Dallas Stars: Addressing The Goalie Situation

Dec 8, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) replaces goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) in net during the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Hurricanes 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 8, 2015; Dallas, TX, USA; Dallas Stars goalie Antti Niemi (31) replaces goalie Kari Lehtonen (32) in net during the third period against the Carolina Hurricanes at the American Airlines Center. The Stars defeat the Hurricanes 6-5. Mandatory Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports /

The Dallas Stars will attempt put the finishing touches on their team this summer. In the process, they will need to evaluate their goaltenders.

Negative or positive, it was the talk before, during and after the season. The Dallas Stars had made a power move in the goaltending category–a position that has been questioned ever since the departure of Marty Turco in 2010.

GM Jim Nill pulled the trigger on an offseason trade that brought Antti Niemi to the Stars for the No. 193 pick in the draft. Alongside Kari Lehtonen, Niemi was set to be a major player on an improved team.

The two went on to play a split, and nearly identical, regular season. With no defined starter, they had the following stats:

  • Niemi: 43 games started, 2.67 GAA, 25-13-7 record, .905 SV%
  • Lehtonen: 39 games started, 2.76 GAA, 25-10-2 record, .906 SV%

The duo had taken turns in net, helping the Stars capture just the fourth 50-win season in franchise history.

Heading into the playoffs, the same process was expected to unfold, but this time around, it was not as successful as before. Sure the team went on to make it to the second round of the playoffs, registering seven wins during their run, but the losses were pretty bad, including four nights where the opposition scored five or more goals.

That led to some unimpressive numbers for the postseason:

  • Niemi: 3 games started, 3.29 GAA, 1-3-2 record, .865 SV%
  • Lehtonen: 10 games started, 2.81 GAA, 6-3-0 record, .899 SV%

This led to questions of what the future held for the goaltending duo. With the absence of Tyler Seguin and defensive issues, being eliminated in the playoffs wasn’t totally a result of who was in net, but the belief was that a better goaltender, or maybe just one consistent starter, could’ve led to more of “those” saves instead of a bad goal, further ensuring a blowout.

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Instead of competing in the Western Conference Finals, the Stars have now have a crucial offseason ahead, where ten different players will be on the market, including four key defensemen.

But what about the goalies on the team? The general feeling is that the Stars could have a new goaltender as early as next season, so how could that happen?

First off, it’s important to take current contracts into account. Both Lehtonen ($5.9 mil) and Niemi ($4.5 mil) are signed on through the 2017-18 season, so there’s no free agency decisions to be made for either for at least the next two years.

The 2016 goalie free agent market is headlined by Cam Ward (CAR), Ben Scrivens (MTL) and James Reimer (SJ). None of these goalies provide that much excitement, in terms of providing season-long consistency and supporting a playoff run.

That means the most likely option would be to trade for a new goalie. With the season still going, there’s not many rumors flying around, but Mike Heika of SportsDay responded to someone on Twitter asking for examples of teams the Stars could potentially talk deals with.

For Tampa Bay, both Ben Bishop and Andrei Vasilevskiy could be on the market, as both have had good showings in the playoffs this season. In Pittsburgh, there’s a similar situation. Rookie Matt Murray has been impressive in the playoffs, meaning the injured Marc-Andre Fleury could be available.

Anaheim could be willing to trade John Gibson. Jimmy Howard‘s name has been linked to rumors coming out of Detroit while Ottawa’s duo of Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond could draw some interest. Lastly, Michal Neuvirth, from Philadelphia could be an option with Steve Mason leading the charge.

One rumor I’d like to address is Henrik Lundqvist. There’s been rumors about him possibly being traded, but let’s be real, as arguably the best goaltender in the league today, there’s no way the Rangers would even consider trading him. Plus, who would want to deal with his $8.5 million cap hit?

However, on the other side of things, you can never count out a bold move with how aggressive Jim Nill has been the past three summers. I’m not saying Lundqvist is an option–because he’s not–but Nill has the ability to find players that you’d never expect to see in a Stars’ jersey.

While it’s fun to talk about a new player, we also have to look within the team. The Stars defense was quite bad at times throughout the season. It was a big issue throughout the second round and one of the reasons why they were beat 6-1 in Game 7.

With Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Kris Russell and Jordie Benn set to become free agents this summer, we could see a very different blue line next season–one that contains lots of youth. John Klingberg will be back along with Stephen Johns while Esa Lindell is ready to move to the NHL and Julius Honka is close.

A new-look defense could help improve the goaltending and could mean that both Lehtonen and Niemi stay in victory green for next season. Then the team could use the trade deadline if things still don’t work out.

Since 2010-11, both goalies have recorded at least 25 wins in five out of six seasons. Sometimes they just need fresh help around the net to make things better.

If trading ever becomes the answer, you then have to consider who would be a better option to trade. With Lehtonen’s bigger contract and his familiarity with the franchise, I would think Niemi would be the one to move.

Overall, you have to think about it this way: would the goalie be capable of leading a playoff run to the Cup? I believe both goalies on the team right now are capable of doing just that. Niemi did it in 2009-10 and Lehtonen showed signs, like Game 6 against the Blues, for example.

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Overall, I think the goalie situation provides two different paths, both with positives and negatives. Trading for a new goalie gives the team a new start in net while keeping the current duo makes things easier this summer. It all comes down to making the right decision, which is something the front office has been good at in the last few seasons.