Goalie Robin Lehner opened up Thursday about his time with the Blackhawks and expressed frustration that he didn’t get a fair chance and was unable to sign a long-term contract with Chicago.
Lehner, acquired by the Golden Knights at the trade deadline Monday, spoke after practice and was asked whether his status as a pending unrestricted free agent was weighing on his mind.
“To be honest, that’s not weighing on my mind. There was other things weighing on my mind,” Lehner said. “I mean, I haven’t played to my potential the last few weeks, and there’s a few things that kind of played into that. I went to Chicago to help them out and got promises of getting a fair chance to play. I came there with a good mindset to fit into the team.
“I mean, I didn’t play much in the beginning or the middle-beginning of the season, even if I played really well and had a good camp. Eventually I took over, and I think I won like nine out of 10, 12 out of 15, and we walked up one point behind a playoff spot. Then all of a sudden I found myself on the bench for no reason. That was tough. Plus, negotiations had totally died out.”
Lehner signed a one-year, $5 million contract with the Blackhawks as a free agent during the offseason after he was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 with the New York Islanders.
He won the 2019 Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given annually to the player who best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to ice hockey.
Lehner is 16-10-5 with a 3.01 goals-against average and .918 save percentage in 33 appearances this season with the Blackhawks splitting with Corey Crawford.
After going 7-1-1 in December, Lehner made five starts in January and appeared in four games this month for Chicago before the trade.
Since Jan. 1, Lehner is 4-4-1 with a 3.58 GAA and .897 save percentage.
“At the end of the day, we’re players playing for our lives and playing for contracts,” Lehner said. “I felt for two years I’ve played really well and I still can’t get something done, and I’m playing well and I can’t play. It hits your motivation part a little bit, and I’ve got to do a better job of letting that kind of go away.
“I thought there was a future there, and I did everything to get a future there, and I still couldn’t get a future there. In the end, the last couple weeks were tough mentally to kind of find a motivation needed.”
The Knights host Buffalo at 7 p.m. Friday at T-Mobile Arena, and it’s uncertain whether Lehner will make his debut against one of his former clubs.
Lehner said he is excited to team with Marc-Andre Fleury for the playoff push and will revisit his contract status after the season.
When asked if he hopes to have a future with the Knights beyond this season, Lehner said: “I don’t hope anymore. We’ll see what happens this summer.”