Blackhawks trade of Lehner leaves some former teammates disappointed

ST. LOUIS — Jonathan Toews has seen dozens and dozens of players come and go from the Blackhawks over the past 13 seasons.

Some come in quietly and remain quiet. Others let their guard down a little bit at a time and eventually take on a leadership role.

And then was Robin Lehner.

Right from the start, the 6-foot-4 goalie made his presence felt with his Blackhawks teammates this season.

He was loud. Verbose. Impactful. Intense. Passionate. Fiercely competitive. Driven to win.

Everything Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and others want to see in a veteran.

So it shouldn't be a surprise that Stan Bowman's decision to trade Lehner to Vegas on Monday was met with mixed feelings, surprise and plenty of disappointment.

Because while the Hawks did acquire 26-year-old goalie Malcolm Subban, a defense prospect and a second-round pick in the deal, there was definitely hope that Lehner would be around for the long-term.

“With how vocal he was I think you feel it and you believe ... that a guy really wants to be here and he wants to win and he believes in this group,” Toews said. “I think he took a one-year deal to come here because he knew there was some experience in this room and there was a lot of potential here that was untapped.

“So, yeah, you kind of assume with the way he's been playing that he is going to be here longer than that. Kind of crazy how fast this turned around.”

Kane feels the same way.

“Yeah. Yeah,” he said when asked if he hoped Lehner would eventually ink an extension. “The way he played and how good he was all year you thought that might be the route they were going to go. I guess you never really know in this business.”

These comments did not surprise general manager Stan Bowman, who once again wouldn't discuss if he'd entered into contract negotiations with Lehner.

“It's unusual for a player to say, ‘We're glad he's not back' or ‘We're relieved that he's not coming back,'” Bowman said. “I mean Robin's a very likable guy and he's a great goalie too.

“So that doesn't surprise me. ... They want everyone to stay. They like these guys. They spend several hours a day every day together. You get close to people. So I understand that part of it. ...

“We have to look at what's best for our organization in the longer term as well and that's part of asset management.”

After a practice in January, Lehner told a group of reporters that he'd been taking discounts his whole life and wanted to be treated fairly in future contract talks. He sent a tweet out Tuesday in response to a retweet of my Daily Herald story from that day said in part: “Was willing to do short term. Money was never discussed. Life goes on. Enjoyed my time in Chicago.”

So we'll close the book on Lehner, who figures to make Vegas one of the odds-on favorites to come out of the West this spring.

As for the Hawks, it is certainly fair to wonder if the arrow is pointing up, down or sideways.

First off, there are serious questions about who the goalie will be next year. Perhaps it will be Corey Crawford. Perhaps it will be another unrestricted free agent. Perhaps it will be Lehner.

Who knows?

There are serious salary-cap issues as well. Brent Seabrook ($6.875 million), Calvin de Haan ($4.55 million) and Andrew Shaw ($3.9 million) will all be back on the books next season unless they are moved.

And, of course, Toews, Kane and Keith aren't getting any younger. It's not exactly realistic to think they're going to keep playing at the level they are now in 2021, '22, '23 and beyond.

“I'm not really commenting on the direction,” Toews said. “That's not really up to me to talk about.”

But what if it takes a while for the Hawks to start going in the right direction?

Like three years? Or four? Or five?

Are Toews, Kane and Keith willing to be that patient?

“That's something we'll have to discuss with (John McDonough) after the season and kind of see where everyone's at,” Kane said. “I'm sure they'll be some conversations once the season's over.”

How much say will they have, though? Apparently not much.

“Their job is to play hockey, not so much to manage a team,” Bowman said. “I don't think that's really fair to them to bring them into the decision-making process.

“They've earned the respect based on what they've accomplished. But ... just like I don't go down there and talk to them about their shift last night in overtime ... I think they have their job to do and I have my job to do.”

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