For the better part of a week, Ottawa Senators general manager Bryan Murray has been saying two things about the crowded NHL goalie market: that he has the best chip to trade in Robin Lehner; and that it would be difficult to get good value for him in trade, given all the other goalies on offer out there.
Happily for Murray, he made a liar of himself Friday morning by pulling off a neat bit of larceny. Hours before the 2015 NHL entry draft began, Murray sent Lehner and centre David Legwand (and his unwanted contract) to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a first-round draft pick. The Senators later took Colin White 21st overall.
Murray made the trade with his nephew, Tim Murray, the Sabres general manager, who previously worked as Ottawa's assistant GM for years and thus knows Lehner's game only too well. Around the NHL, Lehner was considered a high-risk, high-reward goaltending option, a talented player who's had a history of concussions.
Lehner will get a chance to start for the Sabres and be part of a young nucleus that will include Jack Eichel, the other generational talent in the draft beyond Connor McDavid.
If Lehner evolves into the next Ben Bishop – another young goalie who left Ottawa, only to blossom with the Stanley Cup finalist Tampa Bay Lightning – then the price the Sabres paid may not seem exorbitant at all. Legwand's value to the Senators was negligible, but Buffalo, after stripping its roster down last season, can use a salary or two to get to the mandated NHL payroll floor. So they were not averse to adding Legwand to the roster.
The Senators will enter the 2015-16 season with a goaltending tandem of veteran Craig Anderson and 27-year-old Andrew Hammond, who helped jump-start the second-half surge that unexpectedly carried Ottawa to the playoffs. They were in a position to shed a young netminder because earlier this summer they signed top college goalie prospect Matt O'Connor to his first professional contract. The hope is that when Anderson's contract expires in a couple of years, O'Connor will be ready for prime-time NHL duty.
As for the Sabres, at one point, they had three first-round picks in this draft. The one they traded to Ottawa Friday originally belonged to the New York Islanders and was acquired by former general manager Darcy Regier in a one-sided trade for rental Thomas Vanek.
Earlier, the Sabres traded away the first-rounder they received from the St. Louis Blues in the Ryan Miller trade to the Winnipeg Jets in the complex Evander Kane-for-Tyler Myers deal.
Both Winnipeg and Ottawa now enter Friday night's draft with two first-rounders. Ottawa is currently at 18 and 21; Winnipeg at 17 and 25. Edmonton also has two first-rounders, first and 16th, and is looking for a goaltender.
Does the Lehner deal set the market? Perhaps, though up until now, most teams have resisted surrendering a first-rounder in exchange for an unproven goaltender. That could now change.