Add another chapter to Robin Lehner's inspirational 2018-19 season.
Lehner was named a finalist for the Vezina Trophy on Saturday, a height that even the Islanders goalie said seemed far off during a tumultuous 2017-18 season in Buffalo.
"I'm honored. It's something I believed in going into the season, but a year ago I didn't," Lehner said. "There's so many that deserve credit. It starts with [my] teammates and the organization. A lot of credit goes to [Director of Goaltending] Mitch Korn and [Goaltending Coach] Piero Greco too for helping me adjust some things in my game. It's been a lot of hard work. It's truly an honor."
Lehner went 25-13-5 last season posting while finishing second in the NHL with a .930 SV% and third with a 2.13 GAA. He set career highs in wins (25) and shutouts (six) and set the Isles single-season save percentage record in the process. It's a far cry from his 2017-18 season in Buffalo where he went 14-26-9 with a 3.01 GAA, a .908 SV% and three shutouts.
"Good on him. He's had a great year," Head Coach Barry Trotz said. "You just want people to reach their potential. By him getting his life in order, all the other things in his life fell in order."
For Lehner, the meaning behind his Vezina nomination goes far beyond accolades for his play on the ice. The 27-year-old sees his nomination as evidence that athletes - and people - with mental health issues can achieve great things with the right support system around them. Lehner recalled how eight or nine teams were interested in his services when he hit free agency last summer, but how that number dropped to two when he disclosed his stint in rehab, as well as his previous struggles with addition and bi-polar diagnosis.
Lehner credited the Islanders - specifically thanking President and GM Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz - for being a supportive, understanding and non-judgmental organization and granting him a clean slate.
"That's the thing with the perception. It's not like I am a special case and I need someone to hold my hand. They've been incredibly supportive, open-minded and non-judgmental," Lehner said. "That's what I mean with how good this organization has been. The big thing that they're helping on a day-to-day basis. They help me with my meds. It's not like, 'Oh, here you've got some of your mental issues and now we've got to do a bunch of things.' That's not what was happening. They've helped me with a few things, but the biggest thing to do is to not be judgmental."
Trotz said fostering that supportive atmosphere was a given, even without knowing Lehner until this season.
"From day one, he was open with me. I was open with him. He knows that he's got the support of myself, and Lou and the organization, and his teammates," Trotz said. "We talk about creating a family atmosphere, well, one of our family members was dealing with personal stuff and all of that. That's part of life."
Lehner wants to help end the stigma around mental health, recently posting #SickNotWeak on his Twitter account, and hopes his story and Vezina nomination, as well as his Bill Masterton Trophy nomination and William Jennings Trophy - which he shared with Thomas Greiss - can help. Lehner added that the reason he's been so open about his previous struggles was to help inspire others who are going through similar circumstances to get the help they need and also to show that they to are capable of reaching great heights.
"It's for people out there having a bad day that don't see any light at the end of the tunnel, that don't really want to take up tomorrow or whatever the case may be," Lehner said. "You just need to get a plan, you have to help yourself first and get the right help and when you get that you can start your journey towards whatever you want in life. You can't do it in reverse, you have to take care of your recover first or it's not going to work. If you can do that, what's good about this is it shows it can be done with the right people."
The Vezina Trophy winner will be announced at the NHL Awards on June 19 in Las Vegas. Andrei Vasilevskiy of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Ben Bishop of the Dallas Stars are the other two finalists for the award.