Can anyone blame New York Islanders fans for being upset with the departure of goaltender Robin Lehner as a free agent on July 1? After all, Lehner departed the team on a one-year, $5 million contract to the Chicago Blackhawks. The Islanders answer to their goaltending situation? Signing Colorado Avalanche castoff Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20-million contract.
So what went wrong with Lehner and can the Islanders coaching staff return Varlamov’s game to the Vezina Trophy consideration he received earlier in his career? Considering the miracle work Islander goaltending guru Mitch Korn and goalie coach Piero Greco did to rebuild Lehner’s game to see him nominated for the Vezina trophy after the 2018-19 season, and that Varlamov isn’t quite the same reclamation project, the dice roll is a worthy gamble.
While it is always difficult to obtain credible information from any Lou Lamoriello-led organization, it was quite evident that negotiations with Lehner’s camp after the season weren’t progressing. Lehner had on multiple occasions professed his desire to remain with the Islanders, whether it was on a short term or long term deal. He loved Islander fans and they loved him back, supporting him as he came forward with his mental health struggles.
The first signs of outward discord happened during the NHL’s annual awards night. Upon winning the Masterton Trophy Lehner’s awkward hug with Lamoriello had Islander fans wondering on social media what was up. Perhaps Lehner’s propensity to speak out rubbed Lamoriello the wrong way. Or maybe Lamoriello who had attempted to trade for Varlamov leading up to the free-agent signing period during the summer of 2017 saw an opportunity to acquire a player the teams coaching staff had identified as a player they wanted.