Just read an interesting article about Robin Lehner wherein questions about his attitude and maturity were raised, and couldn’t help but think that it said more about Ottawa and the types of players it prefers than anything about the 21 year old netminder.
James has raised an interesting point in the past: when you look at effective goaltenders, they do seem to be a little bit unconventional (to put it diplomatically) and certainly intensely competitive. Some of the best goaltenders in the league are plagued by off-ice issues from substance abuse to public spats with management and the fanbase to alienation of teammates. Patrick Roy, Ed Belfour, Dominik Hasek, Tim Thomas even Miikka Kiprusoff – some of the league’s best seem like some of the hardest to engage with in a civilized dialogue. Ilya Bryzgalov, Ken Dryden and Jonas Hiller seem at least quirky and unconventional. It’s as if goaltenders stand in direct contradiction to the bland cliches to which we’ve becomed accustomed in post-game interviews. And this bears out when you remember that Ottawa’s best goaltending came from Ray Emery.
The point being that maybe there’s a direct relationship between an unconventional personality and being very good at standing in front of 85mph slapshots. It’s not a constant; it’s just not always a bad thing. Maybe it’s why we see so many goaltenders simply isolated from media rather than banished to another league, and why we have different expectations of goaltenders than we do of forwards.
What I suspect is that Ottawa likes its players a bit vanilla. Even though it’s one of the biggest teams in the league, and features players like Chris Neil and Zenon Konoptka (who is tied for the league lead in fighting majors) I couldn’t imagine Ottawa taking on players like, say, Steve Ott or Brendan Morrow. Opinionated, cocky, confident: Dallas has an entirely different culture in their dressing room than Ottawa. And I wonder how much of that has to do with the media and the fans.
Which is why I’m wary of our boilerplate tendencies to insist that a goaltender’s weirdness is a kink in his game to be ironed out. When Robin Lehner publicly disagrees with being sent down to the AHL, when he says he’s going to “hunt” Craig Anderson, even when he Tweets “;)”, questions arise about a supposed sense of entitlement.
My question is: how on earth are these things considered detrimental to a goalie’s game? There is a universal rule in sports that so long as you keep winning you can basically be an awful person and everyone will look the other way. But beyond that: what’s wrong with having a cog in the team’s machine that is skewed a little sideways, especially at such a game-changing position? We have our soft-spoken nice guy representatives in Alfie, Spezza, Phillips, Gonchar, Kuba, and a handful of young guys who are enthusiastic but well-versed in the necessity to say absolutely nothing in interviews. Ottawa needs a little bit of color.
We all thought it was awesome when Emery was smiling like a madman during that Buffalo brawl (during which plenty of Sens players stood around a did nothing), and we exiled him for the same tendencies only months later. He seemed to tap into that same well of resolve when he went through an extremely arduous hip procedure and made an improbable return to the NHL. What keeps him from seeming like an easy guy is what keeps him in the game.
Let’s hope we continue to see Lehner’s intensity (Lehntensity?) as an advantage rather than something that needs to be wrung from his personality. The goalie graveyard is littered with nice guys. Ottawa isn’t taking anyone by surprise anymore; on the first day of the playoffs they’re going to meet an absolutely determined higher seed who has studied and practiced for the sole intention of destroying the Senators in as few games as possible. There are going to be games where we’ll need a cocky, entitled, player to put the team on his back and will them to victory.