NHL Trade Deadline primer: Robin Lehner, Chicago Blackhawks
With the NHL trade deadline getting close (February 24, 3 p.m. ET) the Pro Hockey Talk crew will be taking a closer look at some individual players that could be on the move. Today we focus on Chicago Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner.
Player: Robin Lehner
Current team: Chicago Blackhawks
Contract: Unrestricted free agent after this season with a $5 million salary cap number
Why the Blackhawks might trade him. This is complicated because I do not think the Blackhawks are going to trade him. I am not sure they want to even consider the possibility of trading him. Even with their current spot in the standings, even with the deficit they are facing when it comes to catching the the playoff teams, and even with all of their flaws as a team I don’t think the front office has it in them to punt on a season as long as Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith are on the roster.
On some level, I can respect that. I can respect that a lot, actually. You do not get players of that caliber very often, and when you are fortunate enough to get them, you do not get them for very long. You do not want to waste any season with them and you owe it to them to try and win.
The problem, however, is that this (*gestures wildly at the entire Blackhawks roster as currently constructed*) is not working. They tried to keep their window for contention open, they tried to fix the problems and complement the offense they still have, but a third consecutive non-playoff season seems to be the inevitable result here. That means any potential free agent should be available to the highest bidder, especially if there is a better than 50-50 chance that free agent might leave for nothing in return this summer.
That brings us to Lehner.
He is an unrestricted free agent this summer and does not seem to be willing to take a discounted contract, wanting to get his fair market value. It is something he has absolutely earned and should try to capitalize on while he can. Given that Stan Bowman seems completely unwilling and unable to permanently part with a player he has won with, it seems likely that Corey Crawford (also an unrestricted free agent this summer) will have a spot in Chicago as long as he wants one. I just do not know that the Blackhawks have the salary cap space to pay Lehner what he wants and what he has earned.
Given all of that the question now has to become, why wouldn’t the Blackhawks try to trade him?
Teams that could/should be interested: Carolina Hurricanes, Edmonton Oilers, Nashville Predators
What he provides. He has been one of the best and most productive goalies in the league over the past five years. His .920 all situations save percentage since the start of the 2015-16 season is tied for the third highest in the league (out of 54 goalies that have appeared in 100 games). Only nine goalies in the league have a better even-strength save percentage than his .924 mark. He has been a game-changer. He helped carry the New York Islanders to one of the league’s best records a year ago. The split in the Blackhawks’ record in games he starts versus games he does not start is drastic.
Any potential playoff team in need of a starting goalie or a 1B platoon goalie should be on the phone with Bowman right now. Carolina could still use an upgrade in net. He would be a huge upgrade for an Edmonton team that might actually have a chance to make some real noise in the playoffs with a true No. 1 goalie. Even Nashville where Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros have been the Achilles heel of an otherwise still good team. He could make a huge impact for all of these teams.
Predicted destination. Even though the playoffs seem like a long shot at this point, and even though re-signing him is far from a guarantee he ultimately stays in Chicago, continues to play well for a mediocre team and boosts his value, then signs somewhere else in free agency. An opportunity to bring something back is missed.