On Monday the Dallas Stars made a somewhat surprising move by signing goaltender Jussi Rynnas to a two-year contract, a week after signing Anders Lindback to a one-year, $925,000 contract as a free agent.
The Stars have not had great success with the backup goaltender ever since Mike Smith was traded to Tampa Bay. After the failed Dan Ellis and Tim Thomas experiments last season, it's clear the Stars are intent at building depth with goaltenders who might be a bit more able to adjust and grow under goaltender coach Mike Valley.
Valley, who has history and plenty of connections in Finland and Sweden, played a direct role in recruiting both Lindback and Rynnas to the Stars organization and now creates a situation where competition will dictate who earns the NHL spot -- and there are going to be three players fighting for it.
Jack Campbell, for all intents and purposes, will be the regular starter in the AHL next season for the Texas Stars after spending a good portion of last season injured. While Campbell seems to be on the cusp of being NHL ready, Jim Nill has stated that unless he absolutely blows the Stars away in camp he doesn't want the young goaltender only playing every four or five games at age 22.
So, Nill brings in Lindback and Rynnas -- two very large goaltenders (Rynnas is 6-5, Lindback is 6-6) who have had some ups and downs in the NHL and likely need a fresh start, and a new environment and coach to try and get back on track. More importantly, we're seeing once again that Nill is focused on making this a competitive roster for the Stars where multiple players will be fighting for the same position.
Mike Heika, who has a great article on the situation, says this will create a hunger at the backup spot that wasn't there before.
We have talked a ton in this space about getting players who are hungry for their starts as a back-up instead of scared of their starts as a back-up (The Andrew Raycroft, Dan Ellis types). This solves that issue.
"They'll definitely be hungry, and I think that's something all of them thrive on," Valley said. "Kari, Anders and Jussi, they're all quieter types, but they all love to compete. This is going to be a great situation for them, because it will pull out their competitive juices."
Rynnas is the interesting factor in all of this; when he was signed it was assumed by everyone he'd be on a two-way deal and would likely backup Campbell in the AHL. His last stint in the NHL didn't go so well with Toronto, but he seems to have resurrected career with a big year playing in Finland and will now be given the chance to eventually compete for the backup spot in Dallas.
"He decided to go back to Europe, his game has improved and we think he adds depth to our organization at the goaltending position," Nill said. "He'll come over and we'll see where he fits in. He's probably going to spend some time in the American League (with the Texas Stars) to get used to the different game over here again, and we'll see how he develops."
The Stars GM signed Rynnas to a one-way contract over two years, so he obviously has faith in the goaltender to at the very least provide solid depth at the AHL level and a great option should injuries strike in the NHL. If either Lindback or Lehtonen is hurt in the NHL, Rynnas can jump to the NHL to backup rather than Campbell -- or, provide a solid goaltending option in Cedar Park if Campbell is recalled.
For those wondering about the cap hit and the "Wade Redden" rule, both Rynnas' and Lindback's contract value isn't high enough to warrant concern. While it's true that teams can no longer "hide" one-way contracts in the AHL, they are allowed to not have the first $950,000 of the contract count against the cap if the player is in the AHL. Rynnas ($555,000) and Lindback ($925,000) both have salaries that won't count against the cap if they are playing for Texas.
The risk with both players, however, is that to head to the AHL after camp they'll have to go through waivers. That's a risk the Stars are apparently willing to take while fighting for competitive depth at a position the franchise has struggled with the past six years.