As a story that has been building for months but is now starting to climb towards an inevitable crescendo, there has been no shortage of news lately about the Ottawa Senators’ goaltending situation.
It’s no secret as to why. With Craig Anderson, Robin Lehner and Andrew Hammond all signed and NHL-ready, and with the highly sought-after college free agent goalie Matt O’Connor recently deciding to sign with the Sens, positional logjam has formed in Canada’s capital.
Trade talk has, not surprisingly, followed in abundance, as reported by NHL.com:
“I think we have identified and know the teams now that are looking, that are serious about looking,” said Senators general manager Bryan Murray. “I think that over the next week or two I’m probably going to get as good an offer as I’m going to get and I’ll have to make a call at some point here, hopefully before the draft (June 26-27). But it doesn’t have to be then; it can be around training camp if that’s what it leads to.”
All of this information has certainly caught the attention of Dallas Stars fans.
The Stars organization is currently stuck at a bit of a crossroads with their goaltending, which I wrote about back in February. Kari Lehtonen, the team’s number one goalie, struggled heavily last season, finishing with a disappointing .903 save percentage, well below average for starting netminders. Making matters more difficult is that Lehtonen is locked up for a few more years at a hefty cap hit of $5.9 million per year, meaning that the Stars have a lot invested in him.
With Lehtonen struggling there is now a dire need for the team to have stability behind him in the backup position. Jhonas Enroth, who was picked up before the trade deadline last season to be the team’s new backup, is an unrestricted free agent and looks like he’ll be exploring his options on the open market. Dallas has Jussi Rynnas, Jack Campbell, and now 2015 CHL Goaltender of the Year Philippe Desrosiers in the minors next season, but none of the three seem like they’re ready to be the steadying insurance policy that the Stars are looking for.
The organization could, and very possibly might, dip into free agency to fill the hole, with Enroth, Karri Ramo and even Antti Niemi as possibilities, but the trade market offers the Stars more options and certainty.
Which brings us back to Ottawa’s Lehner.
To put it bluntly, Lehner is the exact type of goalie that the Stars should be targeting right now. He’s had a couple of tough years, largely because of injury, but he still remains one of the NHL’s top young goaltenders. The 23-year-old Swede already has five years of experience in the pros and has the potential to develop into a number one goalie at the league’s highest level, possibly as early as next season if all the chips fall nicely into place.
In Dallas he’d not only be able to assume a regular starting role behind Lehtonen, but he’d also be in a perfect position to take over the job permanently once Lehtonen’s contract expires at the end of the 2019 season. With Lehner leading the way and one of Campbell and Desrosiers likely behind him, the Stars would hypothetically be set in net for years to come.
There’s no guarantee that the Sens would trade Lehner to Dallas, especially since there are already numerous teams inquiring about his availability, but the Stars would be doing themselves a serious disservice if they aren’t kicking all the appropriate tires right now.