Lehner: Future goalie or future trade bait?

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Last Thursday, Sabres fans got a glimpse of perhaps the goaltender of the future for Buffalo, when Linus Ullmark stopped 44 shots en route to an impressive 3-1 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That performance is exactly what this team needs going forward – solid goaltending as well as not giving up a soft goal.

Speaking of soft goals, Robin Lehner represents a major part of the team’s goaltending. Depending on who you listen to, Lehner has been either very good with no support or one of the biggest weak spots on a team that absolutely has to have solid goaltending to have a hope of winning.

Having said that, there are a slew of other teams in the NHL that need the exact same thing to be successful.

We only need to look north of the border to Toronto, where Frederick Andersen constantly stops over 40 shots for the Toronto Maple Leafs, whether they win or lose. It is, in fact, not uncommon these days for any winning team on any given night to allow 40+ shots.

The biggest question facing Jason Botterill is whether Robin Lehner is the goalie of the future or if he even have a future with the Sabres at all.

Detractors are quick to point out that he has a bad habit of letting in soft goals at the worst times. we are constantly reminded of another Sabres goalie that seems to always let in a weak goal at the worst time.

The team gave up a lot for Lehner, and while we will not address or go there and lament on how much ex-GM Tim Murray gave Ottawa to secure Lehner, it is safe to say the team will never recoup that 1st round draft pick. Botterill will be lucky to get at best a 2nd, or even a 3rd round pick for Lehner if he chooses to go that rout.

There is a real danger in acting too fast and dumping Lehner, just as there is the same danger in giving up on a player like Sam Reinhart, another that Murray paid a steep price for. At the time, we all thought we had got the better of the two Sams (The Calgary Flames took Bennet after we took Reinhart; he too has been a major disappointment).

One must remember that Lehner (26) and Reinhart (22) are both young and still have their best years ahead of them. Overreacting will cost the team dearly. Both of these players’ apparent worth has dropped significantly and this is not a good time to be entertaining trading them.

Of course, should a great offer come across Botterill’s table, then so be it. Otherwise, patience is a virtue.

It is hard to get a read on Lehner and whether he has a future with the team, but one thing is certain: dumping him at this point may prove to be a real mistake. Time, not the past results, may give us the best option in determining both Lehner’s, and Reinhart’s future with the team.

Keep in mind that Reinhart scored 23 goals in his rookie season, and as we have seen, there are many ex-Sabres playing and doing quite well with other teams around the NHL.

Perhaps a coach’s biggest strength (as in Babcock) is to recognize a player’s strengths and weaknesses and only play them to their strengths, and not ask nor expect them to do what they are not capable of.

It would appear that Dan Bylsma actually had a good read on this team, and realized it is not able to compete playing a wide-open style, and thus had them play far more defensively-oriented style. It may have been boring but it worked to at least some degree. This team, and Lehner, is incapable of playing the wide-open, fast paced game coach Housley envisions. Nashville could, while the Sabres can’t.

Maybe the best trade is the one you never make.

While an Evander Kane trade appearing more and more likely, some other deals including Lehner and Reinhart may be best put off at least until we know for sure that Ullmark can be Buffalo’s No. 1 goalie moving forward.

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