To say the Dallas Stars struggled mightily at the goaltending position last season is an understatement. The franchise saw career-lows from Kari Lehtonen in save percentage and didn't get consistent help from the backup spot until the final, futile stretch.
Those performance issues have led to the obvious question of how the Stars plan to address the position in the offseason, and the latest speculation started Tuesday morning when David Staples of the Edmonton Journal wrote an analysis piece on if Stars starter Kari Lehtonen would be a good fit for the Edmonton Oilers, leading with this as his premise:
This in from the Edmonton Journal’s hockey writer Jim Matheson, who is as connected as they come in the NHL: "One more name to consider if the Oilers are looking for another goalie for next year. Sources say the Stars are shopping Lehtonen, who has three years left with a $5.9 million cap hit."
For those who are curious, this rumor appears to date from way back in April, when Matheson wrote the following in the Edmonton Journal:
The Oilers could be after a young goalie for more organizational depth — maybe Malcolm Subban with the Bruins — or an older one such as Kari Lehtonen in Dallas, who with sources say could be shopped by the Stars summer with three years left at $5.9 million even after 35 wins this season, and somebody’s No. 3 defenceman (say, the Rangers’ Marc Staal) who could be a No. 2 here.
Staples quoted this paragraph in a May column, and it doesn't appear Matheson has added any further information to the rumor since the original story in April.
Still, the idea that the Stars may be open to conversations about Lehtonen was bolstered several days ago by Elliotte Friedman. While talking about the goalie trade market on Calgary's Sportsnet 960, Friedman mentioned Lehtonen's name at the tail end of a fairly lengthy breakdown:
So I think the goalie market – there’s a lot out there. I think that if you’re looking for a goalie this year, you’re going to have options in terms of guys to look at, especially if you think – if you like Kari Lehtonen, you can get him now for probably a lower price than in the past. So if you think he’s a guy that can solve your problems, you’re going to have a chance to get him for 30, 40 cents on the dollar if you really want to do it.
Now, that quote from Friedman implies that the Stars have always listened to offers for Lehtonen and that the difference now is the price may simply be lower than in the past. Both contentions make sense without the Stars actively trying to switch goalies - teams listen to offers for all players, especially those on the outside edges of what they consider their core group, and Lehtonen's value certainly took a hit last year.
Still, it's summer and Lehtonen didn't exactly help the Stars last season, so why not take these Lehtonen rumors at face value for the purposes of this discussion.
Let's say the Stars are actively shopping Lehtonen, who has three years left on his contract at a $5.9 million cap hit, for something other than a goalie-for-goalie switch. If that's the case, how exactly would the Stars address that position next season?
At the moment, the Stars have four goalies under contract, including Lehtonen, Philippe Desrosiers, Henri Kiviaho, Maxime Lagace and Jussi Rynnas, and one RFA in Jack Campbell. Rynnas' status became up in the air on Tuesday when reports surfaced he may have signed with the KHL's AK Bars Kazan next season (more on how that would be possible soon).
So without Lehtonen and potentially without Rynnas, the Stars would have just Campbell, Kiviaho, Lagace and the newly-signed Desrosiers to fill out the four goalie spots between Dallas and Austin. That's obviously not something they would stick with over the long run, as the four combine for just one game of NHL and 162 games of professional hockey experience total, a large chunk of that in the ECHL.
Of the four, Desrosiers probably had the most successful 2014-15 season, winning the CHL's top goaltender honors in his final year in junior hockey. But even the best junior goaltenders never make the jump directly to the NHL, so he's clearly at the absolutely least one year (and much more likely several years) away. Kiviaho is a touch further along in his development, but he posted a 0.899 save percentage and 2.79 GAA in the ECHL last year. Lagace also largely spent 2014-15 in the ECHL, splitting time with the Missouri Mavericks and Bakersfield Condors.
With those caveats, it's really Campbell and then two highly unlikely options at the NHL level, and that means if the Stars really do move Lehtonen, they are heavily in the market for at least one, if not two, goalies with significant NHL experience.
The free agent market at goalie is pretty thin - Antti Niemi is the "headliner" of a class that also includes Karri Ramo, Jonas Gustavsson, Viktor Fasth and Peter Budaj.
Of the existing UFA options, Jhonas Enroth stands out since he not only came to the Stars late last season but played very well in the final five games when the Stars were finally fed up with their goaltending problems and rolled with the player who won the previous game each time.
Even if the Stars re-sign Enroth to replace Lehtonen, the goalie crop is still rather thin, especially if there is an injury at the NHL level. In that alignment, Campbell would be the presumptive backup coming off what was, on the whole, a very inconsistent year with the Texas Stars. Perhaps, given that, the Stars would also turn to the trade market.
Trades are a lot harder to predict, obviously. There are teams with what appear to be multiple starting goalies signed at this point (the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators spring to mind). One of those teams could be a target, especially if there's a team who is looking for young, NHL-ready defensemen.
So if the Stars did move Lehtonen for some sort of non-goalie return, you can reasonably assume they're in the market for at least two goalies with NHL experience and will likely have to test the goalie trade waters themselves. If the goal is to get a starting-caliber goalie in return, the Stars will likely have to give up something with Lehtonen if only because of his relatively down value at this point and the tight salary cap situation next year.
Given the big picture outlook, the Stars would probably need a heck of an offer, or an NHL-experienced goalie in return, to feel comfortable move Lehtonen at this point. It's not outside the realm of possibility that they move him, but with the forward group entering what should be the prime years, they're unlikely to take a chance with only the young status quo at the position.