We know for a fact that the organisation is going to trade one of Robin Lehner or Craig Anderson, with virtually all the speculation focussing on the young Swedish goaltender. The reasons for Lehner to be the target is he’s much more marketable–he’s cheap, young (23), and accomplished (see below). While Anderson has better numbers (and NHL track record), he’s older (34), injury-prone, and expensive. From an organisational standpoint, if you have to move a goaltender, you’ll get more for Lehner, so why do I think this is a bad idea?
A starting goaltender, especially a good or elite one, has more impact on team performance than any other player. Sens fans don’t have to be convinced of this as Ottawa’s best seasons since the 2007 Cup run have been founded off remarkable (sometimes record-setting) performances by goaltenders. While it’s possible for a team to win a Cup without an elite goaltender (Chris Osgood always comes to mind), it’s rare and requires an elite team in front of him to do so, so in general it’s a requirement for any team to have an elite goaltender to win it all.
Is Lehner an elite (or good) starting goaltender? The truth is we don’t know yet. He’s played in 81 NHL games and never more than 36 in a single season–it’s simply not enough evidence for what he can or can’t do. He’s also extremely young for a goaltender–it’s a cliché that ‘tenders develop later, but it’s absolutely true (see the link). Lehner‘s pedigree is very good–he was considered the second best goalie in his draft year (2009), and won a Calder Cup as a teenager (2011), so why have the Sens thrown all their eggs into the Matt O’Connor basket? (Anyone who thinks they are depending on Hammond needs to read Pierre Dorion‘s comments on him and look at his record outside the NHL.)
My guess is that Lehner‘s declining save percentage and his perceived ‘failure’ to grab the reins the few times he’s been given them have soured Murray on him. While the GM has infinite patience for floundering veterans long past their prime, he expects young players to be excellent immediately (thus they waived Mike Hoffman before the season started and tried to trade away Patrick Wiercioch before truly giving him an opportunity–oh, and how has trading Jakob Silverberg worked out for them?). It seems like Murray is tired of waiting and his staff likes O’Connor well enough to move on (the undrafted NCAA player participated in their development camp back in 2011). Why, beyond what I’ve mentioned here, do I think trading him will fail?
If, as I expect, Lehner is a good or elite goaltender, it’s not possible for the Sens to get value for him. The asking price is a top-six forward or top-four defenseman, so let’s make it clear the kind of player this organisation thinks that would be: Chris Phillips was a top-four blueliner for half this season (only injury and a coaching change altered that); they thought Bobby Butler was a top-six forward (as they did with Cory Conacher when they traded Ben Bishop for him). Let’s say the pro scouts do a better job this time and we get a legitimate player in that category–perhaps a Benoit Pouliot, Teddy Purcell, or a Jeff Petry–are any of them really worth a starting goaltender? Pick any half-decent starter, Jimmy Howard for example, or pick an elite ‘tender like Tuukka Rask (let’s never forget Toronto gave up on him early for a flash-in-the-pan)–what’s a couple of seasons out of Pouliot for one of those players long-term? It’s a joke when you think about it.
When the trade happens Sens fans are going to have to pray long and hard that O’Connor really is the real deal, because we’ve seen highly touted NCAA stars crash and burn (the aforementioned Butler and Stephane Da Costa to name just two). Other than Marcus Hogberg (assuming he’s signed) there’s nothing in the pipeline behind O’Connor if he fails, which means Anderson‘s wonky health and Hammond‘s tiny sample size is all that stands between an awful 2015-16. Food for thought going into next season, although ultimately the trade will have to be judged in the long-term.
This article is written by Peter Levi (@eyeonthesens)