All offseason there's been one glaring need for the Dallas Stars to address. With the team unwilling and unable to entertain the return of backup goaltender Tobias Stephan, Joe Nieuwendyk took on the task of acquiring a backup to incumbent starter Marty Turco for the upcoming season.
The plan started with the failed courtship of Jonas Gustavsson. After months of endless trips to Sweden, a VIP tour of Dallas and the team's facilities and nearly a week of waiting, the Stars learned six days into free agency that the prized goaltender was choosing Toronto. In fact, it seems that was his plan all along and he just took his time letting everyone know that.
This left the Stars in a very tough situation. Nieuwendyk and his staff were all in on the push for Gustavsson and watched as several young, talented goaltenders were signed, all while Dallas waited by the telephone. Backup plans were made in case he choose elsewhere, but with each passing day those plans were scrapped and it was back to the drawing board (Mike Heika suggests the Stars were very interested in Scott Clemmensen). With the Stars stacking up on defensemen speculation began to abound that Dallas would be trading one of their young players in exchange for a backup goaltender. It never came close to costing the team a single player.
Just one day after the Jonas Gustavsson news broke, Joe Nieuwendyk has worked the first bit of magic of his young career as the Dallas Stars G.M. With Ottawa sitting right up against the salary cap, a Dany Heatley trade not happening anytime soon, and Pascal LeClaire set to become the starter next season the Senators were in a tough position. Nieuwendyk realized he had the leverage and brokered a deal that should make every Dallas Stars fan proud. In exchange for a 6th round pick in the 2010 draft (that was previously acquired from San Jose), the Stars received veteran netminder Alex Auld.
Auld is a big, confident goaltender who has spent time as both a starter and a backup during stints with Vancouver, Florida, Phoenix, Boston and Ottawa. At the age of 28, he's appeared in 183 NHL games with a 2.76 GAA and .905 save percentage for his career. He's worked with both Andy Moog and Marc Crawford before and will be a good goaltender to push Marty Turco during the season. More importantly, he gives the Dallas Stars options for the future. Yesterday I wrote about how next season the goaltender position for the Stars is up in the air. Turco is scheduled to become a free agent and it's highly doubtful that the Stars goalie prospects would be near ready to make the jump the NHL next season.
One option the Stars had was to sign a veteran free agent. There were several available that would be worth a decent one-year contract. However, most of these were older than Turco and most likely would not be the answer next season if Turco departs. Yet with the acquisiton of Auld, the Stars have acquired a goaltender that could conceivably be the starter next season while either Richard Bachman or Matt Climie learns the NHL game as backup. Auld is scheduled to become a UFA next summer as well, but he will demand considerably less that Turco and will be seven years younger as well. Perhaps this isn't the best option for the Stars, but at least they've given themselves an opportunity for the future.
Before we start to focus on next summer however, it's important to not the stability Auld instantly gives the Stars at goaltender. Here is a proven, confident goalie who has good career numbers and who has historically played for teams with below average defenses. The coaches will once again have faith in their backup and will not hesitate to rest Turco for 25-30 games this season. This will push Turco to perform better at the start of the season and allow him to focus on playing his own game, instead of worrying about the well being of his backup. This also allows the team to focus on the further development of their young goaltender prospects. Climie and Bachman can continue to gain experience in the AHL without the pressure of being forced to make the jump to the NHL before they're ready.
A lot of Stars fans have been down on Joe Nieuwendyk lately. Today should make them proud.