The Dallas Stars are in an interesting position with their goaltending. Ben Bishop remains on injured-reserve until early April, Anton Khudobin has filled in nicely, dating back to the 2020 playoffs, and rookie Jake Oettinger has impressed in nearly every game he has played. With Bishops’ return, what will the Stars’ goaltending look like going forward? How will their decisions be affected by the Seattle Expansion Draft? Finally, what is the best-case scenario for the team going forward?
Bishop has been the number one goalie for the Stars since being traded from the Los Angeles Kings in 2017. He was signed to a six-year deal that ends in 2023, when he would become an unrestricted free agent. He has performed exceptionally well for the Stars in his three seasons with 74 wins and a .923 save percentage.
The biggest issue for Bishop has been his injuries. At 34 years old, the 6-foot-7 netminder has endured more injuries than many other players in NHL history, missing close to 100 games to lower-body injuries alone. The Stars were worried about his injury issues early on, which led to them signing Anton Khudobin as a backup in 2018. The issues have not resided, and in fact, they have gotten worse since Bishop came to Dallas.
He missed extended time at the end of the 2017-18 season, causing the Stars to fall from a secure playoff spot to missing the playoffs. He missed the entire run to the Stanley Cup Final last season and will miss most of this season, as he is expected to return in April.
This is something that the Stars need to really look at when considering their options. However, when healthy, Bishop is a Vezina-caliber goaltender, there is no doubt about it. That makes their decisions even tougher.
Khudobin was brought in as a security blanket for Ben Bishop in 2018. Knowing that their starting goalie was likely to miss time due to injuries, the organization decided to add a very capable veteran backup. He has exceeded expectations on all levels. He has been an absolute road warrior in his time in Dallas, playing most of the tough road games and back-to-backs. He has played nearly half of the Stars games in his first two seasons and carries an identical .923 save percentage to Bishop. The most impressive part of Khudobins’ game is his ability to battle.
He is a smaller goaltender at 5’11, but he makes up for it with his competitive nature. He fights through screens and traffic and uses his athleticism to make the saves that bigger goalies can make with positioning. He undoubtedly shined brightest in the playoff bubble last season in Edmonton.
After starting his first-ever playoff game, he went on to play 24 of the team’s 27 playoff games. His 14 wins had the Stars within two wins of the Stanley Cup before falling in Game 6 to the Tampa Bay Lightning. Now coming as no surprise, he has once again filled in the starting role well so far this season in Bishops’ absence. At the age of 34, he is in the first year of his new three-year contract that would see him become an unrestricted free agent in 2023.
The youngest goalie for the Stars (22 years old) has dipped his toes into the NHL earlier than planned. When Bishop went down in the playoffs last season, Oettinger became the backup goalie and dressed for nearly every game during the Stanley Cup Final run. He also made his NHL debut in the Western Conference Final vs. the Vegas Golden Knights, coming in when the Stars were down big.
The experience of being with the team during those months in Edmonton has paid off for the kid. He has gotten his first real taste of the NHL this season playing in 10 games and starting eight of them. He recorded his first career win in his very first start versus Detroit in January and added his first shutout against Columbus on Saturday night.
The young goaltender shows composure and confidence in the net that has been noticed by his teammates and coaches. That presence allows his teammates to show that same confidence in him, which in turn, allows the whole team to play better hockey. He is in the second year of his three-year entry-level contract and would become a restricted free agent in 2022.
The Dallas goalie situation is even more crucial with the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft coming this summer. The Stars are in a position where they need to protect Bishop due to his contract, and Oettinger is not eligible to be picked, which leaves Khudobin exposed to the draft. With that being said, there are some other good goaltenders that could also be exposed around the league, such as Brayden Holtby, Anti Raanta, Jake Allen, James Reimer, and Pavel Francouz.
Would the Kraken want to take a chance on Khudobin with the possibility of picking a player like Jason Dickinson or Joe Pavelski instead? It will really depend on the other options that become available. It also depends on who the Stars choose not to protect. The way their lineup looks at this point, it appears that they will need to choose between Dickinson and Pavelski. Depending on the Kraken and the other goalies available, that choice could be the difference between Khudobin staying or leaving.
The Expansion Draft is a tough time for all teams exposed to it (Vegas is not). However, it can also play a massive role in the success of those teams following seasons. The Stars are left with a tough choice that comes down to their forwards. My belief is whichever forward is left exposed will be chosen by the Kraken. I do not think they would choose Khudobin, despite his success, when a pure scoring veteran or a young, proven, two-way forward are also available.
In this case, the Stars would be able to send Oettinger back down to the AHL, possibly until 2023, when both Bishop and Khudobin’s contracts expire. That would give the kid plenty of experience and allow him to develop even more into an elite goaltender. With Bishop being injured so often, I would feel nervous with Oettinger as his backup right away, despite the excellent play he has shown this season.
Now, the Stars would still be faced with a tough decision as we near the end of those contracts as to who they would re-sign if either of them. I believe Bishop’s time in Dallas will come to an end either in 2023 or earlier. It is also my belief that Oettinger is the future goalie for this team and could be ready as soon as next season.
The best-case scenario for the team is Bishop stays relatively healthy for at least this season, the Stars do not lose Khudobin to Seattle, Oettinger continues to develop, and they can find a trade for Bishop before his contract expires that brings a key player to Dallas in return.
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!