Robin Lehner wants to be a New York Islander.
Let me say that again, HE WANTS TO BE AN ISLANDER.
Lehner, a pending unrestricted free agent, has made it abundantly clear from the moment the buzzer sounded in Carolina after the Isles were eliminated from postseason play that this is the club he wants to play for. The team has said they want him back too.
“I’ve got no plans to talk to another team at this point,” Lehner told Newsday this past weekend.. “From my understanding, that’s not (general manager Lou Lamoriello’s) intention either. Hopefully, it will work out so we can finish what we have started.”
The talking period for teams and free agents officially opened at midnight last Sunday, and even with things seeming to have gone quiet from both sides, Lehner has been steadfast in his belief that there will be deal struck.
Lehner is coming off a remarkable season in which he won 25 games, was one half of the duo with Thomas Greiss that was awarded the William M. Jennings Trophy, claimed the Bill Masterton Trophy for dedication and perseverance to the game, and was a Vezina Trophy finalist. His story became one of the most heartwarming in the sport. How he overcame the odds endeared himself to his teammates, players around the league, and most of all the Islander fans.
Examining Lehner’s situation, it marks new territory for the organization and the fans.
Never before has a player come to this franchise and immediately had the impact Lehner had, both from an on and off the ice perspective. Only given a one year contract last summer, the expectation of many was that Lehner was brought here to help patch up the hole the Isles had in goal in the short term. But, he became much more than just another free agent signing; Lehner embodied who the Isles were in 2018-19 — a team that overcame adversity all year long.
Everything he said, everything he did, made the fans adore Lehner and want to fight for him. It’s that common bond he built with the fan base, management and coaching staff that makes Lehner such a vital part of the Isles family. He even alluded to it in his Masterton speech.
“Lou you’ve been amazing,” Lehner said. “Barry Trotz for thinking about the human first I have to respect that.”
Lehner became an inspiration to so many fans with his fight to end the stigma that is mental illness; it was spotlighted multiple times during the year. He’s also a fan favorite. We saw it all season long with the chants of “LE-HNER” rung throughout Barclays and the Coliseum. Lehner — and this one might have gone a bit under the radar — helped lift the organization up after it went through one of the most painful transitions when John Tavares left last summer.
It would be extremely tough to imagine Lehner not being a part of this team’s future, almost unthinkable at this point.
Lehner has become so beloved and represented the franchise with such passion even in the short amount of time he’s been here. There have been very few players in this team’s history — maybe other than the dynasty era teams — that resonated so much with what it means to be an Islander like he has. Lehner has proven he’s everything you want as one of your faces to lead an organization forward.
From the organization’s standpoint, it’s hard to remember a time when they were the team that free agents wanted to play for.
Aside from the connection with the fans — and more than Brock Nelson and Jordan Eberle re-signing — Lehner’s feeling about where the franchise is heading speaks volumes. The organization is so used being the second fiddle when it comes to free agents, more than anytime this decade too. The fans are so used to seeing them played out in that scenario for way longer than that. It doesn’t help Isles cause that they’re the second team in the market behind the Rangers, have had arena problems for what seems like an eternity, and have been managed poorly from ownership on down until 12 months ago.
What Lehner was able to do individually, as a member of the team and how valuable he was to repairing the franchises’ image, only make him coming back that much more important.
At 27, Lehner was the youngest starting goalie the Islanders had in over a decade; the last being Rick DiPietro, whose career went downhill before he even reached that age. He’s yet to reach his prime and, although there are other options that the organization could go with next week, Lehner’s potential can’t be denied. He proved it this season with his accolades and by what he meant to the locker room.
Matt Martin and Scott Mayfield said it best about Lehner.
“One of the best guys I have ever played with.”
“Unbelievable person and teammate.”
Lehner deserves to be resigned. It is absolutely the right thing to do . He’s a big part of the foundation of the organization and he knows what it means to don the Islander crest on your chest.
Bringing him back goes beyond the ice.
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