81Robin Lehner
Photo Credit: Kevin Hoffman-USA TODAY Sports

Flames free agent targets: Robin Lehner

The Calgary Flames had a decent goaltending situation for much of last season. Starter Mike Smith began the season well. And after Eddie Lack was pretty lousy early on, general manager Brad Treliving wasted no time punting him to the American Hockey League and promoting Stockton Heat starter David Rittich to back up Smith. It worked out really well for several months, until Smith was injured and Rittich had to be the starter for the better part of a month.

With Smith being 36 years old and coming off a fairly substantial injury, the Flames will need to have a backup goaltender that they’re comfortable with being the starter if Smith goes down again. If they choose to go to free agency to seek one out, Robin Lehner might be a good option to explore.

Lehner’s 27 years old, and hits the open market with 219 NHL games under his belt. He’s a product of Sweden, having played with Frolunda’s junior team before joining the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds after the Ottawa Senators drafted him in 2009.

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His career as a pro has had three basic phases:

  • Lehner as a reliable AHL starter: he played three seasons in the AHL, posting a .938 save percentage in 2012-13 and backstopping the Baby Senators to a Calder Cup victory in 2010-11.
  • Lehner as a backup NHL goalie: he played a secondary role for Ottawa in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and then Buffalo in 2015-16. He had superb numbers for the Sabres (.924 save percentage), but couldn’t stay healthy.
  • Lehner as a starter for a bad NHL team: he played 59 and 53 games for Buffalo over the last two seasons. His numbers were respectable, but the team was god-awful.

If nothing else Lehner will be reasonably inexpensive, as the NHL’s worst team chose not to qualify him so they could play Linus Ullmark instead. He’s definitely shown that he can do well in a secondary role. He’s got a reputation as a fiery competitor, often getting emotional during games and getting really mad when his team loses or if he gets pulled. Given the professed issues with the Flames – that they didn’t exactly go down swinging last season when adversity hit – adding the vocal Lehner to an equally outspoken Smith might help keep everyone’s feet to the proverbial fire. Consequently, Lehner’s reportedly a big fan of the Swedish death metal band In Flames, so playing for the Flames would be a pretty interesting fit.

Can Lehner be a good backup? Sure. Would he necessarily be an upgrade over Rittich or Jon Gillies in the event Smith went down? It’s unclear. As good a goaltender as Lehner can be, he was acquired at great cost by Buffalo and paid by the Sabres to be a difference-maker for them. He wasn’t, and whatever the reasons for why it didn’t materialize the Flames would have to strongly examine what happened before trying to sign him.

There’s also the fact that the Flames already have six goaltenders under team control – four signed and two as restricted free agents – meaning they’d be going out of their way to create a backlog to bring in Lehner. Given the emphasis placed by Treliving on developing Gillies and Tyler Parsons, it would be challenging for them to do so if they had more goaltenders than they had pro roster spots for them.

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Whether or not the Flames bring in Lehner probably hinges on one simple thing: what do they think they’ll be doing this year? If the notion is that they have a limited window with a core group, they might as well take a gamble on Lehner in the short-term because they’ll probably be better off this year with a veteran goaltender if they want to win. However, if the idea is they have a young, maturing group and some interesting goaltending prospects that need to be outside of their comfort zones in order to grow – as in: Rittich needs to be in the NHL and Gillies and Parsons need to play a ton – then the Flames have to take their medicine and live with having a few growing pains with a relatively inexperienced goaltender as their backup because of the longer-term benefits it’ll provide to them.

Lehner’s a decent enough goalie and he’d be an inexpensive veteran option, but signing him would definitely lead to some roster complications for the organization.


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  • JoelOttosJock

    I think this could be a gifthorse. If he is willing to sign a short term deal on a prove it contract, sign him. Has proven to be able to put up decent numbers on bad teams. This Flanes team should be middle of the pack as of this roster. A definite upgrade and is more than capable of not only running with the the starters job when Smith’s hip bumps out, but also very capable of outright stealing the starters job and has a future. Would be a great signing.

  • freethe flames

    Lehner would be an interesting add but it require moving one of Rittich or Gilles. Packaging one of these two and Stone could possibly add another middle forward to the ranks. However it seems clear that BT and BP are okay with what they have.(they have both said so publicly) In just sightly over 24 hours we will see what they are going to do.

    • JoelOttosJock

      If? Why wait when the goaltending is suspect now. Not just the back up position. For how bad Elliot was 2 playoffs ago, at least he got the the Flames to the dance. Smith is and was still a bad choice in my opinion.

      • Mickey O

        Treliving would have to be 95% sure of which goalie out of Rittich or Gillies he wants to keep. I don’t think they are close to making that decision.

        Then he’d have to be >80% sure that any new goalie would have a legit chance to be a starter almost immediately, while starting as the back-up to Smith. If Smith gets injured, or is horribly off form, deal with it then. That’s my take.

    • Just.Visiting

      We need a lot of pieces to fall into place to be anything more than a bubble team/first round casualty in the playoffs (e.g., two functioning offensive lines, a solid third line, a total rebuild of the 4th line, Brodie regaining the Gio form, Hamonic and Hanifin clicking, etc. I’m with Mickey and the longer term frame in the article.

      • Mickey O

        …and somebody to keep the peace, instead of half-arsing it with guys like Hathaway or Glass. They had Engelland and Ferland. Now we’re down to half-arsing it again.

        There is nobody currently on this team that would be a cinch against a tough middleweight, let alone stepping up to take on the Big Boys. Treliving could have addressed the situation with Ryan Reaves, but he screwed that up royally. This team is going to get pushed around all season.

        #couldahadreaves is going to be a friggin’ mantra.

      • freethe flames

        If you want him and think he might be Smith’s replacement next year you probably sign him 2/3 years anyways. If the price is low enough. Other teams seem to be fine having a veteran insurance package. Based upon Parsons/Gilles performances last year will either be ready to be the starter next year.

        • HOCKEY83

          Free the Flames bang on. Smith is playing his last season in Calgary. If Lehner happens to work out then Gillies or Rittich is your back up until Parsons is ready. Parsons is 3 years out at least.

  • The GREAT WW

    How many starting goalies in the NHL right now were actually drafted by the team they are playing for….?

    Not too many I bet, that’s why we shouldn’t waste a second round pick (not that we have any…) on a goalie.

    WW

  • Flamethrower

    Ok here we are Brad the last day to buy out Brouwer. Please give us Flames fans what we have been longing for, the backside of him leaving and a opportunity of a fresh face arriving. You, yes you have the power to make this happen. Please don’t let us down.

  • Trevy

    Not sold on Lehrer, I think one of Riitch or Gillies would be just as good and we don’t waste a contract or more money…

    Sounds like the Flames are in on Maroon, among others. Should be interesting what goes down after JT makes up his mind

  • Stu Gotz

    Off topic….the Athletic just reported that if the Leafs fail in signing Tavares then Derek Ryan becomes their #1 target to replace Bozak. Apparently they are willing to pay him in excess of $3M and guarantee top 9 position…..

      • oilcanboyd

        Does Tavares really have to make up his mind ASAP? It would be funny if Tavares says he wants to gestate all the offers and make up his mind later in the summer..leaving the bigger free agent signings on hold…

    • Mickey O

      The Peters and Ryan connection sounds pretty strong. He’s going to get $3M+ from someone. Going to the fishbowl in Toronto, with a coach he doesn’t know could be something he’d pass on. Hope so, he fits here.

      • Mickey O

        @frank_seravalli
        Follow Follow @frank_seravalli
        More
        #Leafs among the teams to express interest in centre Derek Ryan. They haven’t made a firm offer (hello, Tavares) but he’s sitting on multi-year offers from #Flames and a Central division team. Detroit and Columbus also believed to be in the mix.

  • WillyWonka

    my fear:
    Smith starts the season with a beautiful .940 sv%, then blows his groin again, and the flames, sitting in a playoff spot, drop like a rock as Rittich folds under pressure like he did last year.
    if this is the case, i’d rather have Lehner as a backup, with Rittich/Gillies behind him.

    • piscera.infada

      Because Lehner’s never had a bad stretch of hockey in his career…

      At some point the Flames are going to have to actually, you know, let one of these goalies have a legitimate shot at the backup position (and then some). If not, just trade both Gillies and Rittich, and stop beating around the bush. They have one year to figure out some sort of long term solution. If they aren’t going to let those two guys vie for the position, then cut bait, and work your bag off on something else.

      If you think the solution is internal, at some point, you’re going to have to hope one of these young guys pulls a Hellebuyck. That basically requires allowing said young goalie to grow into the NHL position.

      I’m not wholly against bringing in a long term solution from outside the organization. Just know that it’s going to require actually jetissoning some of the goalie prospects–having Rittich/Gillies in the A’ and Parsons in the ECHL really isn’t a good option for the development of any of them.

      • Stu Gotz

        “They have one year to figure out some sort of solution”….I disagree. Given the age and injury history of Mike Smith they have a few months (actually hours) to figure out a solution. The risk of missing the playoffs without a ready now backup that can win games is high. Not to mention BT’s tenure as GM if playoffs are missed again….

        • piscera.infada

          I meant a year to find a solution over and above Smith, because there’s no way their solution should be “re-sign Smith. I tend to think hitching your wagon to Smith was a mistake in general (but I digress).

          Regardless, the rest of my argument still stands.

          • Kevin R

            I still see the merit in trading Gilles or Riitch + Stone to Ottawa. They still have to dress a competitive team & with more certainty of Karlssons next contract, if he’s traded, they will get a pretty nice young NHL ready package back. Seems they want to move from Anderson, Gilles or Riitch could be a good fit there. Not sure what our return would be, I would be just satisfied in some picks in 2019 & 2020 coming back. I dont mind getting Lehner as back up over Riitch.
            I think Treliving & Peters know how crucial it will be getting Flames back into the playoffs, why they probably took a lessor deal for Hamilton to get young players that will transition to Peters coaching & why they will go hard after Ryan. Goaltending actually makes me very apprehensive going into next year. I think Smith is more than capable but the injury factor would be foolhardy to ignore.

    • oilcanboyd

      So worst case scenario would be a groin injury and your proposed backup Lehner can’t handle the starter’s role either. There is risk no matter what…

      • Mitchell

        Have you read the article? Lehner has been a high end back up and a starter. He’s more than capable of being a backup and I think he may be able to push Smith for the starters role. He’s fiery like Smith, and I highly doubt he would choke if Smith goes down with an injury. It will be interesting to see if tre makes a move for a goaltender, but lehner is a definite upgrade over what rittich and gillies were last season.

  • MetalGearCody

    As In Flames is also one of my favorite bands I approve. I also do love when goalies have passion and agression and care about winning and losing, i feel like he and smith would feed off of each other. Not sure if it would be a good fit here but i would love to see the In Flames mask he would get for Calgary.

  • StajansFinalPaycheck 3.5

    If the flames had Smith and Lehner they would have the toughest goaltending tandum in the league. Goalies who can fight are awsome! They are even better when they both are capeable of stopping the biscut. Sign him to 2 years!

  • Korcan

    I have more concerns about Smith as a starter (durability) than I have about Rittich as Calgary’s back-up. I think last season’s struggle for Rittich is part of the development curve and he will likely be better from it. Even Carey Price had struggles early in his career — i still remember him nearly being booed out of the city and how mad Habs fans were when they kept him over Halak. I’m not saying Rittich is going to be the next Price, I’m simply saying he has demonstrated he can be a good NHL goalie and developing consistency and mental toughness does not happen overnight, especially when it comes to goalies. I hope they show faith in his ability and give him another shot –I like Rittich as back-up for next season.