Kari Lehtonen's salary is the sixth-highest wage being drawn by a goaltender who has played 40 games or more this season. As you certainly know, this salary rank is not commensurate with his performance this year, which is an even-strength save percentage of .918, the 12th-best number of 14 goalies in that same 40-game-minimum bucket.
In the month of March, however, Kari Lehtonen has been very, very good, sporting a .936 SV% at even-strength. In many ways, Kari seems to be finally coming back to form, even if he isn't going to wind up all that close to his .927 mark from last year. We've accepted this fact by now. Old news and all that.
But Kari's month of quality play hasn't erased the collective memory of those who have watched this entire season. Jhonas Enroth's acquisition was supposed to provide the Stars a glimpse of what quality goaltending could look like outside of the Kari Conundrum, but Enroth (he's the fellow on the bench with the ball cap, in case you don't remember him) has not exactly blown the doors off the crease this season, which is only excusable for the fact that no such doors ever existed. It's a goal crease, for goodness' sake! Doors would be cheating.
Anyway, if the Stars to want to try the "Thing 1 and Thing 2" experiment in goal again, they will have to be a bit more creative, as Kari is being paid top dollar to be a top goalie for the next three years. Rick "Goose" Gosselin chatted about that very thing yesterday, as a matter of fact:
That Stars game on Saturday was great and a true reflection of what this team can do. Though Kari's contract would be difficult to move, do you feel his play of late has secured his spot next year moving forward? Enroth hasn't presented much of a challenge at this point
I don't think Lehtonen has secured anything. I think Jim Nill will provide some competition this summer and make him win the job back. His problem has been his inconsistency. Great one night, sub par for two nights with a penchant for giving up soft goals, then great again on another night. You need your goaltender to steal games during the course of the regular season. Lehtonen has done very little of that.
Do you think the Stars keep Kari this offseason?
With his contract, I think the Stars might have a tough time moving him. So I think he's back. I also think it's on Jim Nill to provide him some formidable training camp competition to force Lehtonen to become the best he can be. He has never faced a stiff challenge for play time. He needs that.
I'm not sure I totally buy the "Kari needs heavy competition to be good" theory, but it certainly couldn't hurt, insofar as competition would mean that at least one goalie is playing well. The thing is, I'm becoming more and more convinced that the Stars as currently constructed are as much a product of their goaltender as they are a catalyst for his numbers. This is basically me riding the fence on whether it was the defense or Kari this season.
But when you look at the pending UFA goalies, there really is zero reason to think that Kari won't be in the crease to start next year. Antti Niemi is, uh, having a tough year of his own, although that's probably Doug Wilson's fault, just like everything else in San Jose. Really, look at this entire list. Sure, there are some "maybe he could be good with more starts" folks, but Andrew Hammond and Devan Dubnyk seem destined to be overpaid by desperate teams--perhaps the same ones they're currently playing for--and the other goalies are either looking for a chance to be a #1 somewhere (Ramo, Enroth) or finding themselves in the same boat as Lindback and Rynnas this year: struggling netminders hoping for a rebound season. I could be wrong, I guess, but I just can't see the Stars signing one of these goalies unless the salary is paid primarily in French Toast Crunch.
With all that said, Jim Nill is certainly more than capable of moving players around; but given the disparity between Kari's dollars and his numbers, I doubt Nill would sell low on the Big Finn this summer. If a trade happens, I wouldn't expect to see it until well into next season, after Kari can reestablish some of his value. Of course, the problem on that front is that if Kari starts off next season showing himself to be a solid goalie again, why would Nill shake things up at that point? Any team (like Tampa) with a solid pair in net is never going to move the younger, cheaper standout, so what do you really have to gain by trading Kari for another veteran goalie with what logic dictates would be a similar contract? It's just tough to see what the Stars would gain from such a move.
To be blunt, I can't stand the "you won't win a Stanley Cup with ____" sorts of arguments. That is 100% true about player _____ right up until you actually do win the Stanley Cup with him. (or her--Shannon Szabados train's going to roll someday, I just know it.) Lehtonen has had a rough year, but it has only been one year. He's more than likely going to hit 65 games played again, and the Stars seem primed to fine-tune their defense (at last) and roar into 2015-2016 with a team so grossly formidable that they can actually hang on to a playoff spot in the Central. This division is just the worst.
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I actually thought Benn's injury might have been related to the shot he blocked with his skate. Hopefully it is just a slight muscle strain or something instead, and he scores twelve goals tonight.
Mike Heika's take on the Buffalo game is typically salient to your perception of it. [DMN]
Here are some grades on Jim Nill's summer signings. I mostly disagree with these! [Hockey Writers]
Mike Heika chatted with you all yesterday, and I bet none of you sent him a thank-you card. Ungrateful people, all o' youse. [DMN]
Two Dallas Stars made the list of those responsible for doling out the biggest hits of the year, but somehow Jordie Benn's "Kablammo!" on Shaw didn't make the cut. [The Score]
The Winnipeg Jets lost in regulation to the Canucks last night, if you can believe that. Willie D, doin' his part for the boys. [NHL]
Darren Helm's daughter was born in the back of his car on the freeway. He stayed in the front of the car. [Detroit Free Press]
Everyone on the internet is still the worst, as Nick Leddy unfortunately found out. [Puck Daddy]
Leafs tickets were going for as low as $27 Monday night. They did not sell out. [Globe and Mail]
Shannon Szabados is playing really, really well. [THN]
What would it cost to trade up to number one this summer? [Down Goes Brown]
Finally, Valeri Nichushkin is "chomping to go" in his rehab with the Texas Stars, says Jim Nill: