Blackhawks already miss goalie Robin Lehner’s big personality, honest voice
For a short time, Lehner helped mentor Alex Nylander, motivate Jonathan Toews and fill the rest of the Hawks’ locker room.
ST. LOUIS — Tuesday was goalie Malcolm Subban’s first day with the Blackhawks, and he stayed quiet and to the outside of the locker room while adjusting to his new teammates.
That’s what most new players do.
But that’s not at all what goalie Robin Lehner did upon arriving in Chicago at the start of training camp last fall.
‘‘Sometimes you’re not too sure how those strong personalities are going to fit into a locker room, especially right away,’’ captain Jonathan Toews said Tuesday. ‘‘A lot of guys dip their toes in the water when they come to a new team, but Lenny just jumped right in.’’
Lehner held nothing back, on or off the ice, throughout his eventful — albeit brief — tenure with the Hawks.
His booming, sometimes-snarky, always-honest voice constantly filled the room, even during the depressing times when other players only murmured.
He always spoke boldly in the face of popular opinion and hockey custom. He detailed his free-agent negotiation process the day he signed; he declared the Hawks playoff-caliber during their disastrous October homestand; he told reporters when he thought their coverage was misguided and when it was accurate; and he owned up to his shootout frustrations and his elation when he finally won one.
Yet his tenure with the Hawks ended with his trade to the Golden Knights at the deadline Monday, a deal that fetched Subban, a prospect and a draft pick in return. He made 31 starts for the Hawks, winning 16 of them but struggling in the final weeks.
For his old teammates, the sudden, involuntarily divorce has been tough to accept.
‘‘I told him many times that he helped me as a captain,’’ Toews said. ‘‘He helped some of our veteran guys that have been here a long time wake up to get back to what makes us good players and good leaders and try and get this team going in the right direction. He brought a lot in the short time he was here. Even today, you feel that absence.’’
‘‘It’s never fun to see teammates go, so there’s definitely some mixed feelings,’’ wing Patrick Kane said. ‘‘The way he played and how good he was all year, you thought that [re-signing him] might be the route [Hawks management] was going to go. I guess you never really know in this business.’’
Nobody spent more time with Lehner than wing Alex Nylander, who lived with Lehner, his wife and their children from the start of the season.
Nylander isn’t losing his home because of the trade — Lehner’s family is staying in Chicago for now — but he did lose a crucial mentor in his development.
‘‘He tells me what he sees and what’s good and what’s bad, just like it should be,’’ Nylander said. ‘‘That’s obviously been really good, been exactly how I wanted it to be, just to make me get better as a player and as a person.’’
Nylander laughed when he was asked whether it will be weird not hearing Lehner’s voice in the locker room because it will be, of course. He wasn’t just a part of the chatter; he was the chatter. His departure is going to take some time for the Hawks to adjust to.
‘‘You felt his presence every time he walked into the room,’’ Toews said. ‘‘[If] you’ve got a guy like that around who brings it every day, you’re going to feel that loss, for sure.’’