Greg M. Cooper-US PRESSWIRE
Robin Lehner's comments to Swedish media about his contract status raised some eyebrows, particularly on his belief that he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the season.
Earlier in the week, Ottawa Senators prospect Robin Lehner spoke to HockeySverige's Uffe Bodin and made the claim that, in his opinion, his entry-level deal will expire at the end of this season. The translation by everyone's favourite Swede on Twitter, Stefan, as well as other commentary on the situation can be seen here at The 6th Sens.
Per section 9.1(d) of the old CBA, if a player signs his ELC at age 18 or 19 and "does not play at least ten (10) NHL Games in the first season" of that deal, then his entry-level contract would be extended by one year. In 2010-2011, Lehner was 19 years old and played eight games for the Ottawa Senators. However, according to Lehner, because he was also a backup in additional games that bumped him over the threshold, then the 2010-2011 season would count as the first year of Lehner's contract. If that were to be true, then the 2012-2013 season would be the third and final year of his ELC. For his next deal, Lehner states that it would "take a lot" for him to sign another two-way contract.
Most players except goaltenders either play in a game or they don't. However, in the case of goaltenders, does sitting as a backup count for the purpose of the 10 game requirement? It appears unclear, but one would think Senators management would be aware of the rules when playing him in 2010-2011. On the other hand, Lehner seems to think he will be a free agent. The likely conclusion is that the CBA doesn't state one way or the other. However, as there is no precedent for this, it is unlikely that any appeal would find in Lehner's favour.
The reaction from Shawn Simpson of the Team 1200 was the usual shut up and play that is often the case when a player looks out for his own best interest. By and large, many fans have been surprised, if not disappointed by Lehner's comments.
I personally find it is a smart tactical move by Lehner. He has felt he has been NHL ready since he led the B-Sens to a Calder Cup Champion as a 19-year old in that very season in question. He struggled in Binghamton last season, and in the original HockeySverige article, he claims that Binghamton was a disaster last year and no one wanted to be there. Lehner went on to talk about a wide range of issues including his favourite hard rock band. But that is a matter for another time.
Lehner's dislike for Binghamton and the AHL in general have been well documented. At a salary of $67,500 he is making less money than some people that will be reading this article. In the NHL he would be making $900,000 on his current deal and living in a national capital. From his vantage point, he has won the AHL Championship and is currently leading the league with a save percentage of 94.5%. What more is there for him to accomplish in that league?
The question is, will his comments make it less or more likely that he ends up in Ottawa next season? Should Lehner's contract remain in place, he could in theory have another year in the minors making $67,500. By publicly stating his reluctance for another two-way contract, he puts the pressure on Bryan Murray. The easy thing for Murray to do would be to sign Ben Bishop to another 1-year deal, keep Lehner in the minors and give himself another year to make a decision. Lehner's comments could backfire, but in my opinion they are more likely to result in a spot being created for him next season, whether it be through trading Bishop or Craig Anderson. Additionally, it might result in Lehner being given a few NHL games this season given that he is, in my opinion, the best candidate to play goal for Ottawa in eight days.
Of course, Bryan Murray has the option of sticking it to Lehner for speaking out. But it really isn't in the club's best long term interests to antagonise a potential franchise goaltender when he has earned his spot on the team for next season. Perhaps Lehner could have kept his comments private, but I still feel it makes it more likely, not less likely, that either Craig Anderson or Ben Bishop will be traded before October 2013.