Welcome back to Vegas Hockey Now’s season in review series where we look at every player on the Vegas Golden Knights and their 2021-22 season from Michael Amadio to Zach Whitecloud.
Today’s player is Robin Lehner. Oh boy.
Robin Lehner’s 2021-22 season was set up to be a challenge right from the get-go. The 30-year-old goaltender was coming off an injury in the summer of 2021. He and every other goaltender in the NHL also had to adjust to the crunched NHL schedule and less time to rest due to COVID-19.
The main thing that surrounded Lehner was general manager Kelly McCrimmon’s decision to keep him over Marc-Andre Fleury. Fan-favorite and original Golden Knight Fleury, was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2021 offseason for a prospect and cap space.
All eyes were on Lehner to prove that he was the right pick as the Golden Knight’s top goaltender. But in 2021-22 things did not go as planned as he struggled in his first season as the sole starter. The team missed the playoffs for the first time in franchise history and Lehner had a rough season.
Consistency was the biggest thing that haunted him in 21-22. Just as it seemed that he would be turning the corner and cementing himself as a reliable goaltender again, Lehner would either get injured or start to struggle. The Golden Knights fanbase started to become divided over Lehner as well.
There were several rumors of Lehner playing through injuries this past season. On April 25th, the Golden Knights announced that Lehner would undergo shoulder surgery and be out for the remainder of the season. To a certain extent, these rumors could have been true. Lehner did not look like himself but Peter DeBoer and the Golden Knights kept playing him as the team was in the hunt to make the playoffs.
As much as Lehner struggled this season he is still a remarkable human being and character in the locker room for the Golden Knights. He is a heart and soul player and leader on the team. A perfect example of his determination came in December when he stood up for his teammates against the New Jersey Devils.
Rough stuff at the end of VGK/NJD. Robin Lehner gets thrown out pic.twitter.com/Cky0SSMEsQ
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) December 17, 2021
Lehner’s battles with mental health issues have been well documented over his playing career. Perhaps the biggest turnaround of his career came in his one season with the New York Islanders as their fanbase welcomed him with open arms. On December 16th, 2021 Lehner returned to New York and got a massive ovation from the fans. Lehner thanked them by pointing to his neck tattoo of Long Island.
Lastly, on January 24th, Lehner stopped 34 of 34 shots against the Washington Capitals for his sole shutout of the season. One of these shots came against Alex Ovechkin’s patented slapshot that hit Lehner’s mask so hard it broke the framing on it. As Logan Thompson would say- “he’s ok.”
If the Golden Knights want to compete for a Stanley Cup they need a bounce-back season from Robin Lehner in 2022-23. He let in too many soft goals for a goaltender on such a good team. His confidence level needs to rise and his overall play needs to improve for the Golden Knights to be able to compete. This season was not solely his fault, but he needs to return to form in 22-23, or else I could see the team moving on from him.
Lehner has three years left on his deal at $5 million against the cap and with a modified no-trade clause. With Jack Eichel now on the roster, the Golden Knights are up against the salary cap once more. The team is no stranger to shedding off goaltenders for salary cap reasons.
Laurent Brossoit is the Golden Knight’s backup, but also dealt with injuries in 21-22 and is having offseason surgery as well. Logan Thompson emerged as an excellent young goaltender coming up from the Henderson Silver Knights and has earned his spot in the NHL too.
If there is one thing we learned from watching the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs it is that you need at least three strong goalies to go deep in the playoffs. Unless you are the Tampa Bay Lightning with Andrei Vasilevisky, you need a solid backup as well as a good third-string option for when injuries or goaltending struggles arise. Luckily, the VGK have this with Lehner, Brossoit, and Thompson.
I think the Golden Knights will give Lehner one more shot. Last season was a convoluted mess with injuries, COVID, cap space problems, and an adjustment season without Fleury. I believe the Golden Knights will give Lehner a fresh start in 2022-23 and hope he can regain his true form in the NHL.