Burning Questions: Robin Lehner's contract
Robin Lehner is a restricted agent and is looking for a new contract.
Robin Lehner thought that he was a restricted free agent last season and while that turned out to be incorrect, he will indeed be a restricted free agent as of 1 July. Lehner has a short but impressive resume so far with a save percentage of 91.8% on 1,897 regular season shots in 61 games. Last season Lehner finished with a save percentage of 91.3% which was also the average save percentage for all NHL goaltenders last season, though starting goalies were a bit higher. The 36 games last season are almost 60% of his career games played.
Lehner was the backup goalie but was clearly the superior goaltender on the team at the start of the season. In 19 games before the new year, Lehner had a save percentage of 92.2%. He didn't play in 2014 until 14 January where he posted his first shutout of the season, but he was used sparingly during this stretch. In fact after 18 December and before 15 March, he started only five games in a three month period. With Craig Anderson injured, Lehner started the next seven games and he clearly wasn't ready to be suddenly thrust into that situation. In the first four games on 15, 16, 18 and 20 March, Lehner was absolutely brutal allowing 18 goals on 126 shots. After that, Lehner was very solid and finished the season with a save percentage of 92% or better in each of the last seven games including three shootout wins in which Lehner stopped all eight attempts.
Of the 36 games, Lehner was above 92% in 20 of them, below 90% in 12 of them and between 90% and 92% in the other four. Anderson on the other hand was above 92% in 24 of them, below 90% in 22 of them and between 90% and 92% in the other seven. It is a rather small sample, but Anderson has proven himself to be largely an average goaltender over the course of his career. Lehner is a bit more of an unknown but he appears to have a pretty decent chance of at least being as good as Anderson already if not better.
Which brings us to the point of this article. What kind of contract should the Senators give Robin Lehner? The Senators as they like to remind us every week, are a budget team. Trying to fill holes on a budget team is pretty hard and some of those limited dollars cannot be spent on a player to sit on the bench most nights. If Lehner is the team's goalie going forward, then it makes a lot of sense for the club to trade Anderson, who is entering the last season of his contract. The likely risk with Lehner is that he doesn't become the elite goaltender that every fan dreams he will become, which isn't much of a risk. If the club is fairly confident that Lehner will be at least an average goaltender then there really isn't a deal where it could go too wrong.
Let's take a look at some of the comparables for Lehner.
- James Reimer signed in 2011 for 3-years at $1.8 million per season. Reimer had 37 career NHL games and a 92.1 save percentage. He was 23-years old at the start of the following season.
- Jonathan Bernier signed in 2013 for 2-years at $2.9 million per season. Bernier had 62 career games with a 91.2 save percentage. He was 25-years old at the start of the following season.
- Braden Holtby signed in 2013 for 2-years at $1.85 million per season. He had played 57 career games with a 92.3 save percentage. He was 24-years old at the start of the following season.
- Robin Lehner has 61 career games with a 91.8 save percentage. He will be 23-years old at the start of the following season.
For me the closest comparison here is Bernier. Like Lehner, Bernier has had a lot of hype in his career and was on a team with a capable (if not spectacular) starting NHL goalie. Looking at the recent comparables and keeping all the uncertainty with goalies in mind, a deal for 2 or 3 years is almost guaranteed here. My guess would be something like 3-years at $2.5 million per season and with Anderson replaced with one of the many cheap backup goalies available at around $1.5 million. This would allow the Senators to keep their goaltending costs around the same as last year and instead spend their available money on players that play every night.