Sunday, 28 June 2015

Lehner Is The New Neuvirth

There was a hefty fee paid to acquire backup goalies this weekend, and it's pretty amazing to think that mediocre backup goalies fetch first-round draft picks. Granted, Ottawa traded Robin Lehner AND David Legwand to Buffalo, but neither would warrant a mid-round pick on their own, yet somehow garnered a first-round pick together. Buffalo, who experimented with Michal Neuvirth one year ago before shipping him off to the New York Islanders, seems to be in this perpetual state of rolling the dice on unproven goalies in the hopes that they become the next Dominik Hasek. The problem is that Robin Lehner isn't Dominik Hasek and, unless something changes in a hurry, he's probably not going to succeed in Buffalo.

Michal Neuvirth, for all he was subjected to in Buffalo, actually came away a lot better than for what he was given credit. It's not often that a goaltender can make 32 saves per night on the worst team in the league while stopping 91.8% of the shots he faced and still surrender 2.99 goals per game. The fact that he was facing 35 shots per game in his 27 games played with the Sabres is a pretty remarkable statistic on its own as those types of shot totals haven't been seen since the mid-1980s. Neuvirth's record of 6-17-3 looks terrible, but the stats speak to how well he played on the majority of nights. Yet Buffalo discarded him.

Robin Lehner will now be tasked to grab the starting position from another former career backup goalie in Anders Lindback. This may prove tougher than it seems as Lindback seemed to find a groove in Buffalo towards the end of the season, but there are still worries of overall consistency from him. If Lehner is unable to grab the reins as the starter as some (read: Tim Murray) think he is capable of doing, I'd imagine Buffalo will spin-doctor this into a 1A/1B scenario.

So is Lehner a starter or a 1B?

Let's be honest here: he lost his job to Andrew Hammond in Ottawa last season because Hammond outplayed him in every sense of the word. He finished the season having played 25 games while posting a 9-12-3 mark, a 3.02 GAA, and a .905 save percentage on a better defensive team than what Neuvirth played behind. Lehner, over the last two seasons, has played 61 games while going 21-27-9 with a 3.04 GAA and a .909 save percentage. If you're a coach looking for to give your starter the night off, tossing Lehner between the pipes means there's a 60% change you're losing that game. And Buffalo gave up a first-round pick for a 41.8% of winning on a nightly basis with this guy?

Look, there's no questioning that Lehner could find his groove and settle in as the best goaltender in Buffalo since that Ryan Miller guy. He was the 46th-overall pick in 2009 showed that he has the ability in the AHL, so the step to the NHL was the only logical move that could be made. However, you wonder if the pressure in Ottawa over his lackluster play in the last two seasons finally began to show. Take this snippet from the Ottawa Sun's Don Brennan for what you will.
Robin Lehner is the latest Senator to purchase piranhas. He says his are bigger than Marc Methot's and are named after four of the local hockey beat writers - yours truly, Bruce Garrioch, Sly St-Laurent and Ken Warren. "The fifth one got eaten," said The Lehner. What was its name? "I can't tell you that," he said. Lehner, who had piranhas while growing up in Sweden, likens the blood thirsty fish to reporters, he says, because when we smell a story we attack it. I'm gonna go with that...
While that seems to be complimentary to the four Senators beat reporters, it's a little backhanded in its delivery. Yes, reporters will attack when they smell blood because that's their job. If there's no blood, there's little to worry about, so it seems like Lehner has a little paranoia about the guys who deliver stories about the make-up of the Senators. Perhaps if he focused on his trade a little more and less on the guys talking about how he's plying that trade, he'd still be a Senator.

In any case, the Sabres are rolling the dice that Lehner, who played for Tim Murray in Ottawa, can regain the form that helped the Binghamton Senators to the 2011 Calder Cup and saw the netminder named as the Calder Cup MVP. I'm not sure the gamble was worth a first-round pick in what was clearly a deep draft this year, but the Sabres are resting their hopes on Lehner to be able to take the starting job in Buffalo or push Lindback to be much better.

At this point in Lehner's career, though, that seems like a wild gamble.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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