The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 01/18/17 at 07:55 PM ET
Robin Lehner's 50th game as a Buffalo Sabre couldn't have gone much worse.
His teammates last night were hanging with the offense-laden Toronto Maple Leafs pretty tough, but a weak-as-they-come goal by Matt Martin, of all people, forced open the floodgates.
It would be comforting to say this was close to a first as far as Lehner meltdowns go, but it would also be a lie. An adventure earlier this season in Calgary where he handed the Flames two points and blamed the officials afterwards immediately comes to mind. There have been others.
He has his defenders, and it's not like they don't have an argument. His .920 save percentage seems respectable enough, and there have been frustrating nights where Buffalo's offense, which is admittedly more of a concern for this team than goaltending, left him on an island.
But if you peel back the onion a bit, it's safe to conclude that Lehner has been average at best. And trades where you give up first-round draft picks for average goaltending are what we call bad trades.
Taking an in-depth look at the 44 goalies who have played over 700 minutes this season tells you a lot more about Lehner, and most of it isn't good.
When breaking out even strength save percentage stats into facing low, medium and high danger scoring chances as defined by Corsica Hockey, you'll find that Tim Murray's prized netminder ranks 19th, 24th and 39th respectively. There are only 5 goaltenders out of the 44 who are worse when faced with shots from the most dangerous areas.
GSAA (Goals Saved Above Average) is a metric used to define how a goalie is performing based on the quality of shots he's facing, and Lehner ranks an underwhelming 31st out of 44 in that department.
Simply put, Lehner does an adequate job stopping the easy ones but gets progressively worse, relative to his peers, as the shots get tougher. This should explain why he hasn't been able to steal games. There's a good chance it just isn't in his skill set.
For all the complaints about Dan Bylsma, one thing he's done well is limiting scoring chances to the opposition. At even strength, the Sabres are 4th-best in the league in that department. But when too high a percentage of the tougher shots go in, it kind of defeats the purpose.
Lehner is still young at 25, and he's a restricted free agent at the end of the season. Murray will have what should be a tough decision to make, but it's likely he won't want to throw in his chips and give up on someone for whom he gave up a lot to get.
There has been a call from many to see Lehner benched in favor of Anders Nilsson, who has better numbers, but that might not be in the best interest of a team that's fading from playoff contention quickly.
The better alternative is to use Lehner like a workhorse for the remainder of the season to further gauge his progress. Give him 30 more games and see how he does.
If you can't say at the end of the season that he's anything more than an average goaltender, then move on and admit that Ottawa won the deal. You typically need a solid and reliable netminder to be not just a playoff team but a contender. It's hard to imagine at this point that Lehner will ever be that guy, and long suffering Sabres fans don't deserve to be stuck waiting two or three years to find out.
Upgrading from Lehner could salvage for Murray plenty of respect for not holding on too long because of ego. The goaltending market should be fluid this summer due to expansion to Vegas, among other things.
Find a guy who can be reliable and win you some games. If Murray thinks taking the heat for a bad goalie trade is rough, wait until he feels the fire thrown at him from Sabres fans next winter if they have to endure yet another season of losing.
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About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: email@example.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]