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Dallas Stars Goalie Coach Mike Valley Talks Kari Lehtonen and His Backups, Part 2

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Goalie coach Mike Valley talks size, competition and the future of the Stars' goalie position.

Andre Ringuette

In Part 1 of our chat with Stars goalie coach Mike Valley, we learned that Kari might have suffered from mental and physical fatigue down the stretch of last season and that the organization has an idea of just exactly how many games they want him playing in the regular season.

The other folds of Valley's thoughts on the Stars' current goalie situation were on how the backup goalie position was going to impact Kari.

Since Kari was brought in to Dallas, he hasn't exactly had people nipping at his heels for the starting position.

In 2010-11, Andrew Raycroft, who didn't have a bad season - going 8-5 with a 2.83 GAA, served as a capable backup, but never sniffed Kari's throne.

In 2011-12, Raycroft bombed and the Stars gave Richard Bachman a look. He put up a modest 8-5-1 record with a 2.77 GAA.

But, again, no competition.

The next season: a familiar script with Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp.

Lastly, Dan EllisJack Campbell and Tim Thomas saw chances to impress, but it was clear their roles were as backups. Thomas was intriguing, but showed he still had room to bridge the gap between now and his run with theBruins to the Stanley Cup.

Now, the reason I bring up Kari's previous competition so much is to a degree, it wouldn't be unreasonable to believe that Kari had his minutes completely in control last season and never really took those backups as serious threats.

Here is where Valley begins to discuss the importance of newly signed goalies Anders LindbackJussi Rynnasand 2010 first-round draft pick Jack Campbell.

"All four guys right now have fantastic attitudes," Valley said. "Nobody is intimidated by the situation. Everybody has the attitude that they are just going to come in here and do their job. They all have a little fire underneath of them including Kari."

If Kari could benefit from a player seriously threatening to take away his minutes, while that still seems unlikely at this point, then he could potentially crank his game up to the superstar level.

Ideally, the Stars want the problem of not really knowing who their No. 1 goalie is. If they are all on a supremely high level, you can't go wrong with any decision in theory.

The Anaheim Ducks enjoyed that problem to an extent this season with veteran Jonas Hiller and youngsters Frederik Andersen and John Gibson, but on the flip side, it seemed to hurt them in the playoffs. A delicate balance is needed, because I think all the flipping back and forth between them shook their collective confidence.

Valley sees depth and competition at the Stars' backup goaltender position as a special opportunity for all the players involved.

"It's a young guy that is coming in and he's trying to make his mark and is trying to push," Valley said. "That's what we want. I think that's not only what we've done signing Lindback, but now obviously having Rynnas and having Jack as well. It kind of reminds me of what Anaheim's situation was last year. It's a good problem to have."

Valley has special ties to Lindback, so getting him to talk about Lindback wasn't very hard. Valley played a part in the scouting of Lindback when he was an assistant goaltending coach for the Nashville Predators before coming to Dallas.

"He's Swedish, so I like that," Valley said with a chuckle. "I was in Nashville's organization when we were scouting him, so I remember seeing lots of video and Mitch Korn had me watch lots of video of Lindback when he was still playing over in Sweden and hadn't come over yet. When he came over, that's when I came to Dallas. Obviously I've stayed in touch with his development."

With Lehtonen at 6'4", Lindback at 6'6", Rynnas at 6'5" and Campbell at 6'3", the Stars certainly have a stable of lengthy goalies.

Valley is in favor of size.

"Well, it certainly doesn't hurt you," Valley said. "It's not the be all end all of goal tending, but if you can mix up size with athleticism as well and get each goalie to understand when you can use your size to your advantage and be blocking and when you need to mix it with athleticism, I think it's a great combination. If you're big and you can't move, it doesn't help you."

So along with Lindback's formidable physical presence, Valley was impressed with his work ethic, which is a good sign for the Stars and Lehtonen.

This guy is driven to be a starter, not content with just being a backup.

"When I talked to him before we signed him, he said, ‘I've got something to prove. I was in Nashville. I probably got into the league too early,'" Valley said. "They had to kind of force him in Nashville because they had nobody underneath him and he played well under Pekka [Rinne]. Then he got kind of thrust into that starting role in Tampa, which they wanted him to be based on that contract they signed him to. He adjusted his game a little bit and it just didn't work out for him."

Lindback's numbers in Tampa Bay are a little bit disconcerting, as he went 8-12-2 with a .891 save percentage and 2.90 GAA in the regular season before shrinking, no pun intended, in the playoffs - going 0-3 in four starts and allowing 14 goals for a save percentage of .881.

But Valley's job isn't to limit Lindback's goals of challenging for a starting gig, it's to look towards the future and maybe the past a little too, to improve his game.

"The cool thing with Lindback is the first thing we did is we dissected all 27 games that he played including playoffs," Valley said. "We looked at every single goal and we start looking for patterns. We found the things that we need to change and these are the things that are great in your game. I believe he can get there. I believe a big part of it is confidence. I think there were six or seven major things within his game that we just want to adjust. He's coming in here not to be a backup. He's coming in here to push Kari."

If Lindback's goal is to push Kari, then Rynnas' goal should be the same. Valley sees it that way at least.

"He is very similar to Lindback," Valley said. "They have a lot of the same qualities. He's a big, athletic guy. He has a burning desire to show that he can be an NHL guy and not only an NHL guy, but a top NHL guy. Again, when you have guys like that and you can form a good relationship with them, work with them and come up with a plan on how are we going to reach these goals, it's a good problem to have to have four goalies that are kind of all the same."

The motivation these guys will have for next season should work well with that number of 60 games that the organization wants to limit Lehtonen to.

Best case scenario is there is more confidence all around. There's confidence that Kari can take a night off if he isn't feeling 100 percent. There's confidence that whoever wins the backup job can fill the void seamlessly, not with a sense of trepidation that Kari isn't in. There's more strategy to be had for Lindy Ruff.

Rynnas, who found himself in the cross hairs of the Stars' scouts with his play in Kärpät of the Liiga, Finland's top professional league, posted a league-high .939 save percentage in 40 games, but last year wasn't the only year the organization has had their eye him according to Valley.

The Stars tried to recruit him four years ago, but he decided to choose the AHL's Toronto Marlies instead.

Now, Rynnas is transitioning back to the NHL.

"He had three years there and just like any European that comes over, you have adjustments that you're making to your game and your lifestyle," Valley said. "It's huge."

"We sometimes think it's easier and for some guys it is, but for some guys it's a big adjustment. It took him awhile. He dealt with a lot of different injuries, a broken finger and things that just kept him out for a while. After three years, he decided that he was going back to Finland. He went back and played extremely well. He got his confidence back and probably made a couple of adjustments in his game. He has that hunger that he wants to come back and show he can be an NHLer."

Hopefully we'll get to see Lindback and Rynnas duke it out in the preseason for the backup position and hopefully ease the load for Kari.

Finally, Valley got to Campbell, who is in a very intriguing situation.

The Stars have invested in this guy and after battling through a litany of injuries, he was finally able to take a key step towards maybe eventually being the Stars No. 1 goalie of the future, but that step might have been a few years later than the Stars expected. It still seems as if Campbell is a year or two away from seriously challenging for the No. 1 goalie spot.

"I was really happy with Jack's development first off," Valley said. "He's come a long way since we drafted him. It's funny because I started working with Jack two years before we even drafted him. I would see him as a young kid who was always a go-getter to really kind of maturing as a person and as a goalie on the ice. He's come a long way."

"There are a lot of technical things that are adjusted, but a lot of it is how he deals with his day to day life. He's much more in control of his emotions now. I'm not going to say it's perfect yet, because there are times that we have to make sure we address it, but he definitely got on the right way."

It seems as if Campbell has tackled the mental side of being a professional goalie and with that comes dealing with injuries and the ups and downs of a season and career.

What the Stars want to see from Jack now is a little more consistency. If he is going to ever start for the Stars at the NHL level, he's got to show that he can do it for a whole season. That goal starts next season in the AHL.

Last season, Campbell went 12-2-2 with the Texas Stars with a .942 save percentage. The Stars would like to see those numbers, but with the production of the 2012-13 season when he played 40 games.

"Last year was a huge challenge for him," Valley said. "When he played, he was fantastic. Would that remain over the course of playing 50 games? Who knows? I would hope so. But the reality of it is that his next step is he needs to stay healthy and make sure that we get him to play a full season at that high level and then we can talk about that next step. You have to walk before you run. Right now we're walking and we're starting to walk a little faster and soon we'll start running."