2015 NHL Draft: Ottawa Senators ‘Release the Lehner’ in trade with Sabres

By Kristopher Bras
Photo: Robin Lehner has a career save percentage of .914 in the NHL through five seasons in Ottawa (three of them partial). (Courtesy of Jason Kopinski/Icon Sportswire)

Photo: Robin Lehner has a career save percentage of .914 in the NHL through five seasons in Ottawa (three of them partial). (Courtesy of Jason Kopinski/Icon Sportswire)

 

 

The Ottawa Senators have traded Robin Lehner and David Legwand to the Buffalo Sabres for the 21st overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. The trade ends weeks of speculation that began when the Senators signed Andrew Hammond to a three-year one-way contract on May 20th, a move that left the Sens with three NHL goaltenders. The Senators now own two 1st round selections in today’s draft, at 18th and 21st overall. 

The team would have paid Legwand $3 million this season, a large price tag on what amounted to minimal production from the aging centre last season. Added with Lehner’s $2.225 million contract, the team cuts $5.225 million from its fast-growing player budget.

This move was about much more than dollars and cents, though.

Lehner a favourite in Ottawa
The trade ends years of belief that Lehner was Ottawa’s goaltender of the future. After turning in dominating performances in two of his first three seasons as a Senator, both fans and team executives had high hopes that Lehner would be ready to be a starter in the NHL very soon. Unfortunately, he has been less than stellar since, posting goals-against averages above 3.00 in both of the last two seasons. 

Lehner also developed a reputation for being a hothead in Ottawa, frequently losing his cool in response to the team’s poor defensive play in front of him. Although Lehner’s antics were criticized in the media, he became a fan favourite for bringing colour and energy to the crease. Ottawa management did not feel the same way though. Most still felt he had the potential to become a top-flight starter, but it was clearly time for a change.

Enter Buffalo.

A fresh start on a young team
One of the youngest teams in the NHL, the Sabres are not under much pressure to win right now. With their deep, talented pool of elite prospects, they are perceived as being a few years away from becoming a very special team. That gives Lehner time to grow up a bit, and become the elite goaltender that most still believe he can be.

Buffalo’s low age and salary allowed them to also take on Legwand, a veteran who struggled to produce in Ottawa. Though he quickly wore out his welcome with Sens fans, he has valuable experience and leadership to offer Buffalo’s growing stable of youngsters. So there is a happy ending there too.

Ottawa might not be finished
As for Ottawa, they may yet manage to package both of their picks together to move up in the draft, and who can blame them—with guys like Dylan Strome, Noah Hanifin, and Lawson Crouse out there, there is an opportunity to grab a player who would have gone higher in a normal draft that did not include freaks like Jack Eichel and Connor McDavid.

One thing is clear: After a few years of lacklustre draft days and trade deadlines, this year’s player market in Sunrise, Florida could turn into an exciting barnburner full of trades, surprises, and above all—execution from GM’s.

Starting with Bryan Murray and his nephew Tim.

 Follow me on Twitter @KristopherBras