#31 / Goalie / Dallas Stars
Jan 21, 1984
Acquired: Stars' Second Round Selection (34th overall) in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft.
2008 Salary: $485,000
Status: Restricted Free Agent
The Dallas Stars have always taken pride in the ability to find quality backup goaltenders, most of whom become successful starters elsewhere in the NHL. Roman Turek, Manny Fernandez, Dan Ellis, and Arturs Irbe were all backups that started their careers with the Stars franchise and enjoyed the number one spot with other teams. The past few seasons, Mike Smith was the netminder-in-waiting but he was lost in the trade that brought Brad Richards to the Stars from Tampa Bay.
Now the team must make a difficult decision regarding their current backup, and whether he will return to the team next season.
Tobias Stephan made a sparkling NHL debut for the Stars in October, 2007 when he was urgently recalled from the AHL and pressed into starting against the Chicago Blackhawks. Making 38 spectacular saves, he maintained a shutout until the Blackhawks scored with the two-man advantage with just 1.5 seconds remaining to tie the game at one. Still on the penalty kill in overtime, Stephan allowed his second goal in just 45 seconds as the Stars lost 2-1.
Despite the loss, the promising debut of Stephan and his solid numbers in the AHL (2.65 GAA, .910 Sv% and six shoutouts in 2007-2008) gave the Stars the confidence they needed that they could trade Mike Smith to Tampa Bay and still feel comfortable with their backup situation in the future.
Unfortunately, Stephan had a less than stellar training camp prior to the 2008 season and failed to give the coaching staff the feeling that he could perform as a full-time, capable backup goaltender.
Mart Turco made a career high 74 starts this past season, with Stephan making just five, going 1-3-1 in the process. The team was struggling to rebound from an abysmal start to the season and needed top play from their netminders in order to help the climb up the standings. With Stephan unable to show any consistency in net, the coaches decided it was best for the team to ride Turco as long as possible.
The Stars did send Stephan down to the AHL in February in order for him to get playing time and hopefully restore his confidence. With the , Stephan was able to get back rhythm between the pipes and returned to the NHL and the Stars seemingly ready to step back in as the solid backup it had hoped he would be. In five games with Bridgeport in the AHL, Stephan had a 4-0-1 record with a 1.91 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage.
In his first start after returning from the AHL, Stephan allowed four goals on 23 shots against the Pittsburgh Penguins. In his final start of the season, he gave up six goals in an overtime loss to the Pheonix Coyotes. The confidence and good feelings he had built in his short time with Bridgeport had evaporated instantaneously.
So what do the Stars need to do about their backup goaltender?
The biggest tell as to how they feel about Stephan was when the team recalled Matt Climie from the ECHL to make the three starts in the final four games of the season with Marty Turco injured. It was a prime opportunity to see what Stephan could do if if he made several starts in a row, and the coaching staff didn't even give him the chance to prove himself.
That turn of events at the end of the season gives you a pretty good idea about whether the Stars plan on making Stephan an offer. But if they decided not to tender him a deal, what other options are available for the Stars at backup goaltender?
There are several young, promising netminders coming up in the Stars' system most notably Richard Backman out of Colorado College. Matt Climie is also to be in the mix (provided the Stars tender him an offer as well), but both players need at least a year of experience in the AHL before they should even be considered as a full-time backup.
The Stars are also going after Swedish free agent Jonas Gustavsson, the sensational netminder that led his team to the Swedish Elite League championship this past season. With Gustavsson only able to sign an entry-level contract, the bidding will depend on which team can ensure him of the best opportunity to become a starting goalie as soon as possible. It's doubtful the Stars can compete with Marty Turco still under contract.
Most likely the Stars would turn to free agency and sign a veteran goalie, such as when they brought in Johan Hedberg to backup Turco a few years back.
But if no viable option remains and the Stars feel they will be even more uncertain at backup in 2009 as they were this past season, they may feel trying to keep Stephan is their best option. But even if the Stars do want to sign him, chances are Stephan may not want to return.
It's thought that after a rough season in the NHL and without his coaches having any confidence in his abilities Stephan may return to his native country of Switzerland, where he has enjoyed success before.
It's unfortunate what happened this year with Tobias Stephan. A poor training camp led to the team grossly mishandling the backup goaltender situation and it may lead to him leaving the NHL. Yet it's obvious that without a backup goaltender the Stars can rely on for 20-25 games a season, Marty Turco just isn't the top netminder the team needs him to be. Stephan is not that goalie.