Lennox Lehner is almost 6 years old and already has five hockey jerseys because his father has bounced around the NHL so much.
He won’t have to add another to his collection, and Robin Lehner will get to keep putting on Vegas Golden Knights jerseys.
“It couldn’t be a better fit,” Robin said.
Lehner signed a $25 million, five-year contract with Vegas on Saturday that gives him some much-desired stability. Committing to Lehner gives the Golden Knights the same at the goaltending position while plunging one-time face of the franchise Marc-Andre Fleury into uncertainty.
After signing a deal that pays him $5 million annually through the 2024-25 season, Lehner soaked up the accomplishment of finding a long-term landing spot. He had played for four different teams the past three seasons and is on his fifth organization, while battling addiction and mental health issues that were made more difficult by the constant movement.
Lehner has a modified no-trade clause as part of the contract and believes staying in one place will help him personally and make him a better goalie.
“I haven’t had stability and I’ve still been able to manage it with all the people around me,” said Lehner, who has talked openly about his bipolar disorder. “Now I have one of the biggest things for my condition, and that’s stability. And what I can do with that going forward in terms of my performance on the ice and all that stuff, I think it’s just going to make it a lot, lot better.”
Re-signing Lehner, who they acquired at the trade deadline in February and who became the starter, means the Golden Knights will likely soon move on from Fleury, who took them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2018 in their inaugural season.
Fleury, who will be 36 by the time next NHL season starts, has two years left on his contract at a $7 million cap hit with a 10-team no-trade clause. General manager Kelly McCrimmon said one of the options is Vegas going into next season with these two goaltenders, but other comments during his virtual news conference — and the financial realities of the flat salary cap — point to trading or buying out Fleury.
“We have a ton of respect for Marc-Andre Fleury,” McCrimmon said. “We will try to make good decisions here as we move along.”
The Golden Knights decided some time ago Lehner was their man in net. While coach Peter DeBoer, hired to replace Gerard Gallant in January, said leading up to and during the playoffs he’d use both goalies, he started Lehner in 16 of the Golden Knights’ 20 postseason games.
Lehner went 9-7 with a 1.99 goals-against average and .917 save percentage as Vegas reached the Western Conference final before losing to the Dallas Stars. Golden Knights brass looked around at the goaltending play in the NHL’s Edmonton bubble in and wanted to keep Lehner in the fold.
“I think he proved himself,” McCrimmon said. “I think he played extremely well for our team. That’s what we need. It’s his age, it’s where he’s at in his career, it’s the length of the contract, it’s the fact that it solidifies that position for our organization. It’s the most important position on the team.”
And this is the most important contract of Lehner’s life, two years after he left the Buffalo Sabres, began to get help for and got another opportunity with the New York Islanders. Despite getting the Islanders to the second round of the 2019 playoffs, that relationship lasted just one season, Lehner went to free agency and signed a one-year contract with Chicago before the trade to Vegas.
“I worked very, very hard for this,” Lehner said. “I’ve had my bumps and bruises, I’ve battled through a lot of things and it’s been a long journey.”
Vegas gave Lehner the multiyear deal other teams wouldn’t and hope to reap the benefits of believing in him. Lehner is motivated to prove the organization right.
“They’ve seen that I can perform,” Lehner said. “Pressure doesn’t faze me. And I’m as normal as anyone else out there, no matter what my conditions and my past has been because the past has been the past and the future is good. There’s always a risk and reward, and I’ve shown that the reward is a lot bigger than risk.”
There is some risk in moving on from Fleury, a popular teammate who has three Stanley Cup rings from his time with Pittsburgh. Fleury showed in limited postseason action he can still be a No. 1 goalie, going 3-1 with a 2.27 GAA and .910 save percentage.
“He’s been the face of the franchise,” McCrimmon said. “His reputation as a person along with his abilities as a goaltender make him a fan favorite and a guy that’s played some tremendous goal for us.”
Fleury’s future is one of many goaltending questions around the NHL, some of which are being answered. Matt Murray, who teamed up with Fleury to win the Cup in 2016 and 2017 could be elsewhere soon, too, after the Penguins on Saturday re-signed All-Star Tristan Jarry to a $10.5 million, three-year contract.
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