The Future of Jere Lehtinen



With all the hubub about Mike Modano this summer, the future of Jere Lehtinen flew under the radar a bit this offseason.

Yesterday, Mike Heika posted an update on his status for the upcoming season. In a nutshell, he's no closer to making a decision than he was at the end of last season.

He said he has thought a lot about the injuries and about how he has had to push his body through some tough things, and he's still not sure he's ready to do that again. He just got back to North Texas late last week and spent a hectic day taking the kids to the first day of school on Monday, so he has not been working out or skating.

Heika notes that Lehtinen and Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk are expected to meet today to discuss Lehtinen's future. And unlike at the center position where a logjam of current players such as Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro, and Steve Ott combined with a glut of up and coming younger players like Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell was blamed, in part, for the decision to not offer Mike Modano a contract this upcoming season, the Stars don't have that issue at the right wing position.

Currently, Adam Burish, Krys Barch, and Brandon Segal are the only true right wings on the Stars roster. And according to Hockey's Future, Scott Glennie, Alex Chiasson, and Tomas Vincour are the organizations three top prospects at that position. And if you're all about the ability to interchange positions amongst wingers, we'll throw Curtis McKenzie into this mix as well.

While those four players take up four of the top seven spots on HF's list, none of them are remotely ready to make that jump to the NHL. The top prospect, Glennie, isn't even eligible to play in the AHL until next season.

 

On the other side of the coin, though, the Stars have had plenty of experience over the past few years playing without their veteran Finnish right winger in the lineup. Since playing in 73 games in the 2006-07 season, Lehtinen missed 39 games each in 2007-08 and 2008-09 and missed 29 games last season.

And last season accounted for Lehtinen's lowest offensive output (4 G, 13 A, 17 Pts) since the 1999-00 season when he missed a good chunk of the season battling ailments stemming from a fractured ankle early on. That year, Lehtinen only scored three goals and posted five assists in 17 games.

 

His absences have created opportunities for guys like Brandon Segal and Brian Sutherby to shine the past few seasons, which creates a rather unique situation for the Stars and Nieuwendyk.

Lehtinen's been a coach's dream of a player his entire career in Dallas. You never hear him complain and you never question his work ethic when he's out on the ice. And just as the Stars of the late 90's and early 00's needed Lehtinen's hard work and hockey smarts, so to could the rebuilding 2009-10 Dallas Stars benefit from Lehtinen's infectious work ethic.

All that having been said, there isn't a single Stars fan, IMO, that would blame Lehtinen if he decided to hang them up. He's had a rough three year stretch from a health standpoint. And even as durable and resilient as Lehtinen has been, every player has a limit, both physically and mentally. If Lehtinen hasn't reached that limit, it's clear he's getting close to it.

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