By NHL rules, Blackhawks goalie Robin Lehner became eligible for a contract extension Jan. 1.
There’s no sign negotiations between general manager Stan Bowman and Lehner’s agent, Craig Oster, have begun yet. But the always-honest Lehner still spoke his mind about the scenario Friday.
‘‘We’ll see what happens,’’ he said. ‘‘All I know is that I really like it here. I’ve learned [this]: This is a business, and no matter how good things are going, sometimes it’s not up to you and it’s not under your control.
‘‘I know where I stand and I really like this team and I still really believe in this team and pieces this team has. I’d like to be part of the turnaround.’’
The Hawks signed Lehner to a one-year, $5 million contract July 1 after his negotiations with the Islanders fell apart, to Lehner’s dismay. The Islanders instead signed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract with the same $5 million cap hit per season.
Lehner, 28, has since become a key member of the Hawks. He ranks 11th in the NHL with a .922 save percentage and sixth in goals saved above average per minute, which takes into account the high-quality chances the Hawks’ defense allows.
Lehner has been adamant about his natural fit in Chicago from the early weeks of the season, but he has been equally insistent that he’s ready for a team to make a long-term commitment to him, trusting his consistently elite statistics and accepting him for his prior substance-abuse struggles.
He seems confident that will happen in 2020.
‘‘It’s a different summer this summer than last summer,’’ he said. ‘‘The market, it’s quite a lot . . . of teams that need goalies. And there’s not that many goalies that are available this season.’’
Lehner might be the top goalie who will be an unrestricted free agent. Braden Holtby has had a down season, and Jacob Markstrom doesn’t have the same recognition. Thomas Greiss, Cam Talbot, Jaroslav Halak and Anton Khudobin have had good years, but all are 32 or older and are doing so as backups. Craig Anderson, Jimmy Howard and Hawks teammate Corey Crawford are all 35 or older.
So what will Lehner, with a .918 save percentage in his career and a .919 save percentage in the last three seasons, be seeking in a new deal?
Sergei Bobrovsky (.919 career/.922 last three seasons) earned a seven-year contract with a $10 million cap hit last summer from the Panthers with barely better numbers. But he had won two Vezina Trophies with the Blue Jackets, had a much larger sample size and had much higher name recognition.
Better comparisons might be the Ducks’ John Gibson and the Jets’ Connor Hellebuyck, who signed extensions in 2018 at age 25.
At the time, Gibson had a .923/.924 split and earned an eight-year contract worth $6.4 million annually. Hellebuyck had a .917 save percentage through his first three seasons and earned a six-year contract worth $6.2 million annually.
Bowman will have difficulty affording a mega-contract like that in this upcoming cap-crunch offseason. But he might need to find a way because Lehner has proved himself to be an elite goalie this season, and the Hawks don’t have any other viable alternatives.
Lehner said he’ll be asking for fair value.
‘‘I’ve taken discounts my whole life,’’ he said. ‘‘I’m not a guy to want to be overpaid, either. I want to gain some respect that I think I deserve, and we’ll see if that happens or not.’’