The Dallas Stars will spend the summer looking at improving themselves. They'll look at the forward group, the defense, the coaching staff, the power play - They'll look at nearly everything to try to get this team over the hump and into the playoffs next year.
If there's one area on which they'll spend hardly any time at all, however, it's in goal. They shored that up during the season with the addition of rookie Richard Bachman, who looks poised to apply this season's lessons toward giving the Stars more from the backup position than they received from Andrew Raycroft, Alex Auld or Tobias Stephan in recent years.
"What didn't I learn?" quipped Bachman after being asked what he learned this season as the Stars cleaned out their lockers last week in Frisco, TX.
"I learned a lot this year. I came in, played a bunch right away, just tried to learn the NHL game - the speed, the shots, the preparation."
Learn it he did. Bachman posted an 8-5-1 record on the year with a .910 save percentage and a 2.77 goals against average, to go along with a single shutout. Most of the wins were recorded as Kari Lehtonen fought a groin injury in November and December.
"Then I switched my role to a backup role, which I was pretty unfamiliar with," said Bachman of Lehtonen's return. "And so just learning how to prepare and be ready to go at the drop of a hat was also one of the really big things I took from this year."
Bachman, pending a new contract and what figures to be a competitive training camp, will succeed Raycroft, who started this season 2-8-0 with Dallas and ended it watching Jack Campbell and Tyler Beskorowany play down the stretch in Cedar Park. The Stars' front office and fan-base alike hope that a full season of "The Biz" in net will be one of many improvements helping the team find the 5 or 6 additional points they so desperately crave.
After the jump - Much more on Bachman's year, and what do the Stars need from the backup position to make the playoffs next year?
Bachman was asked about practice time being a backup's primary tool for preparation.
"I think it's important. It doesn't matter what position you are, who you are - I think you see with a lot of the older guys here, they're playing every night and they're still staying on the ice for an extra 15-20 minutes working on their hands or shot. So they're a good example to learn from how you just have to work and keep trying to get better because there's always people that want your job."
Down the stretch Bachman was solid when called upon, going 3-3-1 as the true "backup" net-minder after Kari Lehtonen returned to the lineup.
From the All-Star break until such time Dallas was eliminated from the playoffs, Bachman went 2-2-0, collecting huge wins in Chicago and Vancouver along the way before falling to the Jets and Blues down the stretch. To be fair, in neither of those games could he have done much to change the lopsided outcomes for his team.
Bachman gained a reputation as a bit of a road-warrior as the season wore on, (though the sample size is really quite small at this point) and the gravity of those situations did not escape him as he piloted the Stars through some tough nights.
"I got to play in some pretty cool ones," Bachman said of the venues he played this season. "I look back and it's almost shocking thinking about where I played the last couple of months."
12 of his 18 appearances this year were on the road. He was 3-1-1 at American Airlines Center as a starter, not including the last game of the year - Which we'll throw out because of the circumstances and scratches.
Is a successful backup net-minder necessary to make the playoffs in the West? Evidence this year suggests that it isn't always, but it can't hurt...
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A goaltenders record is largely dependent on the team in front of him, of course, but you get the point. Andrew Raycroft accounted for just two of those ten wins, and eight of the losses. He played in some tough spots, usually on the road on the second night of a back-to-back, but Dallas needed more and made the switch accordingly.
The Blues and Canucks obviously split their duties pretty heavily, while teams like the Kings, Coyotes and Predators chose to to ride their horses in goal. Where do the Stars fall in this formula if they're to make the playoffs?
The 9-7-1 production San Jose got from their backup position is probably ideal in number of games and outcome.
They'd still probably rather limit Lehtonen to around 65-67 starts at the most, even with his enormous strides in conditioning since arriving in Frisco. He has proven himself to be an elite goaltender when healthy, and it will fall to Richard Bachman next year to see that it continues. Could Lehtonen turn into one of these Quick or Rinne types next year? It's possible, but unlikely. Dallas needs healthy production from the backup spot to manage Lehtonen's health.
Assuming Richard Bachman will be that backup has it's own inherent dangers, of course. He needs a new contract this year as an RFA, and if he signs a two-way deal (somewhat unlikely) then the competition could be on to backup Kari Lehtonen. Jack Campbell posted a very encouraging, if abbreviated stint in Cedar Park this spring under heavy fire and could get some real consideration if he impresses in pre-season, provided the organization is willing to do what it must on the business/contract end. Tyler Beskoroway could also get some consideration, though his path to the NHL seems to have some very large (and accomplished) obstacles in the way now.
"It's always good to be pushed," said Bachman of the possibility that one of the younger guys might snag his position. "It helps bring out the best in you. It helps you compete more, to bring your game each and every day. I like it. It keeps you working hard. It keeps you honest."
Speaking of honest, that is what we must be about Andrew Raycroft. Two summers ago his low price tag helped the Stars fill a need and meet their budgetary concerns. When he started well in 2010-2011 season, it looked like a win-win for all involved. The 2-8-0 record he leaves behind this season was just not good enough, and it may have cost the Stars down the stretch in a big way. Would the Stars have signed someone else in the summer of 2010 if more cash had been on hand? We'll never know. It looked like a good deal at the time because of the price, but now it's just another facet of the Tom Hicks' legacy that fades away as Mr. Gaglardi takes over.
A more successful backup in Dallas next year, most likely Richard Bachman, even if the net gain (terrible, terrible pun) is just 3-4 points more, could make a huge difference on next season.