Over the next few weeks, we’ll be looking at possible free-agent fits for the Edmonton Oilers. Today, we have Robin Lehner.
One of the most interesting storylines in this summer’s playoffs has been the Vegas Golden Knights’ goaltending controversy.
The Golden Knights made Marc-Andreu Fleury the face of their franchise ahead of their inaugural season and he helped lead the team to a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Final. Shortly after, Fleury was rewarded with a three-year contract extension worth $7,000,000 annually.
Fleury lived up to expectations in 2018-19, posting a .913 save percentage and finishing fourth place in Vezina Trophy voting. But, in 2019-20, Fleury struggled, putting together his worth season since leaving Pittsburgh. As a result, Vegas went out and acquired the top goalie on the rental market, Robin Lehner, at the trade deadline.
Was Fleury upset that he lost the net? He never said so outright, but a Tweet by his agent, Allan Walsh, indicates some kind of rift between him and the organization…
Since joining the Golden Knights, Lehner has been a rock. He stopped 78 of 83 shots in three games in the regular season before the COVID-19 pause and has posted a .921 save percentage in 14 appearances in the playoffs so far.
Given his success over the past couple of seasons, Lehner is poised to hit the free-agent market as arguably the best goaltender available. He formed a Jennings Trophy-winning tandem with the Thomas Greiss on the Islanders in 2018-19 and carried that strong play into Chicago playing behind a Blackhawks team that wasn’t exactly strong defensively.
If he reaches free agency, Lehner would be the perfect target for Edmonton to shore up their goaltending situation. The Oilers have Mikko Koskinen in the mix, but history indicates that he plays his best when part of a 1A/1B tandem. The same goes for Lehner, as his strong two seasons came splitting the net with Greiss, Corey Crawford, and Fleury.
Having a duo of Lehner playing ~45 games and Koskinen playing ~35 would give the Oilers a very, very strong tandem in net. Of course, Lehner wouldn’t come cheap, and signing him would result in the Oilers spending upwards of $10,000,000 on their two goaltenders.
That’s what the Florida Panthers paid to sign Sergei Bobrovsky last summer, the guy who was supposed to be their franchise goaltender. That contract has been an absolute disaster thus far. The league is moving more and more towards being a goalie tandem league. You’re more likely to do well with two solid goalies than you are putting your eggs into one basket.
Unfortunately for the Oilers, it looks like Lehner might not reach the free-agent market. According to Jesse Granger of The Athletic, the Golden Knights are planning to sign Lehner long-term, even though they have Fleury locked up for two more years. Also, David Pagnotta is reporting that Lehner and Vegas have already agreed on a five-year extension, though this report hasn’t been confirmed anywhere else.
“My belief at this point is the Golden Knights plan to sign Lehner to a long-term extension, and sources around the league have indicated those talks might have already begun.
Nothing is finalized, and there are plenty of moving pieces involved – including the two remaining years on Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract at $7 million per year – but based on everything I’ve heard, it appears the organization wants Lehner to remain a Golden Knight past this season.” – Granger
If Lehner does sign an extension in Vegas, that would immediately make Fleury a very interesting trade candidate. The Golden Knights would be desperate to deal him and his large cap hit, meaning they’ll be in a situation in which they move him for pennies on the dollar.
So while Lehner signing would take one of Edmonton’s top free-agent goalies off the market, it opens up a brand new possibility. If Vegas were to retain $2 million on Fleury, giving him a cap hit of $5 million for two years, he could be a nice veteran option to bring in to share the net with Koskinen.