Stars Finally Have a Clearer Goaltending Picture

Heading into the 2021-22 season,  goaltending was far and away the biggest question facing the Dallas Stars. They had four NHL goalies on their roster in Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, Jake Oettinger, and newcomer Braden Holtby. Bishop’s future remained unknown, Khudobin and Holtby were coming off their worst seasons in the league, and Oettinger was just 22 years old with minimal experience. 

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While it took nearly two months of the season and was far from easy, the Stars seem to finally have a clear picture of their goaltending situation moving forward. 

Holtby & Oettinger Claim The Crease

This season began with Braden Holtby exceeding expectations in Dallas. Since then, other than a few bad games while dealing with an injury, that story has continued. Overall, Holtby has a 5-7-1 record with a 2.44 goals-against average (GAA) and a .922 save percentage but has played even better than that. He has shined on multiple occasions when Dallas has struggled, effectively keeping them afloat until they could find their game. Likely his top highlight this season was his 39-save performance, capped off with a highlight reel sequence of saves, in a win against the Carolina Hurricanes. 

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“He’s such a competitive guy. Like, there is no way he’ll ever quit on a shot. He won’t quit on a shot in practice,” Stars head coach Rick Bowness said. “He tries everything to stop every shot in practice, and that’s what you love about the guy and that’s why he’s had the tremendous career that he has.”

The 32-year-old veteran possesses the skill, leadership, and experience needed to have success at the NHL level. Although it is still a bit early, it seems that Holtby’s poor play in his final year in Washington, as well as last season in Vancouver, was simply a fluke. If so, Dallas snagged an elite goaltender for a fraction of the price this summer. 

For Jake Oettinger, this season was going to be a challenge. As the only goaltender on a two-way contract, he knew he would need to be that much better than his competition in order to obtain a roster spot. After beginning the season in the American Hockey League, he was given his chance when both Holtby and Khudobin were unable to play. Since then, the kid has sparkled with a 7-2-0 record, 2.24 GAA, and .922 save percentage, keeping him safely at the NHL level. 

“He’s very calm in the net, and he’s reading the play very well, his anticipation is right on, no rebounds, he’s swallowing pucks, he’s right on top of his game,” Bowness said.

Jake Oettinger Dallas Stars-Stars Finally Have a Clearer Goaltending Picture
Jake Oettinger, Dallas Stars (Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images)

Not only has he been the best goaltender for the Stars but he has also been the most consistent, a spectacular feat when compared to long-time NHL veterans. His constant calm demeanor and confidence continue to impress everyone surrounding the Stars and he has slowly begun to make noise around the league as well. 

Bishop Ends His Career 

Ben Bishops’ future remained unknown as we headed into this season. The 35-year-old goaltender has dealt with injuries his entire career and had not played an NHL game since the second round in the 2020 Edmonton bubble. After multiple knee surgeries and months of rehab, his chances of returning to the game became slimmer and slimmer. However, on Dec. 7, some hope was restored when Bishop was loaned to the Texas Stars on a conditioning assignment. 

With the news, Stars fans hoped he had finally had a breakthrough and would be ready to play once he returned to game speed. Unfortunately, that could not have been further from the truth. After just one game in the AHL, Bishop announced that he would be ending his hockey-playing career, effective immediately.

“One of the harder things is I get out there and I still feel pretty good in some of the practices and you feel you still have the skill to play in this league, but when your knee tells you you can’t, it’s tough,” Bishop said.

 The news was heartbreaking for everyone as Bishop has been nothing but a kind, caring, and impressive professional for both the Stars and NHL as a whole. While it is likely that he sticks around the game for a long time, he has suited up for the last time and will not return to the Stars lineup. 

Related: Stars News & Rumors: Ben Bishop & Anton Khudobin

Khudobin Hits Waivers 

Soon after the Bishop news broke, the Stars community was shocked again as it was announced that Anton Khudobin was being placed on waivers. It has been a tough season for Khudobin, who owns a 3-3-1 record and the worst save percentage in the league at .873. In fact, it has been tough for him to find his game since leading the Stars to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020. 

From COVID to injuries to disciplinary issues, the 35-year-old seemingly could never find his footing again. With a high $3.33 million salary-cap hit, he would have had to outplay all three other goaltenders by a wide margin to force the Stars to keep him in the crease. Unfortunately for Khudobin, that simply did not happen. 

Anton Khudobin Dallas Stars-Stars Finally Have a Clearer Goaltending Picture
Anton Khudobin, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

“Right now, those two guys are playing better than he had, and he’s just going to have to work hard,” Bowness said. “If he gets his name called again, be ready to go and take advantage of it. That’s all he can do, and he’s doing a good job of it.”

Related: What’s Next For Stars’ Goaltender Anton Khudobin?

The good news for Dallas in all of this? Khudobin cleared waivers and has been assigned to the AHL, where he will finally play some games and perhaps regain his confidence. While Jim Nill dismissed this being the end of his career in Dallas, it would be a long road back for him to find his way back into the Stars lineup. For now, all that he can do is play well for the Texas Stars and hope to catch the attention of the Stars staff or build up his potential trade value. Either way, it is a win-win for Dallas, who removed his hefty contract and can benefit from either result. 

Although this situation has become far clearer in recent weeks, the rollercoaster never seems to end with the Dallas Stars. The team hopes that both Oettinger and Holtby continue to play at an elite level so that they can count on that tandem for the foreseeable future. However, crazy things happen in this league so don’t be surprised if you see a big ol’ wrench thrown into those plans, once again shaking everything up just as it began to settle down. 

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