When the Dallas Stars signed former Tampa Bay Lightning backup goalie Anders Lindback to a one-year contract early in the free agency period this summer, it seemed like the team had made their commitment to a backup goalie for the 2014-15 season.
Then the Stars went out and signed Jussi Rynnas out of the Finnish Elite League, and the picture got a little more complicated.
Given that he's the guy with the most recent NHL experience, Lindback has to be considered the favorite for the backup goalie spot to start the season.
So why even consider Rynnas then? Two reasons. The first is that he's coming off an incredibly successful season with Karpat in the Finnish Elite League, posting a 1.50 goals against average and 0.939 save percentage in 40 games played, by far the best numbers of any season of his professional career. He's also on the first of a two-year deal, as opposed to the one-year deal for Lindback.
But from a more pragmatic point of view, he's a slight but still significant cap savings hit of just under $400,000. Depending on the status of several still up-in-the-air things, including the RFA contracts for Brenden Dillon and Cody Eakin and the injury status of Rich Peverley, the Stars could be trying to make things a little more cap friendly early in the season, and Rynnas is an obvious option on that front.
They bring a little bit of a different game despite their similar physical attributes.
At 6-foot-6, 203 pounds, Lindback is the Stars tallest but lightest goalie (though not by much on either front). The scouting report on him is that he generally uses his size and is a hard-working backup but struggles with consistency and can really fight the puck. That was evident in the playoffs last season as he was pressed into service for an injured Ben Bishop but couldn't pick up a win for the Lightning against the Montreal Canadiens, and his regular-season numbers of a 2.90 goals against average and 0.891 save percentage aren't overly inspiring either.
Rynnas, meanwhile, is 6-5, 205 and seems to be an extremely aggressive positioner, especially for a large goalie, which can be both a blessing and a curse. Depending on what started to go right for him with Karpat last year, perhaps he has figured out some of the issues that plagued him during his stint with the Toronto Maple Leafs. On the other hand, he struggled in the playoffs with Karpat last season, going 0-3 with a 2.57 GAA and 0.881 save percentage on a team that went on to win the Finnish championship.
From a longer-term point of view, they're both fairly equivalent. Rynnas is 27 while Lindback is 26, and both still have to prove they can be consistent performers at the NHL level. They are also both likely short-term plans for the Dallas side of things at least, since Lehtonen is locked up through 2017-18 and you'd think the Stars will move Jack Campbell up as the backup as soon as he can prove he can be the guy in Austin for a complete, healthy season.
Regardless of which man ends up spending more time in Dallas next season, the Stars will be looking for consistency and the sort of solid performances they haven't been able to get from their backups the past few seasons. With respect to Dan Ellis and Tim Thomas, both of whom won a few huge games last year though not nearly enough, and the laundry list of backups before them, part of the reason the Stars have played Kari Lehtonen 235 of the past 300 games (more than 78 percent) is that they have not been able to find a backup they trust.
If the Stars can find a backup they trust for 25-30 games if necessary, allowing Lehtonen to roll when he's rolling yet pick up rest when he needs it, they will have accomplished their goal for this position, something that has been frustratingly hard to attain for the past several years.
This is still Lehtonen's team and will be for the forseeable future, and as last year finally showed, the Stars can succeed even when the performance from the backup goalies ends up with an overall mediocre grade. But things would be that much easier if they can solve the consistency issues with backup goalie that have plagued them for the past few years, which is why Rynnas and Lindback finish here on our rankings.