After a tough period with mental problems, alcohol addiction and playing for five different teams in five years, Robin Lehner has settled down with the Vegas Golden Knights. And after coming to terms with his personal problems and landing a five-year contract with the franchise, the next challenge in his career awaits. To help the Golden Knights win their first Stanley Cup.
Lehner Made a Strong Playoff Performance With the Golden Knights
There are 9 minutes and 20 seconds left of the second period between the Vancouver Canucks and the Vegas Golden Knights, and the game is still scoreless. The Golden Knights are dominating Game 7 of the second round of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs but have not been able to score a goal so far. Suddenly Vancouver gets hold of the puck down in their own zone, and Bo Horvat skates into the Golden Knights’ zone.
Golden Knights’ defenseman Alec Martinez tries in vain to block Bo Horvat’s pass, but he can’t stop the puck from reaching Brock Boeser’s stick. It looks like the Vancouver Canucks are about to take the lead and take one step closer to the Western Conference Final. But somehow, Lehner manages to slide across the crease and catch the puck with his glove.
Thanks to the acrobatic save from Lehner, the game is still scoreless. In the third period, Vegas scores three goals and advances to the Western Conference Final. It is Lehner’s third shutout against the Canucks, which ties the NHL record for most in a playoff series.
The Swede has proved that he deserves to be the Golden Knights’ starting goalie in the playoffs. Less than a month later, the organization rewarded Lehner’s performance in the playoffs when he signed a five-year, $25 million contract extension with the Golden Knights.
Lehner Has Struggled With Mental Health Issues
Lehner made his NHL debut in 2010 for the Ottawa Senators. After five years in Ottawa, the Senators traded him to the Buffalo Sabres in 2015. During his time in Buffalo, he struggled with severe mental problems and self-medicated with alcohol and sleeping pills, problems that became harder and harder to deal with. On March 29, 2018, after suffering a panic attack during Buffalo’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, Lehner decided he needed to do something about his problems.
With the help of the NHL and the Players’ Association, they referred Lehner to a detox program in Arizona, a treatment that saved his life. Six months later, his story became known to the public when Lehner, who by then, had signed a one-year contract with the New York Islanders, wrote an open letter in The Athletic about his mental illness and abuse.
Lehner was awarded the Masterton Memorial Trophy the following year, an award given to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game. In his acceptance speech, Lehner took the opportunity to convey an important message: “I’m not ashamed to say I’m mentally ill, but that doesn’t mean mentally weak.”
Mental strength is certainly something that Lehner has shown during the past seasons both on and off the ice. The same season that he received the Masterton Award, he was also a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which is given to the best goalkeeper during the NHL season.
But even though Lehner made such a strong effort between the pipes, he didn’t get a new contract with the Islanders. Before the 2019-20 season, he left the Islanders to play for the Chicago Blackhawks. But Lehner only played half a season in Chicago before joining the Golden Knights at the trade deadline in February.
Lehner Will Likely Be the Golden Knights’ First Choice
Lehner had immediate success with his new club and during the playoffs. It was clear that head coach Pete DeBoer was favoring Lehner over Marc-André Fleury. Ahead of the 2021 season, DeBoer has said he will start with the goalkeeper that gives the team the best chance to win. But given that Lehner did such a good job during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs, he will likely be Vegas’ first choice when the season begins in January.
And with a condensed game schedule, both Lehner and Fleury will play a lot. The fact that Vegas probably has the NHL’s best goalie tandem is something that will benefit the team both during the regular season and in the playoffs. A rested Lehner will be crucial for the Golden Knights if the franchise should be able to win its first Stanley Cup title.
If Lehner plays at the same level in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs as he did in 2020, where he posted a goals-against average (GAA) of 1.99 and a save percentage (SV%) of .917, Vegas will be a serious Cup contender. He has already won his greatest personal battle. Now it’s time for the biggest battle on the ice; to try and win the Stanley Cup.
Journalist and NHL fanatic. I’m writing about the Edmonton Oilers. Twitter @jonerik77