(Photo credit: Doug Kerr)
It’s not just on the ice where things are going south for the Buffalo Sabres.
The team is also dealing with drama behind the scenes.
Before the start of the season, goaltender Robin Lehner wanted a commitment from the organization to show that he was going to be the long-term answer in net.
With a demand of a contract of at least five years, $5-million per year, Lehner believed that he had proven himself to be capable of being a number one goaltender in the NHL. The Sabres believed otherwise.
The team had made it known throughout negotiations last summer that the new management wanted Lehner to put together another strong season. They were consistent in their offers of two year contracts, but refused to meet the money or term that Lehner and his agent were looking for.
Eventually the two sides settled on a one year, $4-million contract that would keep the 26-year-old’s rights under Sabres control after the season. It wasn’t what Lehner wanted, but there was a belief that, should his play remain strong, the team would be more likely to make a commitment.
Fast-forward to February 2018, and yet another Sabres season will pass with the team missing out on the playoffs.
Frustration is setting in
Lehner’s numbers, while lower than the 2016-17 season, remain high despite playing on one of the worst teams in the NHL yet again. With a .910 save percentage and a 2.90 goals against average, Lehner’s camp once again believes that the Swedish netminder has done enough to warrant a commitment from the team.
Once again, the Sabres believe otherwise.
Multiple sources have confirmed to RealSport that Buffalo’s front office has been wavering about the idea of Lehner being the team’s goaltender going forward. The organization feels strongly enough about prospect Linus Ullmark that there has been a lot of discussion about him coming up as the team’s number one next season.
In AHL Rochester this year, Ullmark has put up a .923 save percentage and a 2.47 goals against average. He has seen his save percentage increase and goals against decrease in each of the last three seasons with the Americans, which has many within Buffalo’s hockey department clamoring for him to be given the keys to the crease going forward. In his one NHL start this season, the 24-year old stopped 44 of 45 shots in a win over Columbus, causing even more staff members to push for the change.
With the NHL Trade Deadline approaching, those close to the situation have mentioned that Lehner is looking for answers regarding his future with the team. Thus far, he hasn’t been given answers that have made him confident he will return to the team next season, leading to a hope that a trade will be made before the February 26 deadline.
Lehner wants to be given a fair chance to prove that he can be a top guy in the NHL, and would prefer to be moved during the season ends as opposed to seeing his rights dealt over the summer.
There are teams like the New York Islanders and Chicago Blackhawks that could be looking for goaltending help for the rest of the season, but there has been no real dialogue with either of those teams regarding a possible trade.
One team that has been scouting Lehner are the Philadelphia Flyers. With goaltender Brian Elliott's most recent injury, the team is again actively discussing the potential of adding another goaltender for the playoff push.
In any trade for Lehner, Buffalo would look for a pick and a prospect in return.