Lehner Conquering Demons and Competition

Robin Lehner may have signed a one-year free-agent contract with the New York Islanders last summer, but the 27-year-old Swede signed a much more important deal with himself.

After being let go by the Buffalo Sabres, living through panic attacks, dealing with substance abuse and being diagnosed as bipolar with ADHD, PTSD and trauma, Lehner sought treatment to save himself, his family and his career. He made a pact to live a clean life. The turning point came on Mar. 29 when he asked for help following a panic attack when he was the Buffalo Sabres’ goalie. He turned to the NHL and the Players’ Association, and was directed to a detox program in Arizona that saved his life.

Sabres goalie Robin Lehner
Lehner played three seasons for the Buffalo Sabres. (Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports)

“I was going to rehab for myself and my family,” wrote Lehner in a special story penned for The Athletic. “It was the one thing I have done in my life that made me feel like a true man.” The Athletic, (‘Islanders goalie Robin Lehner opens up about his addiction and bipolar diagnosis’- 9/13/18)

Less than a year later, Lehner is one of the best goalies in hockey and one of the best stories in all of hockey. “I’m in a totally new place and I’m planning to stay in this place for a long time,” said Lehner back in September.

Lehner Gets a Second Chance

Lehner played parts of five seasons with the Ottawa Senators, the team that drafted him in 2009 in the second round. He was then traded to the Sabres on June 26, 2015, with Dave Legwand in exchange for Buffalo’s 21st overall pick. He played parts of three seasons for the blue and gold but was not re-signed when his contract ran out.

An unrestricted free agent, Lehner met with several teams early in the off-season but was not offered a deal by any of them. Eventually he inked a one-year, $1.5-million show-me type deal with the Islanders. He certainly has shown them.

Robin Lehner, New York Islanders
Lehner is sparkling in net for the New York Islanders (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

The native of Göteborg, Sweden is having a sterling season with some of the best stats among his peers. Entering last night’s game, he is 15-7-2 with a league-leading 2.02 goals-against average and a league-best .930 save percentage. His quality start percentage is .625 (the percentage of games a goalie achieves at least the mean save percentage for the season in a game) and he has a very strong 15.95 goals saved above average (a measure of saves made that would have beat a goalie who has posted league-average totals). The 27-year-old Swede has won 11 out of his last 12 games and has three shutouts (tied for second in the NHL, behind Marc-Andre Fleury of the Vegas Golden Knights).

“The defense is just helping me out and working hard,” said Lehner. “The last three games have been amazing. We have really suffocated them.”

On Monday, Lehner was named Player of the Week. In three games, he went 3-0-0 with a 0.67 GAA and a .970 SV%. Named the first star in Sunday’s shutout win, Lehner acknowledged the fans who were chanting his name and returned the admiration, clapping his glove and saluting them.

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Isles Success

The Isles’ glaring weakness last season – their goaltending – is now a strength. Despite losing their captain John Tavares to free agency, the team with their new coach, Barry Trotz, has taken many by surprise. They’re dominating their opponents with timely scoring, a smothering defense and clutch goaltending. They’ve won 15 out of their last 18 games, surging past the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets to take the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.

Consider some of these stats:

  • They’re 5-1-1 as hosts in Nassau Coliseum, their former full-time arena.
  • They’re 25-2-1 when scoring three or more goals.
  • They’ve surrendered one goal or less an impressive 16 times this season.
  • They’ve allowed two goals or fewer in nine of their last 12 games.

Rallying Behind Lehner

Lehner went public with his story; a courageous move that has helped him address some of the troubles in his life. His incredibly personal, heartbreaking story detailing his struggles off the ice included details about his addiction and the impact it had on his personal life and his career.

“For me, letting this out, I had thoughts of serious repercussions for my career…not knowing what people would think, other GMs, future contracts. It was a big risk for me to come with this,” said Lehner candidly. “I just feel like other players in the league and young people might have the same issue. As long as you’re willing to get help, you can get through it. Don’t wait.”

His coach, his teammates and the greater hockey community are rallying behind him.

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If Lehner continues his incredible play, he’s a shoo-in to be the comeback story of the season and take home the Masterton Trophy. The award is given annually awarded to the National Hockey League player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.

Trophy or not, Lehner has already proven himself a winner.