It was a bit of a surprise when the Chicago Blackhawks signed goaltender Robin Lehner to a one year, $5 million contract on the first of July. The way Lehner’s time ended in Long Island was rather interesting, but he’s now in Chicago looking to build ground after an impressive 2018-19 campaign that included a Vezina nomination for his performance with the New York Islanders. So, why did Lehner choose the Blackhawks?
Looking at Chicago’s goaltending situation, Corey Crawford has one year left at $6 million between the pipes for the Blackhawks. There’s been lots of concern about whether Crawford would be able to recover from concussion issues over the past couple of years, though he seems to be ready to go for this upcoming season.
Even if Crawford is healthy, if you’re Stan Bowman, you don’t want to risk anything going wrong again. When Crawford got injured in 2017-2018, Anton Forsberg was the backup goaltender who posted a .907 save percentage that year. In 2018-2019 when Crawford got injured again, Cam Ward was the backup goaltender who posted a .897 save percentage that year.
Both those years, the Blackhawks missed the playoffs because they simply didn’t have good enough goaltending. If Crawford does indeed suffer another injury this year, it’ll be Lehner who steps in who is a huge upgrade over the two aforementioned backups. But since Lehner will probably be playing 40 games or so, that’ll ease Crawford’s work load.
In the Blackhawks system, there are some goalies with decent potential, Alexis Gravel from Halifax (QMJHL) and Kevin Lankinen who was a star at the 2019 IIHF World Championships for Finland, but neither of them are sure things. Goaltending is a hard position to project, but Lehner has proven on a consistent basis that he is a solid backstop. He has a career .918 save percentage, including playing on a not so very good Buffalo Sabres team for two of the last three years. Plus at 27-years-old, turning 28 in a week, he still has at least a good five years in him now in Chicago behind Corey Crawford.
According to Elliotte Friedman on the 31 Thoughts Podcast, he said that if Lehner’s first few months go well in Chicago, that he could get an extension by January first.
Robin Lehner is a great human being and was an inspiration to us all when he opened up to his mental health issues. I’d love for him to succeed with the Blackhawks and finally find a permanent home.