The goaltending position for the Dallas Stars has been a topic of discussion throughout the entire offseason. After last season concluded, they had three NHL-caliber goalies in Ben Bishop, Anton Khudobin, and Jake Oettinger. However, things became even more blurry when general manager Jim Nill added veteran Braden Holtby to the mix in free agency. With Bishop’s status unknown, as he continues rehabbing from injury, Nill opted to add further depth to the position. The coaching staff stated that they hoped one goalie would step up and take the starting role in the preseason, making their decision easier. Unfortunately, it has been the weakest position so far and the situation remains wide open.
Bishop Unlikely to Be Ready
The biggest piece of clarity in this situation came with the health of Bishop. Heading into training camp, it seemed likely he would not be ready to begin the season. After taking part in camp and feeling good, he will continue to work towards a return but has yet to be cleared to play.
Bishop has not played since the second round of the 2020 playoffs but is determined to return at some point this season.
“Yeah, absolutely. That’s the goal. It’s a process and I don’t want to look too far ahead, but that’s the plan. That’s the goal.”– Stars goaltender Ben Bishop
Khudobins’ Poor Statistics
Khudobin was the frontrunner for the position heading into this season. He backstopped the Stars run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020 and has had an excellent career. However, following a bout with COVID and an arm injury, he struggled last season. While his numbers were not awful, he did not consistently make the saves needed to help his team win. This season, his expectations were high as he came into camp in better shape and fully recovered from COVID.
“Anton looks really good. He’s in better shape this year. He didn’t fight COVID like he did last year, and he’s in better shape. He’s lost some weight, and he looks a lot sharper too.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
However, things have not gone well for the 35-year-old to this point. While he has only played one game, he holds an outrageous 5.15 goals-against average (GAA) and .857 save percentage (SV%) in the preseason. Both of these numbers are well below what is expected and will not nearly be enough to earn the starting job. While it is likely he will see one more start in the final two games, he needs to exceed expectations to give himself a chance for opening night.
Oettinger Not Doing Enough
One of the biggest surprises last season came in the form of rookie Oettinger. With Bishop injured, Oettinger was given the chance to play significant minutes along with Khudobin. Not only did he play beyond his years but he seemingly stole the starting job from Khudobin. With three veteran goalies ahead of him and a contract that allows him to move down to the American Hockey League (AHL), he knew he needed to be special in order to make the roster to start the season.
“I don’t really think there are a lot of changes for me. I’m really confident in my game and what I did last year, and I’m just going to continue to build on that. I think I have a lot in the tank and I can help this team win. Now, it’s my turn to go out and prove that. They’re giving me an opportunity to earn my spot, and that’s all I can ask for.”– Stars goaltender Jake Oettinger
In three games this preseason, Oettinger holds a 2.86 GAA and .879 SV%. While these numbers are better than Khudobin’s, they remain far below what is needed from this team. Unfortunately for Oettinger, he may not get another chance to prove he is ready. With only two games remaining, he has already played the most minutes among all goalies. If he does play again, he will need to make a statement although it seems likely he is heading to the AHL to start the season.
Holtby Is the Shining Star
Heading into the preseason game on Tuesday night, there was little clarity on the Stars’ goaltending situation. In fact, Rick Bowness was unable to hide his disappointment when asked about the position.
“No. Not at this point. Anyways, they’re going to get full games. We’ve got three to go, and we’ll figure it out.”– Stars Head Coach Rick Bowness, when asked if he had more clarity regarding his goaltenders
Holtby played the full game against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday and finally provided some insight. In the Stars 3-1 win, he put together a strong 27-save performance at the American Airlines Center. This pushed his numbers to a 1.20 GAA and .954 SV% in 100 minutes of exhibition hockey.
“He was great. He played a very good game. We love his poise, we love his ability to handle the puck, he gets it and moves it right away in the right spots. He was really, really good, so we’re very thrilled with what we saw tonight.”– Stars Head Coach Rick Bowness
Holtby is a proven winner with a Stanley Cup and Vezina Trophy under his belt. After struggling the past two seasons, Dallas believed he could return to form in their defensive system. Not only has he performed well but his professionalism and hard work have been noticed by every member of the team.
“Knowing he’s got this opportunity here, every day he comes in and grinds and competes. He’s a good goalie and we’re blessed to have four awesome goalies. That’s a blessing for our organization. Competition is always good.”– Stars forward Tyler Seguin
While the goaltending situation for the Stars remains wide open, there seems to be a bit more clarity than we saw this summer. With Bishop likely to miss the beginning of the season, it is up to the other three goalies to earn their spot. So far, Holtby has been the best among the three and would likely be the starter if the season started today. However, with two preseason games remaining, the job is still very much up for grabs.
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!