The goalie had an NHL career-high 25 wins (25-13-5) and six shutouts in 46 games with the New York Islanders last season.
"I'm 27, turning 28 (July 24), and I truly know in my soul I'm just scratching the surface," Lehner said. "Last year was a good start for me and I know I'm only going to get better."
Lehner, who started all eight Stanley Cup Playoff games for the Islanders (4-4, 2.00 GAA, .936 save percentage), was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, awarded to the goalie voted the best at his position.
"We had looked around at what opportunities might be. I certainly wasn't expecting Robin to be available," Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman said. "It's rare for a Vezina finalist to be available, and in this situation, for us to be able to get him to come to our team, it was very recent we were able to have those conversations."
Lehner, who signed a one-year contract with the Islanders on July 3, 2018, is 97-110-40 with a 2.70 GAA, .918 save percentage and 14 shutouts in 265 regular-season games (248 starts) with the Islanders, Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators. It was expected he would remain with New York.
"I was fully committed to make something work, and that's just the truth," Lehner said. "I was waiting for a long time to even get started, so they were comfortable with what they needed to do. And when it started, all of a sudden I had an ultimatum in front of me in a couple of hours. It wasn't that far off in money. … We took a little break in the negotiations. But we did come back and try to make something work, but it was too late. They already moved on."
The Islanders signed goalie Semyon Varlamov to a four-year contract Monday.
"We did everything we could earlier, as we did with all the other players, and unfortunately it did not work out," Islanders general manager Lou Lamoriello said.
"We developed, certainly without question, a special relationship from Day One. We have spoken and will continue to communicate. You never leave relationships or friendships. Unfortunately, things didn't work out for different reasons. We have to never look back, we have to go forward. But the personal relationship and how he's touched a lot of people and will continue to do that, he's a quality human being, certainly an outstanding goaltender, and we wish him the best."
Among NHL goalies with at least 10 games played, Lehner ranked second in save percentage (.930) and third in goals-against average (2.13). Lehner and Thomas Greiss won the William M. Jennings Trophy, awarded to the goalies on the team that allowed the fewest goals (196, including five shootout winners) during the regular season. Yet no team offered a long-term contract.
"I tried to get a longer-term deal [with the Islanders] but nothing else than two years was available to me," Lehner said. "It was never brought up or discussed or wasn't an option, and I respected that and went down to a two-year deal and tried to make it work. But they moved forward with another goalie. And good for them and I wish them the best of luck.
"I hope the organization has the best of luck going into next year. But I'm a Chicago Blackhawk now and I'm very, very excited for this opportunity with this great organization and great people and great players. I'm going to turn the page and move forward."
Chicago, which failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs the past two seasons, expressed interest late in the free agency interview period.
"I think what happened is, I don't think a lot of people in the League understood or knew that I was available," Lehner said. "And when that came to light, when Chicago reached out to my agent, it was very intriguing. It happened pretty quick over the last couple of days.
"We were still pretty much all in with Long Island, and they walked away. They didn't want to do anything and walked away with another goalie. So I looked over the options on the market, there were a couple of intriguing ones, and we had talks with some other teams. But as soon as I heard from Chicago I felt pretty good right away and told my agent that's what I wanted to zone in on."
Lehner won the Masterton Trophy, presented annually to the player voted to best exemplify the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to hockey. During training camp, Lehner revealed issues with addiction and a previously undiagnosed bipolar disorder.
"I'm just excited to keep proving myself, but now it's more just keep proving myself off the ice and being on the same good track I'm at, that I have full confidence I'll be for the rest of my career," he said. "I just want to win now, so it made a lot of sense to me, because it's a competitive team, and I want to be part of a winning team.
"A one-year deal makes sense on both parts. Obviously, everyone wants some type of security and term and stuff like that. I'd be lying if I said I didn't want that after the year I had, but again, I have no hesitations about my play and where I am as a goaltender."
NHL.com staff writer Tracey Myers contributed to this report
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