NHL futures betting: Can Robin Lehner win the Vezina?

·4 min read

The Vegas Golden Knights entered the NHL in 2017. Immediately, goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury became the face of the franchise. Vegas selected Fleury from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the expansion draft after he won three Stanley Cups with his former franchise. Fleury had a career resurgence in Vegas, leading the Golden Knights to the playoffs in each of their first four seasons in the league. In 2021, Fleury won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goaltender. 

Despite his off-ice presence as the ultimate Golden Knight and his on-ice success, Vegas traded Fleury to the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason. Fleury will turn 37 during the upcoming season and his $7 million cap hit was rich for a team up against the cap ceiling. 

Enter Robin Lehner. The Golden Knights acquired Lehner at the 2020 trade deadline from the Blackhawks; the first sign that Vegas was considering moving on from Fleury. That suspicion was confirmed when Lehner signed a five-year contract extension prior to last season. With Fleury out of the picture, the crease in Vegas now belongs to Lehner. Vegas' new starting goaltender is currently +1600 to win the 2021-22 Vezina Trophy at BetMGM.

Robin Lehner is actually very good

In Lehner's 11-season NHL career, he's played for five teams. He's been traded twice, bought out once and allowed to test free agency. Despite his inability to find a permanent home, he's been an above-average NHL goaltender almost every step of the way. 

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA - JANUARY 14:  Robin Lehner #90 of the Vegas Golden Knights takes a break during a stop in play in the first period of a game against the Anaheim Ducks at T-Mobile Arena on January 14, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Golden Knights defeated the Ducks 5-2.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
Robin Lehner of the Vegas Golden Knights takes a break during a 2021 regular-season game against the Anaheim Ducks. (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Lehner has a career .918 save percentage. This ranks top 10 in NHL history alongside names like Henrik Lundqvist. Lehner has taken his game to another level over the past three seasons. Since 2018, Lehner leads the league in goals saved above expectation. He posted a sparkling .930 save percentage with the New York Islanders in 2018-19. The season after that, he posted a .918 save percentage behind the league's worst defensive team in Chicago before being traded to Vegas. 

Twice in the last three seasons, Lehner has won the William Jennings Trophy, which is awarded to the team who gave up the fewest goals during the regular season. In 2018-19, Lehner was nominated for the Vezina, finishing with the third-most votes. Lehner only played 46 games that season, which hurt his chances against goaltenders who started in more games. 

Favorable situation for Lehner

The Golden Knights allowed the fewest goals in the league last season. A lot of the credit for that goes to Lehner and his former partner in Fleury. In terms of expected goals against, Vegas ranked around league average. Shea Theodore, Alec Martinez and Alex Pietrangelo lead a solid defensive unit for Vegas. 

The Golden Knights are the beneficiaries of playing in a weak division. Vegas is a -165 favorite to win the Pacific Division at BetMGM, and for good reason. The rest of the teams in the division are mediocre at best. Vancouver, Los Angeles, San Jose and Anaheim finished 24th, 25th, 26th and 30th in the 31-team league. Seattle enters the division as an expansion team. Edmonton and Calgary are average, flawed teams. 

No team scored less goals than the Anaheim Ducks last season. Los Angeles, Vancouver and San Jose all finished bottom-eight in goals scored as well. 

Lehner split time with Thomas Greiss on Long Island in 2019, Corey Crawford in 2020, and Fleury the past season and a half. With Fleury gone, the Golden Knights brought in Laurent Brossoit to fill the hole he left behind. Brossoit projects as more of a backup goalie than Lehner's previous partners. This means that Lehner should play a large majority of the games for the first time in quite a few seasons. 

Lehner's proven to be one of the better goalies in the league over the past few seasons. With Lehner having a tremendous personal story and now playing in a major media market for one of the league's better teams, he can quickly make Vegas forget about Fleury. At +1600 on BetMGM, Lehner is a worthwhile bet to be the league's best goalie this season.

Stats from Evolving-Hockey.com, NaturalStatTrick.com and Hockey-Reference.com

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