa and eventually found himself in a three-way battle for starting minutes. Former Sabres GM Tim Murray scouted Lehner when he was AGM in Ottawa and then traded for him at the 2015 NHL Draft to be his starter in Buffalo.
Lehner entered the 2015-16 season as the Sabres No. 1 goalie but suffered a high-ankle sprain in the very first game of the season, ironically vs. the Senators, and was out until January, 2016. After a strong start he faltered and was eventually shut down and had surgery to repair his ankle. It was the second season in a row Lehner was forced out of the lineup. Late in the 2014-15 campaign with Ottawa he collided with team mate Clarke MacArthur (a former Sabre) on February 16 and was sidelined the rest of the season.
We finally had the opportunity to see what Lehner was able to do in a full season as last year he played in 59 games for the Sabres. His 58 starts ranked 13th in the league while his 23 wins placed him 22nd. He had a 2.68 GAA placing him 17th amongst goalies appearing in 50 or more games and his .920 Sv% ranked him sixth amongst that group. Lehner also had two shutouts.
His Achilles heel, however, was the shootout. He was one of only two goalies who failed to stop a shootout attempt last year as all eight shots fired at him found the back of the net. The only other goalie not to stop a shootout attempt was Nashville Predators back up, Juuse Saros (2.)
It's about as good a situation as it gets for both sides. Even though Lehner will need to prove once again that he's worthy of the starters role, he did get himself a good bump in salary and dependent upon how things work out, he could be due for a longer contract with a higher salary when all's said and done. Botterill and his new staff will get to see Lehner up close for another season and will still have him as an RFA (with arbitration rights) at the end of next season.
That they could get it done before arbitration is another good sign as they avoided what could have been an ugly situation.