So, as we all know, this happened.
Not the craziest thing in the world. Not even the craziest thing Lehner’s ever done.
Let’s be clear about one thing first: I don’t care that Lehner threw / broke his stick. As James, Steven and I have covered on our Scotchcast more times than we remember because we drink when we’re recording those things: goalies are always a little bit crazy, and the best goalies are also kinda pricks. For years Lehner has been our nutso-goalie ace-in-the-hole.
But we can agree it’s a tiny bit concerning when your goalie melts down after losing a totally meaningless game in February, right? Especially when management has a Pros and Cons list on Lehner on which they’ve written “might be crazy” under the Cons column.
This is the first time Lehner is without training wheels. He was always insulated in the past, either relegated to backup duty or even playing second fiddle to Ben Bishop (who is no longer in the NHL, I believe). This season, Anderson’s ridiculous play has nailed his ass to the bench again.
Now he’s the team’s starter. His backup is Andrew friggin’ Hammond. Management has been agonizingly patient with Lehner’s development, but now they have no choice and nothing left to lose. It’s the Lehner show, at long last.
Even better, when Anderson got hurt the team was already like 10 points out of a playoff spot. There’s absolutely zero pressure to get this team into the playoffs. All Lehner needed to do was acknowledge that he wasn’t playing that well, come to the rink ready to work, and learn from every mistake. Whatever his performance was like, this was his chance to prove to everyone that the biggest hole in his game — his ability to get through the day without eating another human being alive — was something he’d thought long and hard about.
And I have to say, it’s looking a wee bit like management’s not-so-secret fear that he couldn’t handle the pressure is looking not entirely unreasonable. If this is how he reacts after giving up a 4th goal when the team is already well on its way to a loss, in mid-February, with the playoffs long out of sight, then how does this person react in game 7 of a Conference Final? (I mean theoretically. I don’t actually remember what a Conference Final looks like.)
I also can’t help but think of Ray Emery. Ah, Ray. The only goalie to backstop a team that was starting to get a reputation as a goalie graveyard to the apex of its modern era. Young. Talented. Room to grow. Oodles of swagger. The playoff resume to show for it. Signed to a reasonable deal. Then bought out because of attitude problems and off-ice issues.
I can’t help but feel like Ottawa is still a bit sensitive about their goalies, and with Lehner still having all kinds of trade value, I’m starting to think that this is his audition. If he doesn’t win some games and show some poise while doing it, I can see Lehner in another uniform. I’m not saying it’s a good idea. I’m just saying that for a team obsessed with having the “right” people, “good” people, Lehner’s quirkiness could get blown out of proportion right quick.
Could it be possible that he’s traded by the deadline? I hope he isn’t traded at all, but if he is, let me just throw this out there: if you’re a team in a transition year — not truly bad, definitely not good — and the draft is particularly deep, and you’re already 6th last in the league, and there’s no way you’re clawing your way back into it, and you’ve already fired your coach…is playing Andrew Hammond for a few games the worst strategy in the world?