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Trade Market Analysis: Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson

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What does the future hold for the Sabres Goaltending Situation?

Colorado Avalanche v Buffalo Sabres Photo by Stephanie Wippert/NHLI via Getty Images

Evander Kane is not going to be the only Sabre that is the subject of trade rumors. Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson both have a great shot to be moved at the trade deadline.

The goaltender market every year is a tough one, but there are some teams out there that are looking for a goaltender. The problem is, there are also quite a few teams that might be willing to sell a goaltender as well. The other problem is while there are teams looking for goaltenders, very few teams are probably looking for a starter, but more so a backup for insurance.

If we learned anything from the Pittsburgh Penguins debacle earlier this year when Antti Niemi didn’t work out as a backup, and with the struggles, Matt Murray has had this year, you can never have enough good goaltenders. Having two good high-quality goaltenders is a luxury many teams can’t afford.

It became even truer when the Chicago Blackhawks lost Corey Crawford for the year, and he also might have taken their playoff hopes with him. It wasn’t too long ago that the Blackhawks had Antti Raanta, and Scott Darling both on their teams, but both ended up traded, and now the Hawks could really use both of them. Again, as the cliche goes, two good reliable goaltenders is a luxury.

The goaltender market is always contingent on what else could be available, and there are some good options for teams looking to add a goaltender.

Antti Raanta

If you’re looking for a starting goaltender, in my opinion, the absolute best option for many teams could be Antti Raanta from the Arizona Coyotes. Because of his expiring contract and the experience he’s gained as the default starter in Arizona, as well as a solid backup in the league for years, he should be a prime candidate for teams looking for a replacement starter, or a high-quality backup.

Let's talk about that experience Raanta has gained for a minute. Before this season, the most games in a season that Raanta has started is 26 games. This year he’s been the starter and has surpassed that with 27 starts and counting. Raanta is 8-12-5 with a 2.58 goals against average, and a .918 save percentage. Behind the worst team in the league, that’s a pretty impressive stat line. For his career, Raanta is 55-35-14, with a .917 save percentage.

Raanta is 28 years old, and an unrestricted free agent after this season. The best part about him: he’s only making one million in salary, and because of that, he will appeal to both teams in need of a starter, and an upgrade for a backup.

If they still believe they can make the playoffs, it would not be surprising if the Chicago Blackhawks could be some knocking on the door and inquiring about bringing back an old friend. Do the Blackhawks have the assets to make such a deal and is it worth trying to make the playoffs? Their biggest needs right now are cap space, draft picks, and prospects.

Raanta has not appeared on TSN’s trade bait list, and many have not talked about him as a trade option which is surprising considering his contract status and the state of the Coyotes.

Aaron Dell

According to Pierre LeBrun, Aaron Dell has been generating interest around the league. It can be risky to trade a high-quality backup goaltender, but the San Jose Sharks also need draft picks, and Dell is an expiring contract. Dell is 28 years old and has been a solid backup for the past two years in San Jose. With a career .930 save percentage over 32 career starts, some team might give Dell a good long look at a potential starting option.

Dell is 12-3-2, and has a .929 save percentage, with a 2.17 goals against average. He has actually been the better goaltender in San Jose over Martin Jones. If San Jose takes a look at Evander Kane, it could make sense to try and send Dell away to try and recoup some of those lost draft picks that would be sent to Buffalo in such a deal.

Dell is the number one goaltender on TSN’s trade bait list and is only making 625k this year, but with how great he has played for San Jose, it would be risky to move Dell and leave no reliable and experienced backup behind Martin Jones.

Jimmy Howard and Petr Mrazek

Jimmy Howard is now 33 years old but has a wealth of starting experience. The problem is many contending teams cannot afford to take on his $5.3 million dollar cap hit, and the Red Wings are in no position to eat any salary like the Sabres. The cap management in Detroit is the number one reason why I wonder how Ken Holland still has a job in Detroit.

Petr Mrazek is making four million this year and has been rather unimpressive since signing his extension a couple years ago. He has regressed over the past two years and is also an RFA going into this offseason. Mrazek still might be the guy the rebuilding Red Wings identify as the goaltender of the future, but as a trade target, he likely would not appeal to many teams as a starter and would be quite an expensive backup option.

The kind of team that would be a fit for Mrazek would be a rebuilding, young team looking to take a flyer on a goaltender who might need a change of scenery.

Mrazek is the number three goaltender on TSN’s trade bait list, but I think Red Wing goaltenders likely stay put.

Ryan Miller

Miller is the least likely goaltender to be moved, but I also wanted to keep tabs on an old friend. Miller has been having a great showing as the backup of John Gibson with a 5-2-4 Record and a .929 save percentage. Miller can easily still be a starting goaltender in the NHL if someone needed him again, but it has been no secret ever since he left Buffalo that he wanted to be out west.

The problem with acquiring Ryan Miller is that he has a modified no-trade clause, and can submit a six-team trade list. The right team and an opportunity to win a Stanley Cup might be able to coax Miller out of Anaheim, but it doesn’t seem like that opportunity exists right now for Miller. Anaheim may also not want to deal him what so ever as he is about as reliable of a backup as there is on a solid team fighting for a playoff spot. The Ducks are in need of every point they can grab.

The two teams in dire need of a starter right now are the Blackhawks and the Islanders. If the Blackhawks were a Stanley Cup Contender, I could see him accepting a trade there, but given that they could miss the playoffs, it’s highly unlikely he would go there, or especially to the Islanders. Highly unlikely Ryan Miller goes anywhere, considering many teams need a good starter and a high-quality backup.

Craig Anderson and Mike Condon

Craig Anderson is having a down year but has plenty of starting experience, as well as playoff experience. He has more playoff experience than any potentially available goaltender, as well as a long track record of success. The Senators could be a team looking to sell everything they possibly can over the next couple years.

The problem with Anderson is he just signed an extension that will include a modified no-trade clause. His new contract will pay him $4.75 million over the next two years, which won’t work for many teams looking to upgrade in goal.

If you’re also looking for a more reliable backup goaltender, Mike Condon could also be acquired. Condon has two years left at $2.4 million and has been a decent backup in his career.

Anders Nilsson

There are many good solid backups in the NHL, however many teams will be hesitant to move these guys. The Dallas Stars have a high quality, experienced backup like Kari Lehtonen and his expiring contract backing up Ben Bishop, but it’s quite risky to deal such a player when you’re playoff bound.

Philipp Grubauer is a solid option behind Braden Holtby, but for a contending team like the Capitals moving him would be risky, and regretful if there is an injury to Holtby. Jacob Markstrom is locked in as the Canucks starter for at least the next couple years and carries a $3.6 million cap hit. Even Though Thatcher Demko is the likely heir to the starting goaltender throne, Markstrom is an excellent goaltender to buy time for the Canucks until Demko arrives.

Markstrom’s backup and former Sabre Anders Nilsson is signed for one more year, and at a cap hit of $2.6 million. He could be had for teams looking to upgrade their backup goaltending situation or in dire need of someone who might be able to start without paying an insane price that will come with a Grubauer or even a more modest price tag that players like Robin Lehner or Antti Raanta will have.

Phillipp Grubauer

Grubauer has been mentioned in trade rumors for quite some time now, and he is also capable of starting in the NHL, but I don’t think it’s likely the Capitals move him until Ilya Samsonov arrives. Once Samsonov arrives in the NHL, then I think a Grubauer trade happens.

After seeing what the Penguins went through earlier in the year mainly due to losing Marc Andre-Fleury to the expansion draft. The Penguins struggled to find a good backup option early on when Antti Niemi ended up waived. Tristan Jarry luckily took the job by the horns and the Penguins haven’t looked back. Having two good goaltenders is a luxury that few teams can afford, and the Capitals are still a contending team. Trading Grubauer now could be disastrous if there is an injury to Braden Holtby.

But If the price is right, such as a first-round pick, it might be tough to pass up for the Capitals and that would, in turn, send the Capitals looking at the trade market for an experienced backup to replace him such as Chad Johnson, or Anders Nilsson.

If you’re a team like the Islanders or Blackhawks, the price might not be right for you. The Capitals may also not want to help a division rival make the playoffs, especially one with the offensive firepower the Islanders have. Grubauer to the Blackhawks would make little sense.

As Usual, A Shortage of Teams Who Need Starters

Right now, the Islanders are the only team in playoff contention that needs a true #1 goaltender. The Blackhawks do need a new starter as well, but I think it’s unlikely they pursue a player like Robin Lehner especially considering there is no way Chicago will be able to keep both Lehner and Crawford past this season unless the plan is to only use Lehner for the remainder of the season. In such a scenario, they could trade his rights when the season is over. Chicago still would have to spend the assets to acquire Lehner.
They would also have to get closer to a playoff spot to justify making such a trade. A win streak can change everything for a franchise, and we shouldn’t completely count out the Hawks just yet. However, they are seven points out of the final Wild Card slot, and it’s looking like they will make the playoffs.

If I’m the Blackhawks, and I do pursue a starter and get closer to a playoff spot, I would probably prefer an expiring contract like an Antti Raanta, whom they are familiar with, or a cheaper option like Anders Nilsson. The Hawks might end up determining that the best course of action is to stand pat and just accept a lottery pick which they could use, especially if they lose top NCAA prospect Dylan Sikura to free agency.

The Islanders, on the other hand, are right in the thick of things in an extremely tough division. They have relied heavily on a tandem of Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak. Thomas Greiss has been horrible, but somehow he manages to win games with a 10-6-2 record, .886 save percentage, and a 3.89 goals against average. Halak has the better numbers but has had a slightly tougher time getting the wins of two with a 14-14-3 record, and a .906 save percentage.

The Islanders don’t just have issues in goal, but on the blueline as well. Both of these issues have contributed to them allowing a league-high 3.6 goals per game. Calvin De Haan is also done for the year, and although the Isles have a great farm system, a veteran option would be very appealing

I think for the Islanders, a Marco Scandella-Robin Lehner package works out extremely well for them and also helps solves a lot of their issues, but I’m not doing such a deal unless the starting point is Devon Toews and a first-round pick. To include Scandella in anything, it should be a hell of an offer. Johan Larsson could also be of interest in a package as they also need help in the faceoff circle. The Islanders are 25th in the league in that department, and Larsson is a very defensively responsible forward who has won 51% of his draws this year.

In a perfect scenario for the Islanders, they probably would like to acquire both a defenseman and goalie. Luckily, they have gotten plenty of goal support as they are second in the league in scoring. The Islanders have plenty of assets and plenty of good solid defense prospects to make a deal for Lehner to work.

Devon Toews (no relation) is their best defense prospect in the organization and unlikely to be moved, as is Sebastian Aho, their other top defense prospect. They still have a solid name like Mitchell Vande Sompel who was some tremendous offensive ability to fit what Phil Housley would want to do. He shares some qualities of former Islanders defenseman Mark Streit. David Quenneville is one of my personal favorites in their system, but he’s undersized at only 5’8. He has produced offense with aplomb with three straight 50 point seasons in the WHL.

The Islanders also have draft picks, with two firsts, and two seconds in this year’s draft.
This is a team at a crossroads right now with the expiring contract of John Tavares looming. What do they do? Do they attempt to sell off John Tavares at the deadline if they end up far enough outside the playoff picture, or do they try to make some big moves to show Tavares they are serious about winning?

The Islanders do have two solid goaltending prospects in Ilya Sorokin, and Linus Soderstrom, both of whom could be starters in the NHL someday. With Halak on an expiring contract, the Islanders could use a goaltender at the peak of his career to help buy time for their top prospects. A cheaper, expiring contract like Lehner (RFA), or Antti Raanta could work to see if one of them can propel you into the playoffs.

More Suitors Exist for Backup Goaltenders

The Tampa Bay Lightning could, however, be in need of a backup goaltender, and they could be an ideal destination for someone like Chad Johnson. Peter Budaj has struggled when he has started for the Lightning. For a team who wants to win the Stanley Cup, an injury to Andrei Vasilevsky would be disastrous to their Stanley Cup plans.

Chad Johnson hasn’t been a stud, or consistent by any stretch, but he is a guy with experience who you can at least make the case for him that a lot of his issues have been playing behind an awful team. More importantly, Johnson will also likely be cheap. He could be a high-quality backup for the Lightning.

Winnipeg is another team who could be interested in adding a backup goalie. Steve Mason has landed on IR and hasn’t been impressive when he has played. The Jets are now stuck with Eric Comrie as the backup to Connor Hellebuyck. Winnipeg could easily be interested in acquiring Chad Johnson for a backup role. Chad Johnson is not going to get you much, likely just a late round draft pick.

What Should the Return For Lehner and Johnson Be?

As the New York Islanders are really the only team I can see making a push for Robin Lehner, he is only one of four options that could be on the trade market that can actually help the Islanders. The other three options are Antti Raanta, Phillipp Grubauer, and maybe Aaron Dell. Grubauer and Dell that would be the much tougher goaltenders to acquire.

Lehner has also entered a rough stretch of play over the past five games. For a player like Lehner, it’s been finding the consistency. He had a stretch in December where he produced a consistent solid play, and now over the past five starts, he has struggled. Still, for a player as talented as Lehner, you can still make the case of the team in front of him and the losing culture being the problem.

He’s also young and affordable for most teams, plus Buffalo has the ability to retain salary if needed, as well as taking on additional salary. There are not many goaltenders available who are 26 years old, have a career .916 save percentage, and have over 200 games of starting experience.

A return to be expected for Robin Lehner could be a pair of second round, and third round picks, and a good prospect. Again, the Islanders are the only team who have the currency to make that deal happen, but it takes two to make a deal and the Islanders need to be interested as well. Right now, the Islanders are two points out of a top-three spot in their division and pretty much every team in the metropolitan division is in the hunt, including Carolina who is in last place.

If you’re Garth Snow, do you call Buffalo for Lehner, Arizona for Raanta, or San Jose for Dell?

Chad Johnson would likely not fetch anything more than a late-round draft pick ranging anywhere from a 5th to 7th round pick, but the more picks you have the better. If you can get it, why not attempt to get such a return?

Conclusion: The Future of the Sabres in Goal

A big reason why you can trade Robin Lehner if you’re the Sabres is that you have Linus Ullmark ready to take over next year. Ullmark has been the centerpiece of the Amerks success this year and could be ready to translate some of that success to the NHL

The majority of the teams in the league have a solid starter and a very solid backup. Right now, there are only two teams who clearly need goalies in the Islanders and the Blackhawks, and I can’t see the Hawks giving up a lot for a goaltender right now.

Although there are not a ton of teams looking for a solid starter, good reliable goaltenders are still very tough to pry loose from many teams, and therefore Buffalo should not just give Lehner away unless it’s for a solid return.

The goaltending pipeline on the Sabres may appear solid with Ullmark, and Luukkonen in the system, but you can never have enough high-quality prospects in goal. This should be kept in mind for any other future trades the Sabres make.

Remember when the Sabres had the three best goaltending prospects in the league over a decade ago with Martin Biron, Mika Noronen, and Ryan Miller? Noronen was traded to Vancouver and played his way out of the NHL. Biron became a solid career backup who could also start if needed. We all know what became of Ryan Miller.

If the Sabres can also acquire another good goaltending prospect in a trade for Evander Kane, that might not be a bad idea. If I am dealing with the Pittsburgh Penguins, I’m probably inquiring about Filip Gustavsson coming back in the trade to solidify my pipeline even more. If I’m dealing Kane to St.Louis, I’ll be very interested in prospect Ville Husso.

The best move might be to go into next year with Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark as a tandem, and see if Ullmark can eventually overtake Lehner down the road, or least try to force a tandem.


What Should The Sabres Do With Robin Lehner?

This poll is closed

  • 78%
    Trade him if the right deal exists?
    (452 votes)
  • 21%
    Keep him and promote Ullmark to challenge him?
    (127 votes)
579 votes total Vote Now