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Robin Lehner trade still has no clear-cut winner

On June 26, 2015, the Ottawa Senators traded a goalie they previously thought to be the goaltender of their future to a division rival. In the deal, the Buffalo Sabres acquired Robin Lehner, determining that while he did not fit the qualifications to be the Senators’ starter, he fit the needs of the Sabres.

Buffalo dealt the 21st pick in the NHL Draft–one of two selections the team had in the first round in 2015–to the Senators for Lehner and David Legwand. Trading a first-round pick even in a year in which they had two was no minor price to pay, so Lehner entered the 2015-16 campaign as the expected starter. In Ottawa, Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond entered the campaign as the chosen parties over Lehner.

Neither the Sabres or Senators earned a postseason berth in the ensuing season, as the teams finished 11th and 16th in the NHL in team save percentage. Buffalo’s numbers were not indicative of the impact of the trade, however, as Lehner played in just 21 games.

The Sabres chose Lehner over alternative options such as Stanley Cup finalist Martin Jones, or Edmonton Oilers starter Cam Talbot. Talbot went for a lower cost than Lehner, meaning the expectation should be that Lehner outperforms Talbot.

In Ottawa, Anderson took over the No. 1 spot following the Lehner trade, notching a .916 save percentage in 60 games. The story of the 2014-15 season, Hammond, managed a .914 save percentage in 24 games. Both goalies were around league average for a team that had a below average defense outside of All-World defenseman, Erik Karlsson.

April 07, 2016: Ottawa Senators Defenceman Erik Karlsson (65) [6758] congratulates Ottawa Senators Goalie Craig Anderson (41) [2293] after the NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers at Canadian Tires Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/Icon Sportswire)

April 07, 2016: Ottawa Senators Defenceman Erik Karlsson (65) [6758] congratulates Ottawa Senators Goalie Craig Anderson (41) [2293] after the NHL game between the Ottawa Senators and the Florida Panthers at Canadian Tires Centre in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Steve Kingsman/Icon Sportswire)

Anderson is not likely a long-term solution at the age of 35, while Hammond was a late bloomer, beginning his NHL career at the age of 26. Hammond has not shown the ability to be a top netminder in the NHL outside of a small sample in his first season, creating a looming question of whether or not the Senators traded their best hope in Lehner.

Despite the questions, the first year of the trade was hardly indicative of anything. Buffalo did not see what Lehner could do in a full season as the starting goalie, while Ottawa saw Anderson post his usual stats and Hammond fail to see enough action to prove if he could be a starter in today’s NHL.

The argument could be made that the Senators won the trade in the first year due to Lehner’s injury, but Lehner’s outstanding performance in his limited time lends itself to the theory that he could be a short and long-term solution in net. If Lehner succeeds, he will be doing so for a division rival, showing the Senators that they made the wrong decision in dealing him away.

There are many layers to the Lehner trade and plenty that still need to unravel. While we cannot judge the deal yet, the 2016-17 season will go a long way towards showing whether or not the Sabres and Senators made the right decisions. The Sabres and Senators would each like to contend this season, so Lehner, Anderson, and Hammond will be on notice, asked to prove they deserve to be trusted with the roles they are in now.

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