Note: We'll be discussing this trade tonight on a special 90-minute episode of Defending Big D LIVE, on air at 7:00 p.m. CST. More info here.
When news first broke last night that the Dallas Stars were rumored to be trading for Kari Lehtonen, while giving up Ivan Vishnevskiy in return, the roar among fans was near instantaneous.
Yet as with all trades, it takes some time to sit back and really analyze the moves that were made and try and take the emotion out of the equation. Fanbases become attached to the players, especially players that were drafted and developed in that team's system, so it's an immediate reaction culled from emotional attachments that drive opinions on trades. What you get are knee-jerk reactions, instant calls for the firing of the general manager or outcries on how the front office has no clue what they are doing.
If you take some time to think about and analyze all aspects of this trade, then the big picture becomes much clearer.
We sit here the day after the first big trade of Joe Nieuwendyk's tenure and the future of the Dallas Stars suddenly appears to be much different than it was just two days prior. While this trade involved just two players total and a mid-round draft pick, the overall issues surrounding the trade are much more complex. Let's look at each aspect of this trade one at a time:
Before yesterday's trade, the top four goaltenders in the Dallas Stars system were all set to become unrestricted free agents this summer. And while we touched on the fact that the Stars could try and keep Turco for the next few seasons until a young replacement was found, there has been no doubt that either of these four were the long-term solution in net.
Marty Turco is 34 and on the downside of his career. While he's shown this season that he still has top-quality ability, his penchant for allowing soft goals at the worst times and for having some of the worst short-side positioning in the NHL has led many fans to be ready to move on without him. The Dallas Stars themselves had also started to make plans on not keeping Turco, as it's been no secret that team has not been pleased with his overall performance this season and had not made any effort on a contract extension.
While Alex Auld was acquired relatively cheaply this past summer, and had performed fairly well this season, he's also proven that he is not the long-term solution in net in Turco's absence. He was given the chance to force the Stars to consider that option when he became the team's starter over a two-week period, and the results were wholly mixed. This has held true for Auld's entire career; he's a great backup but has never been able to take the next step to becoming a starter.
The Stars also have two goaltenders in the AHL that were being given future consideration, but it's still up in the air on their ability to succeed in the NHL. Both saw spot duty last season, and while many were pleased with Matt Climie's play, neither he nor Brent Krahn did much to force the Stars to give them more time. Both are also scheduled to become free agents; the Stars will most likely only re-sign one as Richard Bachman will be looking to make the jump to the AHL next season.
There's a chance that Climie or Krahn could be become the backup next season, but before yesterday's trade the goaltending future for the Stars was completely up in the air. None of these four goaltenders were destined to be "the" guy for the Stars in net over the next 5-7 years, so some move must be made.
As soon as word got out that Vishnevskiy was traded, there was an immediate sense of sadness and anger among Stars fans. Here was a defensemen that nearly the entire fanbase was counting on to become the next Sergei Zubov: a quick, offensively talented defensemen who would take charge of the defensive corps and lead this team to glory.
In reality, Vishnevskiy was a player with a ton of potential and nothing more. Many hoped that this season he would take the next step with the Texas Stars and while fans down in Austin were enamored with him (and he did make the AHL All-Star Game), he had yet to do enough to force Dallas to make him a permanent fixture on the blueline. With the issues the Stars have had all season long on defense, with injuries and poor play, that they were looking for a chance and a reason to have Vishneskiy come up and help improve the team.
Yet in the few times Vishnevskiy was briefly called up, he did little more than be 'just a guy' on the ice. You see flashes of his potential but he never was able to truly stand out. Perhaps that's a product of his limited playing time and inexperience, but in this game you must take full advantage of the opportunity afforded to you. His shortcomings in the defensive zone were also made that much more prevalent while in Dallas.
You also have to remember that Joe Nieuwendyk came to this team with fresh eyes, and sees this system and it's players and prospects from a brand new perspective. The scouts and the team that drafts a prospect will stick with them based on the potential that led him to be drafted in the first place, but a new voice can say that while he's potential is high he's yet to come near it.
If the Stars and Nieuwendyk were convinced that Ivan Vishnevskiy was their number one defenseman of the future, he was the next big power play guy, then he never would have been traded.
When teams enter this time of the year, and especially when teams enter a pseudo-rebuilding mode, there are certain players and prospects they deem untouchable and those they determine they are willing to part with. Nieuwendyk has stated several times that the team is very high on Philip Larsen, and there's a good chance that he was discouraged with Vishnevskiy's lack of defensive ability, something that is Larsen's strong suit.
The Dallas Stars right now have a number of highly offensively talented defensemen who are coming up way short of their of their potential. Matt Niskanen and Trevor Daley were both supposed to thrive, and both have stuttered as the years went on.
The Stars saw Vishnevskiy as a piece to be used to build on the future of this team and not a player who was a vital part of it.
That's why he was traded.
The major part in all of this is Kari Lehtonen. Talk to anyone involved in the NHL, and you'll hear nothing but praise for a goaltender who has all of the potential to be a truly special player. He has the mechanics, the reflexes and the track record both in the AHL and the NHL that shows he is a top competitor in net.
Yet his injury history and questions about his work ethics have sent his career sideways. He hasn't played the NHL all season after back surgery last summer, and his discontent with his team led to further issues with his desire to get back to top playing form. As with many trades of this caliber, a change of scenery could do wonders for Lehtonen's attitude. There are already reports on how ecstatic he is to move on with the Dallas Stars and have the chance to be the franchise's future number one netminder.
More importantly, Lehtonen is the type of goaltender who can succeed without a great defense in front of him. Playing in the NHL behind an atrocious Atlanta defensive system, he nonetheless put up some impressive numbers. Brodeur Is A Fraud, a blog that is a big fan of Lehtonen, had these numbers:
Even Strength Save Percentage Leaders Since the Lockout (min. 200 GP):
1. Tomas Vokoun: 282 GP, .935
2. Roberto Luongo: 328 GP, .930
3. Tim Thomas: 250 GP, .927
3. J.S. Giguere: 243 GP, .927
5. Miikka Kiprusoff: 353 GP, .926
5. Martin Brodeur: 314 GP, .926
7. Henrik Lundqvist: 316 GP, .925
7. Kari Lehtonen: 200 GP, .925
9. Ilya Bryzgalov: 238 GP, .924
9. Ryan Miller: 296 GP, .924
Many use goals-against average as a benchmark for goaltenders, but in truth that is a stat that belies an individual goalie's actual performance and is more of a team stat. Save percentage, on the other hand, is a great way to determine the overall effectiveness and ability of a goaltender. Lehtonen's numbers are right up there with some of the biggest names in the NHL over the past five seasons.
The biggest issue of course is his durability. He's played just 48 and 46 games the past few seasons (not counting this one) and has major injuries in each of them that derailed promising seasons. His one season in the NHL playing nearly a full workload, he had a 2.79 GAA and a .912 save percentage, while winning 34 games in 68 appearances. He also fits the mold for the type of goaltender the Stars were targeting; big (6-4, 215) and with tremendous upside. While you hope that he is fully healed from his surgery, you also know that the Stars did their due diligence and researched his injuries and his current health and would not have made the trade if they had any concern about his future.
This is a goaltender who has the ability to be a great starter for the Stars for at least the next five seasons, and while he'll be a much different goaltender than Marty Turco, he has the potential to be just as good. His RFA status this summer is a concern, but Nieuwendyk would not have made this trade if the team did not feel it could resign him to an affordable contract after this season.
What About Marty Turco?
There were murmurs after last nights game against the Hawks that Marty Turco was visibly upset after learning about the trade. There's no doubt that the Stars acquiring Lehtonen most likely means the end of his time in Dallas. For a player that was drafted out of college, spent years in the system and making his way up to the NHL and had tremendous success with the Stars while here, it's going to be tough of Turco to stomach playing somewhere else.
It's never seemed to be about money with Turco, and there have been zero accounts of him seeking one last big contract elsewhere. He feels personally attached to the Dallas Stars and it's going to be hard for both him and the fans as he moves on elsewhere.
Yet there is a time when a team must move in a different direction. Joe Nieuwendyk is working to change the overall makeup of this team, to prepare for the future and to go with a younger approach. The Stars drafted differently under Nieuwendyk this past summer, and already he's making noise with how this team uses it's top prospects from the past few seasons.
The Stars will go with three goaltenders for now, but that is not something that can continue all season long. The Stars were rumored to be in heavy talks with the Flyers last night over a Turco trade, but so far there have not been many teams willing to trade for an expensive 34 year old goaltender, who is most likely a rental.
The NHL rosters freeze on Friday, before opening up again just before the trade deadline on March 3rd. The Stars will no doubt keep looking for potential trade partners, and there's a good chance that Turco becomes part of a bundled trade instead of being the main piece.
Even if Turco is not traded, he will not be with this team after the summer. While we all wish he would have a change of heart, there's little chance he becomes a backup/mentor to Lehtonen for a considerably smaller salary, no matter how much he wants to stay in Dallas.
Like All Trades, It's A Gamble
When the Dallas Stars traded Mike Smith to Tampa Bay as part of the package that brought Brad Richards to Dallas, fans were caught off-guard and instantly felt wary and angry over the trade. Smith was a fan favorite, a backup who had a bright future ahead of him. Even today, with Brad Richards playing the best of his career and in the top five in the NHL in scoring, fans still wish Smith was still a Dallas Star.
We cannot rush to judge this trade based on the merits of the potential that Ivan Vishnevksiy possesses. He could end up being a very special player in Atlanta, logging 22 minutes a night and getting 60 points a season. There's also a very good chance he's "just a guy", who is lumped in with all the rest of the defensemen with tremendous offensive potential that never panned out. The Stars have three on the team already.
There's also a good chance the we spend the next three years worrying that Kari Lehtonen is injured and constantly out of the lineup. He could also lead this team to the playoffs.
When you trade potential in one player for potential in another, there's no way to judge how good that trade is the very next day. You take a month or a year to determine how good that trade might be. Jon Daniels traded away Mark Texeira, the best player on the Texas Rangers, for a handful of prospects. Those players are now the nucleus of a very promising Rangers team, but we're only seeing it two years down the road.
Let's wait and see what happens before we decide Nieuwendyk's fate, shall we.