Think you could just throw your old 2005-2012 CBA in the trash? Think again. While doing an interview with Uffe Bodin of Sweden's no. 1 hockey outlet HockeySverige, the Senators top goalie prospect mentioned that he is of the understanding he will be a restricted free agent at the end of the year.
”I’ve heard people say I’ve got one year left on my deal, but I’ve been a pro for three years now and this is my last year.”
“I was in more than 10 games the first year, because you count the games where you’re backing up as well.”
On whether he thinks he’ll get a one-way deal.
“I really hope so. It would take a lot for me to sign a two-way deal again.”
So let's dust off the old Egyptian parchment, shall we…
The conventional wisdom (and that of Capgeek) would be that his entry-level contract would "slide" in his first professional year when he appeared in 8 games for the Senators, as he didn’t meet the 10-game requirement for a year to be burnt (Article 9.1.(d).(i) and 9.1.(d).(ii) ). As such, Lehner would currently only be in year 2 of this 3 year contract. However, the old CBA doesn't specify whether or not backup games should be included, and Lehner himself seemed certain that his additional backup games in 2010-11 would take him over the hump and into a territory of restricted free agency after this shortened season. (note: Lehner dressed as the Senators backup on 15 occasions in 2010/11)
In fact the only place the word "backup" appears in the CBA is a section pertaining to Group 2 Free Agents (Article 10.2.(a).(iii) ). But since we're dealing with an ELC, this section doesn't apply. The NHL statkeepers don't count backing up as a "game played", but where exactly this definition exists is unclear. Safe to say it's something as banal as being credited with more than 1 second of TOI.
As if this wasn’t tricky enough to determine due to the language of the CBA, there aren’t really any previous cases to take a look at. Dan Blackburn is one of two examples of junior-aged goalies that comes to mind, but he played over 30 games and also under another collective bargaining agreement. Jonathan Bernier, who was in net for 4 games during his junior-aged campaign in 2007-2008, did not back up in 6 additional games to make this an issue.
It should be pointed out that it is still unclear whether this is agent-sanctioned or just something Lehner's been thinking about while surfing Capgeek with Steve Tambellini, but it certainly looks a bit of a longshot considering "games played" are what is being accounted for in most other aspects of goaltending credits, such as performance bonuses or general statkeeping. As mentioned, there are no cases we can look back on here, as dressing as a backup falls into a not easily defined middle space between playing and being scratched.
If this uncertainty from the old CBA (We all hated the old CBA, right? Let's spend lots of time making sure things are right in the new one.) works in Lehner's favour, so be it. It's tough to throw blame his way for getting things right. If this is nothing and he's still got a year left on his deal? Well, let's just hope he doesn't have to worry about calculating the difference between his AHL and NHL salary.
For a player who by all accounts has grown into a more mature player who has said all of the right things since development camp, for him to stop weighing his words now, when the the Senators' training camp is about to start, is odd.
With NHL beat writers breaking out their junior detective magnifying glasses looking for any training camp stories that break away from the traditional "veteran player A has shown up in the best shape that he's been in for years, expect big things from veteran player A" or "minor league journeyman looking for a NHL gig" or they can even brush the dust off a 2005 article in which Chris Phillips is described as a player who could fill in admirably on the top defensive pairing.
A hot shot prospect talking about the status of his contract, is a wrinkle that no one could have expected.
Perhaps he assumed by speaking with a Swedish reporter, he has a greater sense of comfort with his fellow countryman and in consequence, is more honest with his aswers. Or maybe he underestimates what will come back to him on this side of the Atlantic, but being teammates with Andre Petersson in Binghamton last season, he should be aware.
Mind you, it's not like what Lehner said is really offputting. Having busted his ass in the offseason, Lehner's efforts off the ice have made him a better player on the ice – reflected by his league leading save percentage (.945) and earning praise from head coach Luke Richardson who has referred to him as the team's MVP. As a fan, I can certainly understand his predicament: he's a goalie having a career year who definitely deserves to be playing on the parent team. Unfortunately in the new age of sports, contract status and player development carry a significant amount of weight.
As shitty as it is for Lehner, the only leverage that he has for playing in the NHL right now is merit. He deserves to play in the NHL right now. Sadly, by discussing his contract to a Swedish journalist, it is going to detract from where the attention should be, on his play.
For the full story with Lehner on HockeySverige, where he talks about his Swedish teammates and how the Swedish band In Flames have been important to his career, click here. It should be added that the quotes used for this post never made it into the article.