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What Do The Dallas Stars Do If Kari Lehtonen Is Out Long Term?

Kari Lehtonen left in the middle of the Stars big win over the Winnipeg Jets. What happens if he misses an extended period of time?

Hannah Foslien

Kari Lehtonen is obviously a big part of what the Stars do. If he is out for a long time the Stars could be in trouble. Outside of the loss to Minnesota the Stars have shown themselves to be an above average team. They looked like a playoff caliber team. They were set up to take chances to generate offense with the good goaltending of Lehtonen there to bail them out more often than not.

The plan didn't include Lehtonen suffering an injury three games into the season.

The Stars signed Dan Ellis to provide a veteran backup to allow more rest for Lehtonen. Whether or not he was the right choice is irrelevant at this point. And after one start it's too early to be calling for his head too. The poor showing does at least begin to raise the question of what the Stars can do to plug the hole if Ellis ends up not being the answer.

The most obvious possibility is turning things over to rookie Jack Campbell. Campbell was the initial recall when Lehtonen got hurt and presumably would be who the Stars turn to if Ellis continued to struggle with Lehtonen out given that Campbell is on the roster.

What can the Stars reasonably expect from Campbell though? It's easy when things get bad to look for ANY possible solution to a problem, even if the solution you decide upon isn't likely to be better than what you currently have. The urge to pick "something else" can be pretty strong. The hope would be that with his pedigree as a high first round pick he should be able to provide quality NHL netminding at this point. Maybe he can, but his professional career so far doesn't inspire unwavering confidence. Over 53 games in the AHL Campbell has a .905 save percentage. Ellis' career NHL save percentage is .908. It's more likely that Campbell isn't going to be an improvement at this point though..

The idea here isn't a smear campaign against either Ellis or Campbell. The point is that if Ellis proves to be unreliable, turning the keys over to Campbell isn't a desirable option for a team with playoff aspirations. It could work out, but there is little reason to expect it to work out at this early stage of his career.

The free agent crop is a little frightening. It basically comes down to four guys: Ilya Bryzgalov, Rick DiPietro, Johan Hedberg, and Mathieu Garon. If you thought any of those guys were better than Dan Ellis you could have signed them instead of Ellis so they don't start making much sense as a primary option until Ellis has had a longer run of games to prove what he can do.

If Lehtonen is going to miss some time it makes a lot of sense to think that one of Bryzgalov or DiPietro in particular could be brought in as veteran insurance for Ellis. While the idea of DiPietro being signed by anyone as an injury replacement is hilarious in it's own right, throwing Campbell to the wolves in the event of an emergency makes even less sense for the future of the franchise despite the fact that he is currently on the roster.

Ideally Lehtonen won't need anything more than a 7-day IR stint. In case of emergency the Stars options are limited and scary. Ellis will get the opportunity to do what he was brought in to do, but his initial outing suggests that the Stars need to be prepared in case the worst case scenario of a long term Lehtonen injury comes to light.