Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi will form a starting tag-team in goal for the Dallas Stars in the upcoming 2015-16 season.
The Dallas Stars have had a very eventful offseason, adding goal scorers, defensemen, and even a second starting goalie. While all additions look to add significant value to the playoff-aspiring Stars, it’s the extra netminder who may make the biggest difference.
In one of their first big moves of the offseason, the Dallas Stars acquired goaltender, Antti Niemi from the Sharks. Kari Lehtonen, the incumbent starter, struggled last season. The reasons for Kari’s struggles vary considerably depending on who you speak to.
Some cite the young and inexperienced defensemen in front of Kari to explain Lehtonen’s decline last season. Others blame the lack of depth behind Kari, and the heavy workload he was (once again) asked to carry. Still, some simply say he wasn’t pushing himself enough.
The real answer is probably a little bit of all of the above.
"“I hear everybody talk about Kari’s year and how bad he was, but he still had 34 wins,” Reese said. “Now I know there are areas for improvement from what I hear and even Kari admits it himself, but 34 wins is not a bad year.”"
The 34 wins were more a result of a heavy workload than top-notch goaltending. Too many games were lost because of easy goals last season. Chalk it up to fatigue, concentration, poor team play – whatever. The fact was, the Stars’ goaltending was all too often, poor.
"“Right now, we’ve got two veteran guys,” Reese said. “It’s going to make my job a lot easier, and it’s a nice situation for me to come into, no question. You’ve got two number one goalies that can play a lot of games and give you a chance to win every night. I am pretty excited about that.”"
Everyone in Dallas should be excited about the move as well. Not because Antti Niemi is going to necessarily light the Stars on fire, and take them to the Stanley Cup. But because the addition of a proven goalie, like Niemi, is what Kari Lehtonen needs to be successful again.
"“Kari had an off year,” owner Tom Gaglardi said. “And while we don’t think that will happen again, our backups haven’t been good enough since I’ve been here.”"
The thinking is Kari has been great once before, he can be great once again. The Stars have wheeled and dealed their way into building a dynamic roster of young playmakers and veteran leadership. They boast a handful of the NHL’s best players under 26. They had to act, and the more time we have to ponder this move, the better it seems.
The Dallas Stars see their window of opportunity wide open right now. They have talent and depth and if they can find a strong presence in goal, they have the ability to truly contend this season.
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Adding another starter to team with Kari isn’t without its risk. Kari can respond a number of ways to this: It can inspire and encourage him to up his game in 2015-16, or it can frustrate, offend, or discourage him. All indications say it will do the former rather than the latter, but we won’t truly know until the season starts and he’s experienced personal peaks and valleys in his play.
"“I think the key to the Niemi deal is that he is a Finn, and he and Kari know each other,” explained Gaglardi. “I think they are going to work well together…He’s a very mentally tough guy, and he’s won. I think we’re in good shape.”"
Maintaining a healthy relationship may be nice, but it’s far from necessary in this success model. The Dallas Stars, more than anything, increased their chances of riding a “hot goalie”. With a steady rotation that searches for the “hot hand”, the Stars can ride hot streak after hot streak and not be forced to play out of slumps, like so many seasons before.
General Manager Jim Nill spoke to the Ticket a couple weeks ago and had this to say,
"“I really believe it’s becoming a two-goalie league. It’s hard for one goalie, with all of this travel and back-to-backs. The league is so close. If you can win an extra two or three games because you have a rested, healthy, very competitive #1 goalie that you can put in any time, it’s going to make a big difference.”"
And that’s what the Stars need out of their goaltenders this season. If they can get something close to a 50/50 split in games played, then they can probably keep both rested and healthy for the season. Once the playoffs start it’s anyone’s guess how time will be split, but for now, let’s keep the horse ahead of the cart and get this team back to the playoffs.
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