Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Strike while the iron's hot with Robin Lehner

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 2-5-2018

Buffalo Sabres starting goaltender Robin Lehner has emerged from a deep slump that hit him hard last month. Lehner was yanked after allowing four goals on 19 shots in the 7-1 Dallas Stars rout over the Sabres back on January 20, his fourth poor outing in five appearances, but since then he's been a wall. In his last four games Lehner has allowed three goals on 123 shots (.976 save percentage) which includes back-to-back shutouts in the midst of going a career-best 145:15 without allowing a goal.

Yet, thanks to the team in front of him, he's only 2-2-0 during that stretch.

Word from our insiders is that Lehner's name has not come up at the foot of Washington St. when it comes to the team moving him. The 26 yr. old veteran of 205 NHL games is a pending restricted free agent who carries a $4 million cap-hit, which is very manageable when prorated for the remainder of the season. Lehner's starting ability and his manageable pro-rated cap-hit might be very appealing to a team looking for a rental goalie.

For a while now, there have been two teams said to be looking at goaltenders for the stretch run and beyond--the Chicago Blackhawks and NY Islanders. The Hawks lost Corey Crawford indefinitely back in December and their backup goalies have struggled with inconsistency as of late. Chicago is 3-5-2 in their last 10 and they're five points out of the last wild card spot in the Western Conference with four teams to jump.

The New York Islanders are right on the precipice of the second wild card spot in the East and are said to be desperate to not only make the playoffs, but also make a deep run to help entice franchise center John Tavares to re-sign this off season. Starter Jaroslav Halak has had a tough go of it this season, and although he seems to have turned it around, they may still have some question marks with him in net while backup Thomas Greiss has seen his numbers take a precipitous drop this season (3.94 goals-against average, .883 Sv%.) Add it all up and the Islanders are on the playoff buble scoring an NHL third-best 3.28 goals/game but giving up an NHL-worst 3.60 goals/game.

NHL.com added another interesting twist to the goalie market when they wrote that the surging Pittsburgh Penguins might want to upgrade their backup goalie situation. Starter Matt Murray is a two-time Cup-winning goalie who has struggled somewhat this season but has established himself as a money goalie come playoff time. The Pens are presently in third place in the Metropolitan Division and are chasing a bit of history as they're trying to become the first team since the 1980-83 NY Islanders to win three straight Stanley Cups.

Twenty-two year old Tristian Jarry has been solid, if somewhat inconsistent, in a backup role for the Pens after getting the call from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton back in November and yo-yoing a bit since while Casey DeSmith shows promise (5-3-0 record, 2.23 GAA, .926 Sv%) albeit in a very small sample size. So it does make sense that Pittsburgh might be in the market for a veteran backup.

Two names have consistently been mentioned as goalies who could be on the move between now and the February 26 trade deadline are Lehner and Detroit starter Petr Mrazek. Carolina veteran Cam Ward (a Stanley Cup and Conn Smythe winner) has also been mentioned but has taken back the starting role for a Hurricanes' team with designs on a playoff push.

The case for Lehner to any of these teams is rather simple. In Buffalo he's needed to play a near perfect game to get a win as the Sabres are the lowest scoring team in the league (2.25 g/gm.) Lehner has an 11-20-6 record with those 20 losses being the most in the league and has a 2.80 goals-against average that's 20th in the league amongst goalies playing in 30 or more games. He's faced 1140 shots (14th-most) and his .914 Sv% is 13th in the league amongst goalies playing in 30 or more games.

All three of the Islanders (3rd,) Penguins (11th) and Blackhawks (13th) are in the upper portion of the league in scoring while the Blackhawks have the league's 18th best GAA (2.77.) As mentioned the Islanders are last in team goals-against while the Penguins rank 21st (2.98.)

What does this all mean?

Not much if the Sabres aren't going to move Lehner, but if they are (and I really think they will pull the trigger) then those are three teams who may be interested in his services at this time.

Buffalo won't be asking (or receiving) the moon for Lehner in a trade, but a second rounder or mid-level prospect might not be out of the question either. The Islanders have two firsts and two seconds (courtesy the Calgary Flames) in the upcoming draft so a second-rounder wouldn't kill them. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a second-round pick but are missing a third and their own fourth in the draft. They're also said to be looking for bottom-six center depth, of which the Sabres have some.

The Chicago Blackhawks don't have a second round pick but they might have a couple of mid-level d-prospects in Lucas Carlsson or Carl Dahlstrom that might be of interest to the Sabres.

The trade deadline is inching nearer and as has been the case for a while, Sabres GM Jason Botterill is said to be listening to offers for every one of his NHL player's not named Jack Eichel. So it's safe to assume that includes Lehner.

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