Over the next month or so, I'm going to look at the Dallas Stars from a positional standpoint. The goaltenders, the defensemen, and the forwards (in that order). Where the team stands currently, what upgrades are needed (if any), and what players they could and/or should target.
The Dallas Stars enter the offseason with a pretty stable foundation in goal. Kari Lehtonen has quietly developed into one of the best goaltenders in the league, thanks to a lot of hard work on his part and a strong relationship with the Dallas coaching staff and team trainers.
From goaltending scout Justin Goldman:
Every goalie matures at a different rate, and some goalies take longer to learn, understand, and embrace that "true pro" attitude than others. For Lehtonen, I think it just took him a few extra years to realize what that "true pro" attitude was all about. Thanks to both external and internal influences, Kari learned that he couldn't rely on pure skill alone. It only takes you so far, and then it takes an insane work ethic and dedication to things like nutrition and physical fitness to truly become an "elite" NHL goalie.
Lehtonen is under contract for five more years at $5.9 million per season. Dallas is paying him to be their franchise goaltender, and he has shown that he is more than capable of carrying the weight for them in between the pipes. Not much else really needs to be said about Kari, really. He was on an island too much in 2013, as the team struggled to find a defensive identity (and it often dressed at least two or three rookies on the back end). The team can’t rely on him to steal every game if they want 55+ quality starts from him this season (and beyond).
How many goalies would I take over Lehtonen if I were starting a team from scratch? Let's see. Henrik Lundqvist, for sure. Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, Jonathan Quick, Tuukka Rask, and Cory Schneider, too (age-related reasons for Schneider, mostly). Maybe Jacob Markstrom... but that would be a bit of a risk considering his lack of NHL experience. That's it. So Lehtonen is either the sixth or seventh goaltender I'd go with. Antti Niemi and Craig Anderson would be in the conversation, too.
Back to the Stars. After Lehtonen, the depth chart gets a bit more interesting. Richard Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp are both free agents this summer (Bachman is restricted, while Nilstorp is unrestricted). Bachman lost the backup job to Nilstorp in 2013, and both goalies had moments of strong play mixed in with some struggles. Nilstorp is currently backstopping the Texas Stars in the AHL, and that may give him the inside edge on Bachman for the backup spot in 2013-14.
Mike Heika believes that the job is Nilstorp’s to lose, provided he re-signs with Dallas.
Let’s continue on down the depth chart. Jack Campbell was drafted back in 2010 by the Stars and because of where he was taken (early in the first round), the expectations have been sky high since. It didn’t help that the team considered him the third best prospect in the draft, either.
“Our scouts pushed hard for [Campbell],” he said at the time. “After [Taylor] Hall and [Tyler] Seguin, this is the kid that we feel has the best chance to be a franchise player. He was our guy, right from the start.”
Taking goaltenders high in the draft is a bit of a risk (drafting any player carries an inherent risk, but goaltenders generally take a lot longer to develop compared to skaters).
Pittsburgh took Marc-Andre Fleury 1st overall in arguably the deepest draft of all time (2003). Price was a surprise pick at 5th overall by Montreal back in 2005. The Canucks selected Schneider out of high school in 2004, and it took him nearly seven years to establish himself as a good NHL goaltender. Campbell won’t be ready for a few years, and thanks to Lehtonen’s massive contract, he won’t have to be. The Stars are going to be very patient with their goaltender of the future.
Look at how patient Detroit was with Jimmy Howard, or Chicago with Corey Crawford. Goaltenders very rarely are able to step in as rookies (or even second or third year pros) and excel. Carey Price has had his fair share of struggles in Montreal. It sounds cliché, but goaltenders in particular need to learn how to be professionals. Having the skill and talent is one thing, but delivering on a consistent basis is an entirely different animal.
After Campbell, 6-5 Tyson Beskorowany is a restricted free agent this summer. He has spent most of the season with Idaho of the ECHL. Maxime Lagace was signed as a free agent out of the QMJHL last summer. He spent the past season with the PEI Rocket, posting a 4.05 GAA and a .869 save percentage (both numbers better than what he posted in 2011-12 – the QMHJL is not the best league to evaluate goaltenders based on numbers only).
This analysis will likely be outdated in a month or two once a backup goaltender decision is made. Goaltending is the easiest position to project for next season for Dallas. Assuming Nilstorp is re-signed to back up Lehtonen, I could see the team offering Bachman a contract to split time with Campbell in the AHL, with Lagace stepping in to play for Idaho, splitting time with Beskorowany. Having depth at the position is important, but you also need to balance that with the fact that these guys need to play to develop.
The Stars need to make some big changes this summer, but none of them will come in the crease.
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Also - I recently published my second annual top 50 NHL trade value rankings. Close to 10,000 words... not exactly a quick read. One Star makes the list. Hope you enjoy the read!