Over the next month, Defending Big D will be counting down the most important "impact" players for the upcoming season for the Dallas Stars. Starting from the player we believe will have the smallest influence on this season to the player with the most, we'll countdown from #23 all the way to the top as we get ready for what we hope will be a very promising season.
Calling Stars backup net minder Andrew Raycroft number twenty in this countdown is somewhat ironic, because he's an unfortunate collision away from being vaulted up to number one (knock on wood) under the right circumstances. The collision being Kari Lehtonen's. Not his. Such is the life of a backup in the NHL.
The overwhelming consensus among Stars fans is that Kari Lehtonen was overused last year, particularly down the stretch. He played a career high 69 games and twenty three in a row to end the year on the way to the loss in Minnesota. (68 starts was only good enough for 4th in the league, surprisingly.) That's a debatable point when every game for the last seven weeks meant the difference between a playoff position and lack thereof, but it's probably safe to say that Andrew Raycroft feels he has more to offer this year in terms of ice time and consistency.
A Raycroft start meant confidence for fans and players alike early on in the season. Of his fourteen starts TEN came before the New Year and he went 7-3 in those contests with a .926 save percentage, including games he nearly single handedly stole all by his lonesome against the Capitals (37 saves on 38 shots) and the Predators (44 saves on 46 shots). Then came the second half of the year.
Two very unfortunate games, the two single most unfortunate games in this bloggers mind last year when charting the course of the season, came on Andrew Raycrofts watch. The first was the seven goal shellacking he received in Calgary on January 21st, ending a near perfect run that month and opening the flood gates that would follow in Vancouver two nights later just before the All-Star game. The second was the catastrophic moment in Boston where he allowed two goals in 80 seconds before being shown the bench door by Marc Crawford. He would receive only one additional start the rest of the season after that.
Given the notoriously stiff competition in the West and their current situation, having perhaps lost quite a bit on the offensive side of things, the Stars cannot afford to have many off-nights from the goaltending position regardless of who starts in the pipes. Andrew Raycroft is an experienced, consummate professional who should once again prove to be a valuable asset to a team on a bit of a budget.
The fastidious observer, however, might have some questions about Texas Stars goaltender Richard Bachman...
Raycroft's deal last season was two way, allowing for the possibility that Brent Krahn could reach out and seize control of the job in pre-season. He did not, but the opportunity was a reward for a career AHL guy that deserved a chance after a stellar season in 2009-2010. This season Raycroft's deal is one way, much to Richard Bachman's chagrin.
Stars' media was all "a twitter" last year concerning Bachman's performance in camp. Those present in PEI said he was the best tender in camp not named Lehtonen, including Raycroft and Krahn who were battle for a position not open to him. That carried over to Frisco in the weeks leading up to the season, but owing to Crawfords need for evidence in the backup battle, he was unable to make a preseason start. This year, with the backup battle seemingly nonexistent and Lehtonen's health much less of a concern, we could see Bachman in action.
It wouldn't affect things at the start of the year, but having someone younger knocking at the door is a good thing for competition and keeping everyone on their toes in the case that things should sour during the season. After all, this is a contract year for the 31 year old and he's currently in a system stocked with young men who will soon be doing more than just knocking on the door in Beskorowany, Bachman, and Campbell close behind.
The expectation today is that Raycroft will play more than he did last season. 15-20 starts is not out of the question. Lots of backups played more last year and it wasn't just injury that made it so. A routine two man rotation could be valuable down the stretch in keeping Lehtonen healthy. After all, hockey that "matters down the stretch" is all anyone is hoping for around here these days.
Whatever Raycroft does, he needs to do more of this...