Blackhawks

Blackhawks sign Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner to one-year deal

Blackhawks sign Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner to one-year deal

After a quiet first few hours on Day 1 of NHL free agency, the Blackhawks changed all that when they announced that they had agreed to terms with goaltender Robin Lehner. It's a one-year contract worth $5 million, a deal that came together quickly after the New York Islanders decided to go in a different direction.

"I certainly wasn’t expecting Robin to be available," GM Stan Bowman said on a Monday evening conference call. "It’s rare for a Vezina finalist to be available in this situation, for us to be able to get him. ... It just felt right from the first time we spoke, it felt like this was going to be a great opportunity for him and for us. Really happy with how it all played out."

Lehner was a Vezina Trophy finalist for the New York Islanders last season after going 25-13-5 with a 2.13 goals-against average, .930 save percentage and six shutouts. He also won the Masterton Trophy as the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication after he opened up publicly about his substance abuse and mental health issues. 

Lehner has a career save percentage of .918, which is certainly respectable given some of the teams he's been on. And while he may have deserved a bigger payday and long-term security, he puts his opportunity with the Blackhawks into perspective.

"I'm 27, turning 28 [on July 24] and I truly, in my soul, know I'm just scratching the surface," Lehner said. "Last year was a good start for me. I know I'm only going to get better. Just the sheer firepower in the organization that I'm about to join, it just really excites me. A one-year deal made sense on both parts. Obviously, everyone wants some type of security and term; I'd be lying if I said I didn't want that from after the year that I had.

"I have no hesitations about my play and where I am as a goaltender. I'm very excited to keep proving myself. But now it's more proving myself off the ice and stay on the same, good track that I'm at. I have full confidence that I'll be [on that] for the rest of my career. I just want to win now. So it made a lot of sense to me because it's a very competitive team. I just want to be part of a winning team."

The signing immediately gives the Blackhawks one of the strongest duos between the pipes with Lehner and Corey Crawford. But it also raises some questions about the Blackhawks' future in goal with Crawford and Lehner combining for $11 million in cap space, and each of their contracts expires at the end of next season.

It also makes you wonder how the workload will be divided up. Crawford is still probably going to be the 1A option, but Lehner is about as perfect a 1B as you can think of and a 55-45 start split would be ideal if the Blackhawks are looking to make a playoff push.

"You need two goalies," Bowman said. "It doesn’t matter how many one plays or how many the other plays. You gotta win every night, you don't just have to win when your supposed No. 1 is playing. We had discussions about Robin with that: it’s not about a certain number of games a guy plays. We need to be great in net every night. So however the breakdown works out, it’ll work out and that's really more for the coaching staff to mandate how many games one guy's going to play."

An underrated part of the move is the psychological boost this gives the players. They should have the internal confidence that they could win on any given night with Crawford or Lehner manning the crease.

While Crawford has battled concussion issues over the last year and a half that's worth noting when the team makes a signing like this, Lehner gives the Blackhawks a dependable insurance option if there is another health scare.

"It’s the most important position in the game," Bowman said. "Looking back on the last few years, it’s certainly been hard to weather the storm when injuries are part of the game. I think we have the best 1-2 punch in the league is the way I look at it right now. I certainly feel really comfortable going into next season, whether Corey Crawford’s in net or Robin Lehner’s in net. We've got two high-end goaltenders, we’ve improved our defense, we've made some changes up front. We're a different team. I’m very optimistic for where we’re headed."

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Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Takeaways from first three days of Blackhawks training camp

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Chicago Blackhawks

Blackhawks Talk Podcast: Takeaways from first three days of Blackhawks training camp

On the latest Blackhawks Talk Podcast, Pat Boyle and Charlie Roumeliotis break down the first three days of training camp.

Which players have stood out so far and how will the injuries to Kirby Dach and Calvin de Haan impact the final roster?

The guys also discuss Jonathan Toews being motivated by an NHL Network snub and their feelings about the relationship between Corey Crawford and Robin Lehner.

0:45 - Fan support at Training Camp Festival 

1:45 - Impressions of Wedin-Toews-Nylander line

2:35 - Olli Maatta getting offensive 

4:00 - Aleksi Saarela impact

5:00 - Andrew Shaw at center

6:00 - Will Kris Versteeg get another spin with Blackhawks?

7:45 - Optimism at camp

10:15 - Kirby Dach injury

12:00 - What are Dach’s chances of making the team?

14:00 - Will Calvin de Haan be ready for season opener?

17:15 - Jeremy Colliton teaching D-zone 

19:00 - Adam Boqvist chances of making the team? 

20:15 - Jonathan Toews motivated by snub

24:15 - Crawford-Lehner relationship 

28:45 - Importance of three preseason games in three days

Listen to the entire episode here or in the embedded player below.

Blackhawks Talk Podcast

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Blackhawks using first training camp under Jeremy Colliton to nail down defensive zone coverage

Blackhawks using first training camp under Jeremy Colliton to nail down defensive zone coverage

Jeremy Colliton has been the Blackhawks' head coach for more than 10 months now, but this is his first training camp with the team and he's able to instill some concepts that he wasn't able to do on the fly last season. The biggest thing, however, is that he was afforded a full summer to prep and can help get everyone on the same page during training camp and in the seven preseason games before the games actually matter.

"It's important," Duncan Keith said. "Systems nowadays, with the way teams are, it's important that everyone's on the same page. Having a training camp with the coaches and being able to implement the system and try to get on the same page early on, the quicker we can iron out everything the better off we're going to be."

The one area the Blackhawks have focused on heavily over the first two days is the defensive zone coverage. They gave up the most scoring chances and high-danger chances at 5-on-5 last season, and the team got better at it in the final month or so but it's still a work in progress.

"It's going to be huge," Patrick Kane said. "Even [Friday], first day we're running through some defensive coverage trying to get everything done tactically. I'm sure we'll do a little bit more of that each day and some different things as well. It'll be real beneficial for us just to all get on the same page, set the standard around here and feel confident about our team, the way we play going into the season."

The onus isn't just on the defensemen, either. It's a five-man unit and training camp is just as much about building trust with your teammates and being in the right spot as it is nailing down the scheme and letting it become muscle memory.

"We've all got to be on the same page," Brent Seabrook said. "If my D partner's doing it perfectly and I'm not, then we're not going to be any good at it. We've all got to be on the same page, we've all got to be doing our job and doing the right thing and the faster we get to that point, then I think it's just going to help us out in the long run. We're just going to keep getting better at it and we'll go from there."

The Blackhawks are going to continue working on their defensive zone coverage as camp goes along because that’s priority No. 1. Scoring goals won’t be an issue. And after Sunday’s training camp festival at the United Center, the Blackhawks have three consecutive preseason contests to apply what they've learned in a game-type setting.

"I just think getting guys on the same page as quickly as we can, that's really important,” Colliton said. “You saw there was a lot of D-zone work today [Friday]. That'll continue and we'll just sort of roll out how we're going to play day-by-day so that we're ready. We got that festival game, that will kind of be a dress rehearsal and then right into it."

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