Imagine you’ve just been traded. A rookie general manager in Buffalo gave up a first round pick (the 21st overall) in exchange for you and veteran center David Legwand. Tim Murray, who you’ve known in Ottawa’s scouting department, is now charged with re-building a woefully inept team and wants you to be his #1 goalie. “What an incredible opportunity,” you think to yourself.
“Lehner was the No. 1 goalie available from our estimation. I think he’s a very talented, big, strong man that is just scratching the surface,” said General Manager Tim Murray, who helped draft you with the 46th pick overall in 2009.
You’re not too surprised to be on the move. The writing was on the wall. Either you or Craig Anderson would be dealt after Andrew “Hamburglar” Hammond’s unbelievable second half success scored himself a new contract. He came in and owned the crease, winning 11 of his first 12 games, en route to a 20-1-2 record, 1.79 GAA and .941 save percentage. Plain and simple, after you went down with a concussion, he took the job right out from under you. It happens.
Right away, the media questions your value. Are you really worth a first rounder? What does Tim Murray possibly see in you? While some like your surprisingly mobile, 6’5″ 225 pound frame and your success leading the Sens’ minor league team to the 2011 Calder Cup, going 14-4 with a .939 save percentage, others cite a past concussion and your relative inexperience with mediocre NHL stats: 30-36-13 with a GAA of 2.88 and a save percentage of .914.
Whatever. You’re not listening to any of that. You’re just glad to be healthy. Ready for a fresh start. To begin a new chapter of your career. And to finally take over a crease as a number one netminder.
After much anticipation and excitement, the season opener finally arrives. Coincidentally it’s against Ottawa. Just 30 seconds after the puck drops, Kyle Turris rifles one by you glove side from 20 feet out. #*#! It’s a great shot, but not exactly how you saw this new gig starting. However, you settle down, stopping your next 11 shots until midway through the second period, uh oh… something doesn’t feel right. Your ankle is throbbing. You’re hurt. Really? Really?!? Now of all times?!? You leave the arena on crutches with a boot on your right foot.
The next three months are a blur. You’re on injured reserve for most of it. You try to stay positive. Once the swelling goes down you begin working out. Then after countless two-a-day workouts, endless hours riding the bike and in the weight room rehabbing and conditioning, you’re finally able to lace up skates and see some shots. Uh oh. Something didn’t feel quite right. The training staff says you’d better let up a little. All the while, you see your new team struggling and desperately want to help them. It’s killing you not being on the ice.
Then, finally, after a long and arduous few months, you’re assigned a three game conditioning stint in the AHL. Take off the practice jersey, you’re ready for game action. In your first game, you make 20 saves, but lose 2-1. In your second game, you make 24 saves in a 5-4 win. In your third game, you make 35 sensational saves but give up four goals in a 4-0 loss. Yes, you allowed ten goals, but the real test was if your ankle would hold up to your natural butterfly style as well as to give you a chance to get into a game-ready focus. You’re not bothered by the record. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
You’ve played a grand total of 28 minutes for your new team. Now, forty-two games since you’ve even been in the lineup, frustrated fans are already lining up to blame you for the team’s disappointing season. They fuel conversation that questions your skill and ability to stay healthy. They’re ready to pounce on you and call Murray a fool the minute you let in a soft goal or fail to be perfect. Oh well, there will always be those quick to judge your performance in this what-have-you-done-for-me-lately league.
Yesterday morning you were recalled by the Sabres as fellow Swede, Linus Ullmark was assigned to Rochester. Many wanted him to stay. But that’s not your decision to make. You just want a chance to play and win. To prove yourself. Because you know, deep down, you can do this.
And now, the debate continues to swirl about Murray’s decision to get you. The skepticism. The expectations. Like it or not, you’re “his guy.” And it seems like the pressure to win is on him as much is it on you. As if you didn’t have enough on you already.
It’s time to tune it all out. You can do this. And you hope your team and its fans are cheering for you to succeed.