This is something that probably will, and definitely should, go on the back-burner while the Hawks are in a playoff chase. There are more important issues and you don’t want the distraction. Which probably makes it more likely the Hawks, in their infinite wisdom, will ink Lehner to an extension before the end of the season, either to juice the buzz inside and outside the team as they try and chase down a spot or as a feel-good makeup when they fall short. You’ve already heard the push for it, and you know how they operate.
It shouldn’t be a priority at all. And it probably shouldn’t happen at all.
And it really doesn’t have much to do with Lehner. The simple numbers don’t add up. As of right now, the Hawks only have $10M in cap space for next season right now. With a minimal cap raise, maybe it’s $12M. There are a couple things the Hawks can do to open up more space, such as buying out Olli Maatta, which would only count about $800K against the cap next year. Maybe they actually do have a plan to deport Brent Seabrook into retirement/orbit, which obviously opens up another $6.8M. Do all those things, and the Hawks would suddenly have $22M. Hey, maybe Andrew Shaw retires and you get even more. If all those things happen, then re-signing Lehner makes some sense.
But it’s not that simple. Both Dylan Strome and Dominik Kubalik are due for big raises (and Caggiula might earn a small one). You would have to imagine they come in at at least $9M combined. If Lehner gets the $7M per year or more that he’s looking for, suddenly your $22M in space has become $6M in space, and you still need another d-man and at least one winger. And a backup goalie, and not just some stooge but one who can play 25-30 games because Lehner has never taken on a full starter’s load and that’s not really a thing teams are looking for these days.
Now, play this out differently. It would depend on how Corey Crawford finishes the season, so keep that in mind. But at 36, it’s unlikely that Crow is going to get more than the $6M he gets now, and it’s unlikely he’ll get more than a one- or two-year deal. Say you can Crow back for $4M, and then bring in someone like Cam Talbot for $3M-$4M (who has flourished in a partner/backup role this year). Now you’ve got two goalies for the same price as one Lehner, along with flexibility down the line which is not something the Hawks have had a lot of this past decade.
And maybe you’ve got space for a Tyson Barrie or Sami Vatanen or Toffoli or Kreider, which this team still needs. The only thing through the system that might join up next year and boost the team is Ian Mitchell, and that hardly seems a sure thing. Now if he signs and your top four is Keith, Mitchell, Boqvist, Murphy, that’s a nice start, but pushing Mitchell down do the third-pairing in his rookie year with de Haan is even better. And this team still needs one more winger, and might need another forward anywhere if they decide Kirby Dach’s presence makes Strome expendable (longshot but impossible).
As for Lehner himself, there seems to be a reason he’s on his fourth team. Or there should be, when he’s had exemplary seasons with each of the first three. He was traded from the Senators after after a step-back .905 SV% season, but that was after a .913. The Sabres let him walk after another .908, but that was after a .920. You know the story with the Islanders. And you know he’s not settling for another one-year deal.
Gone is the time when you can win with some stiff in net, and the Hawks were the last to do it in 2010 and there are still far too many around town who think that’s how things still work. So you can’t just ignore the position. However, you also have to have the team in front of it, and the Hawks aren’t going anywhere until they ask their goalies to do less than they are now. And it’s going to be awfully hard to do that paying Lehner what he wants and has pretty much earned now.
If the Hawks had more prospects coming through that would do that for cheap for years, then you could justify committing so much to one goalie. But they don’t. This is the way.