Round Two on Robin Lehner in Ottawa?
My, oh my. Isn't our little town all aflutter over the possibility of a return of Robin Lehner?
With Twitter burning up (ok, smouldering...maybe) and sports talk radio discussing it endlessly (ok, maybe a segment or two), it seems like a good time for a look into the story.
As outlined in a piece I wrote earlier this week, the Senators are in a very good position if they want to make some roster additions. The club has ten players under contract right now for next season - forwards Brady Tkachuk, Artem Anisimov, Bobby Ryan and Colin White, defencemen Thomas Chabot, Mike Reilly, Christian Wolanin and Nikita Zaitsev and goaltenders Marcus Hogberg and Anders Nilsson. We can add to this money owed to Marion Gaborik and a portion of Dion Phaneuf's salary and the total cap hit for the group is around $37M.
I took the initiative of signing Connor Brown, Anthony Duclair, Chris Tierney, Nick Paul and Rudolfs Balcers up front (it was fun while it lasted Scott Sabourin), plus Boro and Ron Hainsey on the back end. Then I added Alex Formenton, Drake Batherson Josh Norris and the third overall draft choice as full-time forwards and Artem Zub on the blue line. Now we have 13 forwards, 7 defencemen and 2 goalies and a cap hit of roughly $72M in a line up that looks like this:
Third Overall Pick
Quibble over it if you like. Trade The Arty Party and keep Jayce Hawryluk? Give up on Nick Paul and bring in Vitaly Abramov? Find room somehow for JC Beaudin or Jonathan Davidsson? Still think Filip Chlapik can play in the show? Want to move on from Logan Brown? Whatever. In the end, your 2020-21 Senators probably aren't a playoff off team but will ice a roster that will do better than it did this season with a lot of players at reasonable prices that will be attractive as trade pieces.
So now let's take a look at the Vegas Golden Knights.
I did the same sort of number crunching and roster building for the Knights as I did for the Senators with a starting point of $74.238M committed to 17 players. With a cap of $81.5M, the Knights have roughly $7.3M to fill out their roster and RFA's Chandler Stephenson and Nick Cousins along with UFA's Tomas Nosek, Deryk Engelland, Jon Merrill and of course, Robin Lehner to decide upon. I budgeted 3 million for Cousins and Stephenson and see them having around 4 to 4.5 million of cap space left. Obviously they cannot afford to keep Marc-Andre Fleury and his $7 million cap hit and sign Lehner, without making some other moves like trading Paul Statsny or another piece or two.
Lehner should be able to command somewhere between 6 and 7 million based on Tuuka Rask and Fleury's 7 and John Gibson's 6.4 and Connor Hellebuyck's 6.17. Keeping both and paying them a combined $13-14 million is simply out of the question I have no idea what GM Kelly McCrimmon will do but I know what he should do. He should find a taker for Fleury while possibly retaining part of his salary and sign Lehner.
Sorry, Sens fans; I know that is not what you wanted to hear but not signing Robin Lehner is the right move for the Senators - at this time, anyway. This situation has unfortunately popped up a year or, possibly, two years too early and I say that not because of money, but because of basic roster building in the new flat cap era. It is all a matter of projections and long term evaluation. At this point, while I do believe the Senators could use and would be better off with Robin Lehner in the lineup, it is simply too early to be signing a $6-7 million goaltender. Think of it this way. In 2022-23, will it be better to have Lehner at $6.5M or one of the current group of prospects already in the system at a considerably smaller AAV.
Strictly speaking, from a roster-building perspective the answer is obvious - Hogberg, Gustavsson, Daccord, Mandolese or even Sogaard. The problem comes when you look at it from a talent perspective and this is why teams employ general managers and scouts. The Senators' current evaluation and long term projection of all of those goaltending prospects has to say one of them will be the long term answer in goal. If it doesn't, then they just may select Russian goalie Yaroslav Askarov in October, but I am not sure he is ready to play in the NHL next season.
However, I still believe the Senators could use a veteran goaltender to play 1A to Anders Nilsson's 1B. I just don't think it needs to be expensive or long term. Think of it as a placeholder goalie; someone who can give them quality starts for a year or two until one of the prospects separates himself from the pack and is ready to be true number one NHL goaltender. Options? I believe the Senators should consider signing Corey Crawford, Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot or even Anton Khudobin. They are all 33-35 years old, established NHL goalies, experienced in, or ready to play in, a tandem situation and cheaper than Lehner.
But, hey, if you really want to see the Senators sign a big free agent, I have a suggestion.
How about Taylor Hall, a point-producing 28-year-old winger who's a former All-Star and Hart Trophy winner? Not to mention, he is a renowned NHL Draft Lottery good luck charm, which this team could definitely use. After signing their RFA's, I figure the Arizona Coyotes will have less than $2 million to try to sign their UFA's. Perhaps there is a player there the Sens could use.