As this slow train to nowhere makes it's final few stops on the 2009-2010 track, we've spent a lot of time talking about Marty Turco's inevitable exit, and Mike Modano's uncertain future with the team. A guy who often gets forgotten in the mix is Jere Lehtinen, who's deal expires once again this summer. The Tom Hicks influenced financials of this team obscure Jere's future as much as they do the other two, yet few seem to be aware of it.
We've tallied the numbers time and time again on this blog, starting with last off-season. We've talked about the $45 million internal budget imposed this year, last year, and presumably next year. We've talked about re-signing Eriksson and Robidas, which has been done. Steve Ott's contract had his time in the sun, ultimately earning a seemingly improbably extension. Next up are James Neal, Nick Grossman and Tom Wandell to name a few. And let's not forget Kari Lehtonen who, according to the CBA, must be offered in the vicinity of 100% of his prior deal, meaning $3 million.
Add it all up and the Stars are strapped for cash as much, or worse than any team in the league. Aging forwards who have produced only 3 goals, are often injured, and don't warrant top 6 minutes many nights could be on the chopping block this off-season. Even those that should have their jersey retired when it's all said and done.
We're anticipating a last game for Mikey Mo. We hope to say a proper goodbye to Turco. Perhaps we should spare some love for old yellow-laces before it's too late, no?
It's really a very fitting chapter in the Jere Lehtinen saga. He's an important part of the puzzle that doesn't always get talked about, just like now. Even at 36 years of age and as brittle as Tiger Woods' Cadillac windshield, Lehtinen gets it done night in and night out, even if "getting it done" doesn't mean the same thing it used to. 3 goals, 10 assists and 50 games played isn't quite up to par for the career 20+ goal guy (He twice topped 30 goals) but he's an important, hard working part of a relatively young locker room, and until Brandon Seagal's arrival, he was the ONLY right handed shot in the forward lineup.
He may not score like he used to, but his intangibles are still there. One need only witness a tweet from Ralph Strangis this week in San Jose:
Off day skate in San Jose - per usual Jere first on the ice. I hope the young guys are paying attention. http://tweetphoto.com/15653382
His hard work and dedication continue to this day, but Joe Nieuwendyk is dealing from one of the most pathetic decks in the league these days, and he has to make a choice between this kind of veteran leadership and cheaper alternatives coming from Austin and the Texas Stars.
Jere earned $4 million a year on his last deal, lowered to a home-discount friendly $1.5 million with a $1 million bonus this season. $2.5 million seemed like an appropriate step down at the time, but his lowered production and oft-injured status combined with lack of meaningful "top-six-like" contribution make a cash strapped team think twice.
I'm not saying that Jere Lehtinen isn't a unique commodity. He is. (Fun Fact: This season will likely be the first minus (-7) in his entire NHL career.) He deserves every shred of loyalty this franchise can give him, but if he should want to stay, he will have to take even deeper cuts in salary to make it happen. Sergei Zubov thought he was worth more than Gm Joe was willing (or able) to give. We know how that ended up. Are we prepared (emotionally?) to see the same happen with Jere?
The thing is, this time it won't be the blissfully out-of-sight, out-of-mind KHL. It could possibly be Jere Lehtinen in another NHL uniform. In a perfect world, they'd pay him as many times as he wanted and he'd be a Star for life.We just need to be prepared for the possibility that it might not happen that way.
The Jere Lehtinen jersey at the American Airlines Center is not one seen in great abundance lately. Marty Turco, Steve Ott, Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, Mike Modano... these are the names on the backs of fans. Jere Lehtinen and his litany of outstanding contributions are sometimes taken for granted in Big D.
I'm not saying that he's gone next year. I hope he's not. But leht's (see what I did there?) make sure that just in case, we don't take his final games here for granted as well.
Jere by the Numbers:
- 242 Goals, 268 Assists, 510 Points.
- NHL All-Star 1998, 2002
- Selke Trophy Winner: 1998, 1999, 2003.
- One of only six players in Olympic history to win 4 medals.
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