Unmotivated, overweight, constantly injured, unfocused, inconsistent, hamburgler. These are all adjectives used by the hockey blog and news-sphere when GM Joe traded our top defensive prospect of the time - Ivan Vishnevsky, to the Atlanta Thrashers for Kari Lehtonen.
Since coming to Dallas, Kari Lehtonen has made his critics feel stupid with his great play and on many nights has been the reason the Stars won or stayed in games they had no business staying in. He's been confident, consistent, committed to working hard and staying in shape, and extremely focused. He's been a huge steadying force and a leader on this year's Dallas Stars; that's why the rest of the Stars need to pick themselves up and produce.
One of the most demoralizing things for a goaltender can be working hard night in and night out only to lose because your team isn't doing the same for you. I think one of the most important things for his future and thus the near future of the stars is for the team to give him even more confidence. The only reason I could ever see Lehtonen regressing into his old bad habits is frustration that his hard work doesn't seem to be changing anything for the team.
In a way this is what happened to him in Atlanta. He had a very solid rookie year and in his second full year in the league he played 68 games and put the Thrashers team to the playoffs before the disappearance of their offensive lead to a 4-0 series loss to the Rangers. I see his health problems from the year after up until his trade to the stars as a product of this. He put the team on his back (reason for the back injuries? I kid) and they didn't do anything for him; from there he regressed into bad eating and work out habits which forced him to be healthy for no more than 48 games over his next 2-3 seasons. Being a young player I think it's extremely possible that from his point of view his work wasn't paying off which made him less motivated to work hard so he regressed. I think if the Stars keep playing like they are in front of him they are in danger of setting off similar events with him which will doom the Stars until Jack Campbell is ready to assume the number 1 position.
For me personally keeping this from happening again in Dallas is more important than making the playoffs this year because it would help ensure playoff contention for the Stars in the near future or at least make it a lot more possible for the stars to be a fixture in the NHL playoff bracket. I know from an organizational and casual fanbase standpoint it is extremely important for the Stars to make the playoffs this year and it's also extremely important to me. But if Lehtonen gets back into his old bad habits there won't be any hope of the playoffs for the next few years. The best way to ensure he doesn't do that besides keeping an eye on his habits with the coaches, trainers, and management, is for the team to help him win games rather than force him to win games for the team.
Don't take this as me saying I don't really care about this year's playoffs because that's the farthest thing from the truth I really really really want them to make the post-season, but it's very important for this team's future that Lehtonen doesn't get discouraged.