Robin Lehner has found a permanent home with the Vegas Golden Knights.
The 2018-19 Vezina Trophy finalist has signed a five-year, $25 million extension with the Vegas Golden Knights, in what is the first huge move of what will be a truncated off-season.
Having been on four teams in just three years, Lehner was due to hit the open market again on Oct. 9 but has now instead been granted the long-term security he was seeking.
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It means that one of the top goalies available is now off the market in what will be a free agency dominated by netminders, with Lehner No. 5 on TSN’s Top 75 Free Agents list.
But, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Golden Knights moved quickly to ensure Lehner didn’t become a free agent given his immediate impact on this team in a short amount of time.
Acquired as a pure rental from the Chicago Blackhawks in what was a blockbuster deal at the Trade Deadline, Lehner was seen as the final piece in a Stanley Cup puzzle by the Golden Knights front office.
Identified as a far supieor backup than Malcolm Subban, who was traded to the Blackhawks as part of that deal, Lehner went 3-0-0 with a 1.67 Goals Against Average and a .940 Save Percentage prior to the sporting world going on hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, something significant changed during the restart and Lehner quickly emerged as the undisputed starter during Training Camp in the eyes of Head Coach Peter DeBoer.
That was consolidated when Lehner started Game 1 of the First Round against the Chicago Blackhawks, and he cemented his status as the main man for the Golden Knights from that point on.
Starting 16 games, the 29-year-old went 9-7-0 with four shutouts, a 1.99 Goals Against Average and a .917 Save Percentage as Vegas were defeated in five games by the Dallas Stars in the Western Conference Final.
Lehner led the entire National Hockey League in postseason shutouts with four, while he ranked eighth among netminders in GAA.
Having excelled for both the New York Islanders and the Chicago Blackhawks but then moved on quickly, it was no secret that Lehner was on the hunt for a long-term deal and some stability.
He’s now been granted that and it is also a good deal for the Golden Knights, who lock down their goalie of the future for the next five years with a team-friendly AAV of $5 million.
This was a deal that had been in the making while the Golden Knights were inside The Bubble in Edmonton, with Lehner at the time denying that there had been a handshake agreement.
We now know the truth and this contract extension is one that ticks a lot of boxes for both parties.
Of course, it will raise more questions about the future of face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury, who has two years remaining with a cap hit of $7,000,000.
We will delve more into that later but, for now, it is hard to see how the Golden Knights keep both Fleury and Lehner given their cap constraints.
Following Lehner’s extension, the Knights are now $59,876 over the cap but teams are allowed to go over by 10% during the off-season.
However, the Golden Knights still have three pending Unrestricted Free Agents in defensemen Deryk Engelland and Jon Merrill and forward Tomas Nosek, and two Restricted Free Agents in forwards Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins to re-sign should they so wish, with the cap staying flat at $81.5 million for the 2020-21 season and beyond due to COVID-19.
Granted, Vegas could look to move a piece from their top-six forward unit in order to retain both netminders but, in a hard cap sport, spending over $12 million on two goalies isn’t conducive to long-term success, especially when there will be a plethora of low-cost alternatives available in free agency.
It looks like this is just the start of the fun and games for the Vegas Golden Knights in what will be a truncated but incredibly compelling off-season.
But, for now at least, they have their man in Robin Lehner who they clearly see as being the goalie to help take them to the promised land and win a Stanley Cup.
We’ll have more on this news throughout the weekend.