2014 NHL Offseason: The Dallas Stars' Need For a Backup Goaltender

Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

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Kari Lehtonen has been a solid goaltender for the Stars now for four seasons. In his four seasons as the starter he has posted a .926 even strength save percentage, and given the Stars quite a bit of value given that they moved Ivan Vishnevskiy to acquire him.

The backup goalies have, however, been very underwhelming. Over that same period of time here is a brief comparison of Lehtonen to his backups.

SA Saves ESSv%
Backups 1842 1670 0.907
Lehtonen 5342 4948 0.926

This past season the Stars backup goalies had a sparkling .899 even strength save percentage. Only the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks had worse backup goaltending. Even the four year average of the Stars backups, the .907, would have ranked only 23 out of 30 teams this year.

The message here, I think, is pretty clear. The backup goalie situation needs to be cleared up.

This doesn't even speak to the fact that the Stars, and all teams, need to either limit or ideally eliminate having their starting goaltender playing both games of back to back sets.

The previously linked article has a lot of good information in it from Eric T., but the gist of it is this:

[W]e can say with reasonable confidence that a rested goalie stops about 1 percent more shots than a tired goalie, even when both of them are playing in front of a team that played on the previous day. It's not quite the difference between [Tim] Thomas and [Michael] Leighton, but it is still quite significant -- the difference between [Henrik] Lundqvist and Theodore or between [Carey] Price and [Mathieu] Garon.

The save percentage difference he is referencing is about .011. The difference between the solid Lehtonen and his unsuccessful backup goalies has been almost .020. The difference between Lehtonen and his backups has been so significant that the Stars could almost justify playing Lehtonen in every single game whether he is tired or not.

The most shocking aspect of the backups' failures is that Lindy Ruff shielded them from rough competition more often than not. Lehtonen faced teams with an average Fenwick % of 50.2. He was routinely facing an average club. His backups faced teams with an average Fenwick % of 46.12. That's roughly the Calgary Flames or the soon-to-be-crashing-to-Earth Colorado Avalanche.

Unfortunately the Stars can't start Lehtonen every game, but they also can't afford not to because of how little they got out of the backup position. He's aging. He has had injury issues. When he missed time this year the season was almost lost due to mediocre goaltending in his absence.

The Stars tried to address the issue last offseason with Dan Ellis. They had reason to believe he could be a solution. Over his career Ellis had a .921 even strength save percentage. He got here and bottomed out with a .900 save percentage, further illustrating a point I relayed in this post from a few days ago:

Gyeartoyearimprovement_medium

(s/t Cam Charron at leafsnation)

Old goalies can be unpredictable. Dan Ellis turned 34 on June 19th. Jim Nill tried to address the issue with Tim Thomas at the deadline to no avail. Thomas, you may remember, was present to light Joan of Arc on fire in 1431. The Stars are looking for more certainty in net, but doing so by attracting the most uncertain of NHL creatures, old goalies, isn't the best course of action they could take.

It would behoove the Stars to pursue any of the number of "successful" younger backups available on the market. Our focus here is going to be on the following five keepers. All five are in the right age range that we can more or less know what to expect from them. Included is their career even strength save percentage.

Name Age GP Career ESSv%
Thomas Greiss 28 69 .925
Al Montoya 29 91 .917
Justin Peters 27 68 .912
Devan Dubnyk 28 173 .916
Drew MacIntyre 30 6 .918

The three most intriguing options from the group are Griess, Montoya, and Dubnyk.

Dubnyk is likely to be the highest bet to give the Stars a competent backup given his wealth of experience. At 28 years old with 173 NHL appearances we can reasonably say he's about a .910 save percentage goalie overall. Yeah, he was pretty bad with the Oilers last year, but that shouldn't overshadow three years of solid play unless scouts think he is irreparably broken.

The problem with the possibility of signing Dubnyk is that there are a lot of bad teams in the league. There should be any number of opportunities where he could either start for a team looking to get lucky, or be a backup for a team where the starting situation is questionable.

Griess or Montoya would be the secondary options offering the biggest upside as a backup. Griess has a career .915 save percentage over 1700 total shots. At even strength it's a Lehtonen-esque .925. Save percentages start to stabilize around 3,000 shots so we can't say with any certainty that Greiss is on that level, but in his almost one full season of games he has been very solid.

Montoya is in a similar boat to Griess, but he has more games of NHL experience. If you squint you can see a solid NHL starter with Griess. In Montoya you have a very good backup. He's closer to the 3000 shot threshold than Griess, and at 29 the Stars can be reasonably sure what type of production they're going to get from him.

Griess made 750,000 last year as the Coyotes backup. Montoya has made 600,000 in each of the last three years with the Islanders and Jets. Dubnyk was guaranteed close to seven million over two years on his last deal.

The Stars guaranteed Dan Ellis 1.8 million dollars over two years just last year. All three will likely cost more than the Stars guaranteed Ellis, but the first two in particular shouldn't cost much more than they were comfortable giving Ellis.

The two less-than-ideal options become more realistic if the top three decide to take their talents elsewhere.

Peters has been a professional in the Hurricanes system since the 2010 season. The last four years Peters has been the definition of a roller coaster.

Peters_medium

I guess you could say the trend is going up at least? He has a career .904 save percentage in about as many games as Greiss. In the AHL he has a career .910 save percentage. He is what he is, but really the best case scenario is that he gives you a tick better than Ellis.

Drew MacIntyre is a wild card here. He led the Toronto Marlies to a defeat at the hands of the Texas Stars in the Calder Cup playoffs. Outside of a really bad stretch in 2012 where he had a .899 save percentage he has been among the league's best goalies for almost a decade . He has a career .917 save percentage in the AHL. He isn't ideal, but if you're in a position where you have to take a flier on someone you may as well take a flier on someone with the level of AHL success he has had.

There are a number of options for the Stars to pursue in the quest to not have a black hole behind Lehtonen. Whatever they end up deciding to do almost has to, by default, improve the 2015 team given how much of a mess the backup spot has been for as long as anyone can remember. Barring a trade or the unexpected promotion of Jack Campbell the aforementioned guys seem to be the best bets.


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