Buffalo Sabres: Can Robin Lehner play backup next season?

BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 9: Robin Lehner
BUFFALO, NY - JANUARY 9: Robin Lehner /

Probably the biggest mess for the Buffalo Sabres is right between the pipes. Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson have been a sore point for Phil Housley all season long.

Buffalo Sabres supporters have witnessed it, too. Trade assumptions have been made about both Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson, while the media has just scooped the rumors up. Some have even suggested moving both out in one window.

The likeliness of that happening, however, is at the bare minimum. Buffalo will be stuck with a Lehner and Johnson tandem until the day this treacherous season ends. As for Lehner’s case, thankfully, his contract is set to expire after this season.

The Swords will finally have the chance to improve what has been a disaster this season. Plus, $4 million will come off the books which can be used elsewhere. Yet, should Buffalo be so quick to let the Swede go in the summer?

Let’s take it back to the time when Lehner was with the Ottawa Senators. The 26-year-old was consistently playing backup to Craig Anderson for a matter of three seasons, and it worked pretty well in the Canadian capital.

To put that into perspective, Lehner consistently registered over a .900 save percentage. On the other hand, however, he posted a close, but still losing record every season with Ottawa.

That didn’t seem to matter in a way. Lehner followed a pretty common trail with backup goalies in today’s NHL. Clubs looking for a starting goalie look to the talented backup’s of other teams and put them between the pipes in hopes for 50+ solid games.

It’s happened a lot over the course of the past NHL year. Look at Scott Darling, who impressed just enough in the Windy City to earn a starting role with the Carolina Hurricanes. Martin Jones and Cam Talbot also appear on that list.

Why even mention this list? Well, because picking out a backup for a starting role very rarely works. Out of the goalies above, Jones seems to be the only exception for a starter in San José. But even then, can he contend for the Stanley Cup with the Sharks?

Another common trait between all those goalies and even Lehner is that they’re meant to be backups. Career stats have lined them up for that role, and the second management thinks they can play beyond that, they’re taking a huge risk for that specific player’s career.

Lehner is meant to be a backup, and he was a decent one with the Senators. The Goteborg native will be looking for work in the summer. Supporters have to be a bit optimistic to think any team is going to trade for a backup goalie that’s falling out of their prime, when a club can look into free agency for better backup talent.

Chances are that Lehner’s summer shortlist will be pretty dull. If the asking price is right, then why not sign him cheap and have him play a backup role?

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This season’s stats for the Swede is largely accredited to the amount of games he’s played. Lehner has still made some outstanding saves with a .912 save percentage, which all occurs with a shamble of a defense in front of him.

The Buffalo Sabres will likely need to look for young blood in net for the future. Maybe they already have it will Linus Ullmark. If he’s not ready now, then Lehner can be the perfect “time gap” goalie to help progress the development of the young netminder.

It also gives the Sabres’ management more time to think about options if they’re not confident in Ullmark. Contention is out of the ballpark, while rebuilding is very much on the cards at the moment.

Throw in Lehner who is capable of handling a backup role, while sticking an actual starter in the starting role. It’s tough to get, but thinking Lehner was the guy at the start of the season was laughable.

Overall, if the stats, price and development all line up for Lehner to stay, then why shouldn’t the Sabres keep him? Long-term should always be the thought process for a Buffalo Sabres fan, and Lehner could help that transition into the next chapter.

Next: Can Marco Scandella be used as trade bait?

Would you support the idea of having Lehner as the backup next season? The Sabres surely won’t get much of a return for trading him, right? Do you want Buffalo to just trade and/or let both Johnson and Lehner walk over the summer? Let us know in the comments below.