The Dallas Stars have entered their third offseason with Jim Nill as the General Manager, and the main topic of discussion around the Stars has been the goaltending issue.
When July 1st hits, Kari Lehtonen will be the only NHL-caliber goalie on contract in Dallas as Jhonas Enroth will be hitting free agency and Jack Campbell and Jussi Rynnas do not appear ready to take on the backup role. Nill has a lot of thinking to do between now and then, so let’s consider some of the options he will have.
This option seems like the least likely route Nill will take, but it is a possibility. Lehtonen has three years left on his deal that comes with a $5.9M cap hit. Most teams probably aren’t willing to make a trade for a guy who is coming off one of his worst career seasons at that cap hit. Even if they do, the value of Lehtonen is at an all-time low. The Stars wouldn’t be getting anyone in return that can help the team now unless they do a goalie swap with another team that has a under-achieving goaltender with a high price tag.
Mike Smith, Cam Ward and Ryan Miller are names that come to mind but none of them are going to be significant upgrades over Lehtonen, if they are upgrades at all. In fact, of those four players, Lehtonen had the highest save percentage at even-strength. As far as a trade option goes, the Stars are looking at not being able to move Lehtonen at all due to his cap hit or not get a significant return if he was traded. I highly doubt Lehtonen gets traded before the season.
Keep Him and Acquire a Backup Who Has Starter-Potential
Of all the options the Stars have when it comes to goaltending, this appears to be the most likely. The best free agent options in July will be Antti Niemi, Karri Ramo, Victor Fasth and Jhonas Enroth. Both Ramo and Enroth are young and show starter potential while Niemi and Fasth are aging and seem to be trending down. There is also the trade option and a few names could be available this offseason. Eddie Lack has played well behind Ryan Miller and could push Lehtonen to be better or Lack could take over the starting job himself.
A few other players come to mind like Cam Talbot in New York, Martin Jones in Los Angeles and Robin Lehner in Ottawa. All of them will likely command a high draft pick and a good prospect. Could Jamie Oleksiak or Jyrki Jokipakka be used as a bargaining chip for one of these goalies? Maybe. None of them will come cheap, but they all have the potential to pressure Lehtonen to outperform them to keep his job. That is something that Dallas hasn’t had in quite some time.
Bank on Lehtonen Bouncing Back
Last season was Lehtonen’s worst as a Star and nobody is questioning that. Most fans around the league see the Western Conference’s best at scoring goals and wonder how they couldn’t even manage to make the postseason. Lehtonen is shouldering a majority of the blame now, but let’s not forget the goalie he was not that long ago. Just the season before, fans saw Lehtonen steal games with a 40+ save performance or a ridiculous sprawling save. At age 31 he certainly isn’t getting any younger but that isn’t to say he isn’t a capable starter anymore. If Nill is unable to acquire a quality backup, Lehtonen becomes the X-factor on the Stars. The season will ride on his performances, no matter how good the team in front of him is.
What is the Best Option?
For the price and the situation, the best option seems to be acquiring a proven backup who could become the starter in Dallas. The free agent market is thin, as goalies like Niemi are trending downwards while players like Ramo will command more money than the Stars are likely wanting to spend. The best outcome for the Stars in my mind is acquiring Eddie Lack.
He just screams future starter and will finally give the Stars a capable backup to lessen the amount of games Lehtonen plays each season. It has been reported that the Vancouver Canucks are looking for a second-round pick in return, which would be more than worth it for the Stars and could become a steal in future seasons. The Stars cannot afford to waste another year of this outstanding offense, they have to acquire somebody who will solidify the goaltending position.
Jordan has been covering the Stars for The Hockey Writers since February 2015. He is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. You can follow Jordan on twitter @jordan_dix