What does Craig Anderson's new deal mean for Robin Lehner?
Just last week, I made note of the fact that Senators starter Craig Anderson was entering the final year of his current contract. The assumption here, and in many other places around the league, was that the veteran stopper would spend the season mentoring Robin Lehner, preparing the promising 23-year-old goalie to assume the No. 1 role for Ottawa in 2015–16. Anderson would then presumably either accept a new short-term contract and assume the role of Lehner's back-up, or take his show on the road as a free agent.
So much for that.
It's not so good, though, for Lehner, who has to be wondering if he'll ever get a legitimate shot in Ottawa. He signed with the club for three more years at the end of July, when he was widely regarded as the Senators' goalie of the future. Now what?
Anderson has played some terrific hockey in recent years, with his injury-shortened 2012–13 campaign (1.69 goals-against average, .941 save percentage) ranking as one of the best statistical seasons ever by a netminder. He still has something left to give, but at 33 he's closer to retirement than he is to his prime, and his injury issues are a real concern moving forward. It's not his extension that's puzzling, it's the duration of his extension.
Three years says a lot. It says that Ottawa doesn't believe that Lehner can get his game to where it needs to be this season, or perhaps next season too. Or maybe even the one after that.
And maybe the Senators are right. Lehner struggled after he was handed the reins late last season, losing seven straight at one point before finding his groove when the games had no meaning. The physical tools are there, sure, but opponents have apparently figured out how easy it is to tip over his tool box. It seemed like every late hit or cruise through the crease sent Lehner off the deep end, compromising his focus and leaving him vulnerable to soft goals.
It was Lehner, you'll recall, who coughed up a 4–1 lead over the Canadiens with less than four minutes left in regulation on March 15 in a 5–4 overtime loss. The defeat wasn't all on Lehner, of course, but his performance was emblematic of the problem with his game. Once the first wheel fell off, all the others came off too.
Making a technical adjustment is one thing. Mental toughness is another, and it looks like Ottawa isn't sure Lehner is ready to meet the challenge. At least, not any time soon.
You have to wonder what that apparent lack of faith will do to his mindset. Of course, how well he takes it won't be much of a problem for the Sens ... at least not for the next four years.