Last summer in this space, we chronicled (ad nauseum) the North American journey's of "The Monster": Jonas Gustavsson. Dallas and Toronto were the final two in the sweepstakes, and the young Swede seemed to agonize over his decision for weeks and weeks, promising to let us know before July 1st, and then failing to do so. Finally, after all the top free agent goaltenders were signed and gone, on July 7th it was reported he would indeed go to Toronto.
So Dallas signed Alex Auld, and had no answer for a future between the pipes. Until February, and Kari Lehtonen.
Earlier this week, The Toronto Maple Leafs signed goaltender Jonas Gustavsson to a two year, $2.7 million extension ($1.35 per). So since the off-season doldrums are already creeping up on Stars-land (if news clippings and blogs are any indication), I thought this would be a pertinent and prudent occasion to ask the Stars fan: You could have had Gustavsson, you got Kari. How do you feel about that now heading into next season?
Let's take a closer look at the two Scandinavians before we vote...
There are pros and cons on both sides of the coin, and huge unknowns/question marks with both young men. Here's a look at their numbers last year and the "tale of the tape":
|Kari Lehtonen||Jonas Gustavsson|
|Total Games Played||216||42|
At first glance, and these kinds of player details are often exaggerated, Kari Lehtonen is actually a little bit more "monstrous" than the monster, having the slight advantage in size. If that weight is to be believed, along with Kari's habits from Atlanta, I'd expect a slightly more..."streamlined" (to be kind) Lehtonen at camp next year if the Stars trainers have anything to say about it, but I digress.
Long in the tooth?
Another thing you notice is their ages. For only a sacrifice of one year, the Stars are getting a much more seasoned goaltender than the Leafs are. This comes with certain disadvantages, but for the time lost last summer and the free agents missed out on, this detail doesn't bother me that much.
Show me the money:
The Stars are strapped for cash. Are you tired of hearing it yet? This is where not signing Jonas hurts a little bit. $1.35 million is a lot more palatable on a payroll such as the Stars. Kari Lehtonen will get an offer closer to $3 million per year, though it's not clear if he'll get a multi-year deal to start out at this point.
Remember though, Toronto still has Giguere signed next season. If they keep him, it's reasonable to think the two will tag team it for much of the year. It's reported that Jonas is very fond of Giguere and vice-versa. The two compete in practice and are students of the famous Francois Allaire. Gustavsson's contract is backup money, and a bridge deal that will give him another year with a safety net, and a year to prove he's the guy. Then he gets paid if he earns it. Smart by the Leafs and very cap friendly.
Kari Lehtonen will in all likelihood be "the man" here next year and cannot be offered (much) less than his current $3 million dollar salary due to CBA rules.
And let's not forget, Lehtonen came for the price of Ivan Vishnevskiy.
On the Ice:
Lehtonen's injury problems kept him out of action for nearly an entire season, so it's difficult with his small sample size this year to say how the two stack up. Kari is obviously more experienced, and if his draft position is any indication, possibly more "naturally" talented, whatever that means.
Both goaltenders played behind atrocious defenses on teams that were lottery bound, but both put together nice stretches toward the end of the season that gave hope to each fan base that the future might not be such a bad thing after all.
At relatively young stages of their careers, I think it's fair to say that both men have opportunity to improve, but the conventional wisdom out there says that Gustavsson, still "adapting to the North American game", has much greater potential. I'm wondering if Kari Lehtonen's potential has been stunted by his back over the last few seasons? (A problem he claims to have fixed for good.)
The Next Guy:
Both teams will compete again this off-season for the affections of an un-signed Euro. Finnish free agent Jussi Rynnas is rumored to be considering Dallas and Toronto (and others) for his 2010-2011 season, and both clubs would likely have him spend time in the minors before calling upon him.
This is a curious place for the Dallas Stars to be. For a decade or more they've kept the cupboard stocked with all kinds of goodies (Turek, Turco, Fernandez, Hedberg, Smith...) and there always seemed to be a "next guy," assuring that there was little or no doubt about the #1 man OR the #2 man. With the Turco era in Dallas at it's end, both positions need careful guidance.
So what say you? They didn't get the man they wanted last summer, but Joe found another way. Would you rather have gotten Gustavsson or are you feeling better about Kari?