Robin Lehner watches the puck through snow Jan. 30. ©2018, Hickling Images, Olean Times Herald

Sabres goalie Robin Lehner could be attractive option for contender

BUFFALO – Forget about struggling winger Evander Kane, the asset that could fetch the Sabres the greatest return before the upcoming trade deadline is goalie Robin Lehner.

Kane has been struggling for months, producing just four goals over a 32-game span, including zero in the past 13 contests. His value has dropped dramatically.

Lehner, meanwhile, has been tending some strong goal for the hapless Sabres, who have lost four straight home games. In his last five games, the Swede is 2-2-1 with a 1.42 goals against-average, a .955 save percentage and two shutouts.

“It’s tough to feel good when we’re not winning,” Lehner told the Times Herald on Wednesday. “But, yeah, last four or five games, I’ve started seeing the puck a little bit again, the puck’s getting bigger. Sometimes you go through some stretches where the puck seems really quick and small, and it looks a little bigger right now.”

Some teams fighting for playoff spots, most notably the New York Islanders, tonight’s opponent at KeyBank Center, need a goaltending upgrade.

Given Lehner’s recent play and body of work – he has a terrific .919 save percentage in 119 outings since the start of last season – perhaps he could bring the Sabres a high draft pick or a strong prospect.

Of course, Lehner, 26, knows his name has been mentioned in trade rumors.

“You think about it sometimes,” he said. “I’ve got two kids and a wife, so sometimes you look around and see what might be happening, but it’s nothing I think about constantly.”

Do the rumors bother him?

“Not really,” Lehner said. “I know what I can do, I know I can save the puck. So obviously I like the city a lot, I like it here, I want this team to be successful, I want this organization to be successful. At the end of the day, you just take it day by day and see what happens.”

If Tim Murray had remained general manager, then perhaps Lehner’s future in Buffalo would be secure. Murray traded a first-round pick to Ottawa in 2015 for Lehner, a steep cost for someone who had never started regularly in the NHL.

But Murray believed Lehner, someone he watched up close with the Senators, could be a top No. 1 netminder.

Then the Sabres fired Murray following a last-place finish in 2016-17. Instead of a long-term deal, new GM Jason Botterill gave Lehner, who posted a .920 save percentage last season, a one-year, $4 million contract as a restricted free agent.

With Linus Ullmark, one of hockey’s best goalie prospects with the AHL Rochester Americans, almost ready for the NHL, a short contract for Lehner made sense.

Botterill has no attachment or investment in Lehner. Why would he give a multi-year deal with Ullmark, 24, so close?

The Sabres likely want Ullmark to play regularly in the NHL next season, not sit as Lehner’s backup. Lehner has played 40 of the Sabres’ 53 contests, a 62-game pace. He played a career-high 59 times last year.

Basically, there’s not enough room in net for both goalies in 2018-19.

While Lehner has often been the Sabres’ lone bright spot, Ullmark is younger, cheaper and arguably possesses a greater upside. Lehner will be an RFA again following the season, so he is still under team control.

Off the ice, Lehner has established himself for his outspoken talk. He has often been blunt, unafraid to call out his team’s play (he never mentions names always includes himself) during the many rough stretches over the past three seasons.

“I know there’s a lot of questions thrown at him,” Sabres coach Phil Housley said. “I think he does a pretty good job.”

Lehner said he believes “in calling it as it is.”

“The guys here do a good job of maybe slowing me down a little bit,” he said. “There’s time in life for things, but sometimes I say what’s on my mind, sometimes it’s right, sometimes it’s wrong.”

Where does Lehner get that from?

“I don’t know, really,” he said. “I just feel like going around the issue sometimes is not the way forward.”

2 thoughts on “Sabres goalie Robin Lehner could be attractive option for contender”

  1. Wrong.

    A top-6 goal-scoring winger is always more valuable than an average goalie who will be a backup on a contending team.

    Kane will bring back a 1st round pick and a prospect…Lehner might fetch a 3rd round pick and a 5th round pick at best.

    Nobody with a brain would pay more for Robin Lehner than Evander Kane.

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