Six months ago, the New York Islanders gave Robin Lehner a chance at redemption. The move has worked out for both team and player.
Robin Lehner has been a boon for the New York Islanders this season. The favor has been reciprocated.
Speaking to Brian Compton of NHL.com, Lehner said that the Islanders “have been a great fit. We’ve got a support system here from the ground up. It’s easier to go to work. This team has made it possible for me.”
Lehner, 27, was a second-round pick of the Ottawa Senators in 2009. He has posted a league-leading 2.16 goals-against average and .928 save percentage in 24 games this season. Since 2012, his rookie season, he has posted a record of 84-98-38. In 2018-19, he has a 22-13-7 mark.
Lehner has been one of the most surprising — and inspiring — stories in the league.
Starting at the end of the 2017-18 season, he began acknowledging the demons that he was facing — “I felt so drained both physically and mentally,” Lehner wrote in The Athletic. “Everything hurt. On my way home, I did the one thing that was common for me … I stopped to grab beer. I went home and drank … and drank.”
Lehner had been battling “self-medication and thoughts of suicide.” So he went to a treatment center in Arizona, where he got help for his addiction and trauma. Five weeks into his stay, he was diagnosed as bipolar. “I was broken and they were trying to put me together,” Lehner wrote. Despite that, Lehner has entered a new reality.
On July 3, the Islanders agreed to terms with Lehner on a one-year, $1.5 million deal.
Lehner credits Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello with changing his perspective. “I had two great meetings with him and, looking back now, those meetings became some of the best moments in my life. We talked about family and life.
“The Islanders were ready to take a chance with me. I was relieved that I could start a new chapter. When I was finally offered the deal, I was so happy. I finally had someone who believed in me, now sober.”
Lehner has rewarded the Islanders with the best play of his young career. Outside of Barry Trotz and Mathew Barzal, no figure has been as instrumental to the Islanders’ success this season. In turn, Lehner has been rewarded with a strong support system and the best goaltending coaches in the league. If he continues to play at this level, he will force the Islanders to consider giving him an extension.
The Islanders made the biggest move of their offseason on July 1, when instead of sulking over the John Tavares news, they made a conscious decision to change the way they operate as an organization. Gone are the days where Mike Milbury, Garth Snow and John Spano are running the show.
Instead, the Islanders have emerged as one of the most effective organizations in professional hockey, by hiring world-class executives and finding players who fit the system. Under Barry Trotz, the Islanders are a structured hockey team. Under Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders are a structured hockey organization.
Six months ago, Lehner was at the lowest point of his life. Today, he is the top goaltender in the league, with a new perspective and a clean slate.
The Islanders aren’t likely to win the Stanley Cup in 2019. They may not even win in the next few years, or even the next decade. But the Islanders have undoubtedly changed their culture, as Lehner can attest to.