After most of the free agent goaltenders had come off the free agent board (Carter Hutton, Jonathan Bernier, Petr Mrazek, among others), the name of Robin Lehner stood out as the best available one for the Islanders to sign on a low-risk, one-year deal. On Tuesday, Erik Karlsson was all the rage and then the Islanders traded for prodigal son Matt Martin, so my plans to write about Lehner got put on the back burner.
When the Islanders signed him on Tuesday afternoon, I laughed out loud…and liked the move even more.
With the Islanders having so many tough, fearless, edgy fourth-line forwards in the fold, why not add the equivalent in goal? The Islanders may not be the most skilled team next season, but you can't blame Lou Lamoriello for "making it look mean."
Lehner, even as goaltenders go, is a different kind of cat. While we were preparing for the arrival of John Tavares in the 2009 NHL Draft, I spoke over the phone with more than two dozen prospects for Point Blank pieces. One of the youngsters made a lasting impression with his confidence, care-level and sincerity: the 6-4 goaltender from Sweden.
He went on to be drafted in the second round by Ottawa and play parts of five seasons with the Senators. Over the last three seasons with a bad team in Buffalo, his save percentage trended downward: .924, .920 and, last year, .908.
When I reached out to two NHL goalie coaches (not connected to the Islanders, Sabres or Sens) to inquire about Lehner on Monday night, they shared similar scouting reports via email:
"Huge goalie that can get on hot and cold streaks for long periods. Rebound control can be spotty and when he struggles it is usually weak."
"He'll lose his goalposts at times. As a result, plays around the net can lead to some bad goals. Mobile for such a big guy but doesn't always take the best lines at pucks. He will expose his short side on occasion."
However, despite their criticism, both goalie coaches said Lehner was the right guy for the Islanders. They felt skill-wise and emotionally, he was a better fit than Mrazek (who signed with Carolina for the same $1.5 million the Islanders gave Lehner), Bernier, Kari Lehtonen, Cam Ward or any of the other goaltenders available on July 1, with the exception of Hutton, who replaces Lehner at the Sabres.
Lamoriello spent some time with Lehner before the signing was announced, which was good to hear. As the Islanders GM said in his interview with Sirius/XM on Thursday, Lehner "has two things you cannot teach: size and talent." You could add spirit to his unteachable attributes.
On this Fifth of July, we don't know if the Islanders are going to be any good in 2018-19. As The Hockey News preps its season preview, they will likely have the Islanders somewhere between 10th and 43rd in the Eastern Conference, and few would blame them.
But one thing is also for sure: with those games at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, and with Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee, a re-focused D led by Nick Leddy and coached by Barry Trotz and a new staff, and now Lehner in goal, on most nights the Islanders will not be boring.