How Many Games Should Kari Lehtonen Start?

Now that it seems as if the Dallas Stars are going to be sticking with Marty Turco for the rest of this season, a couple more difficult situations present themselves. It's obvious that the Stars are doing their best to build this team not only for the future, but to also put them themselves in the best overall situation for this season as well. The fact that Marty Turco most likely had little to no trade value helped focus their decision-making, yet it's also a factor of the Stars placement in the standing heading out of the Olympic break.

So now that the Stars will be going with Marty Turco and Kari Lehtonen for the remainder of the season, it's now a question of just how much time will be split between the two goaltenders. Because with the Stars so obviously focused on success this season (as they should be), they also need to get their supposed Goaltender Of The Future onto the ice as well.

There is some hesitation however, in just throwing Lehtonen to the wolves. He has yet to play a game in the NHL this season and while he states that he is perfectly fine and healthy, there is certainly going to be an adjustment period for him. Yet if the Stars are truly vying for a playoff spot, they're going to want their best goaltender out on the ice at all times; despite Lehtonen being the future, right now for the Stars that's Marty Turco.

So there's a couple of ways this could play out.

First, Lehtonen gets the starts that would have naturally gone to Alex Auld. The month of March is going to be brutal for the Stars, as they play pretty much every other day for about 40 days straight. There are a few days off scattered about, but they're offset by a couple of back-to-back games. Using what we've seen this season from the Stars and Marc Crawford, generally Turco would start one game and then Auld (Lehtonen) would start the other. With 21 games remaining in the season, and two back-to-backs on the schedule, you'd most likely see something like a 16-5 split in favor of Turco.

There could also be a near-even split between the two, as the Stars work to get Lehtonen back into top playing form. This could result in a 13-8 or even 12-9 split, as there is very little time left in the season for the Stars to really evaluate just where Lehtonen stands as a Dallas Stars goaltender.

Remember, Lehtonen is going to be a restricted free agent this summer and the Stars have no other goaltenders under contract for next season. Even Matt Climie and Brent Krahn are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents. How Lehtonen performs for the remainder of the season, especially when every single game is so important, will give the team an idea of the type of backup they'll need to pursue. Even then, it's not a great projection of the player Lehtonen will be next season, but it's a good indicator of where he is overall.

The trade for Lehtonen was a gamble, and this is part of the chance that Nieuwendyk took when he made the trade. The Stars have absolutely no clue how he'll perform in the NHL after all of this time off; they'll need to get some idea before the offseason starts.

There are other factors that will go into playing time of course. Marty Turco could go back to his inconsistent play of December and January and force the Stars to play Lehtonen more, especially if they fall out of the playoff hunt. The opposite is true as well; Turco could play so well and the Stars get right into the thick of the standings that they'll have to ride him as much as they can. Hopefully, Lehtonen plays so well the Stars will have no choice but to give him more playing time.

No matter what situation the team finds themselves in, Kari Lehtonen is going to have to play. That was the reality the team bought for itself when they made the trade and put Auld on waivers. And there's a good chance that Lehtonen is going to struggle, and cost this team some valuable points in the playoff hunt. Yet no matter what that might cost them this season, Lehtonen is here for the future and the Stars have to get a good read on that future as soon as possible.

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