The quality of Kari Lehtonen's play became an issue roughly 51 minutes into the 2014-2015 NHL regular season. We didn't exactly know it at the time (fun fact: Kari's first three games and five of his first six saw save percentages north of .920), but Patrick Sharp's game-tying goal would presage a season of unrest in the Dallas Stars' crease.
Over the next 64 games, Lehtonen would wobble his way to numbers among the absolute worst of his professional career. The big Finn saw his save percentage plummet more than 10% (.919 to .903) and his goals against average balloon just over half a score (2.41 to 2.94). Nasty business, and the fact the Stars would watch those same Blackhawks lift the Stanley Cup eight months later was not a coincidence.
Meanwhile, in the Eastern Conference, journeyman Cam Talbot was preparing to spend another season bouncing between watching King Henrik Lundqvist dominate and riding buses with the AHL's Hartford Wolf Pack. Yes, he'd shown promise in 21 games the year before (.941 SV% / 1.64 GAA), but c'mon, Lundqvist was busy leading the league in being Henrik Lundqvist.
Cam Talbot played 13 games before February 8th, good for a, wait for it, 21-game pace stretched across the entire season. Then the King took a puck to the throat, and rather than abdicate their season, the Rangers saw Talbot settle admirably onto the throne. Talbot would manage 23 games down the stretch, finish with a .926 SV% / 2.21 GAA line, and more than pull his weight for the eventual President's Trophy winning Rangers.
So why does any of this matter?
It matters because Talbot, an undrafted free agent, signed a one-year extension in 2014 that ends after the 2015-2016 season. It matters because Lundqvist carries an $8.5 million cap hit and won't reach free agency until 2021. In other words, Henrik ain't going anywhere. Contract math plus performance means now is the time for both the Rangers and Talbot to cash in. The Blueshirts will undoubtedly be able to spin their backup into a tangible asset prior to June's draft if they want, and in a goaltending-starved league, Talbot is going to find a shot to start somewhere.
But is he a fit for the Dallas Stars? The bigger question may be "in what role?"
If you're asking "would I take .926 / 2.21," the answer is an immediate yes, but nothing is ever that simple. Talbot's stellar performance stretches across just parts of two seasons. The 36 games he played last year are the most he's seen at the NHL level, and with the exception of a single season in Hartford, the most he's seen at any professional level. Talbot is also 27, and has a minor league history that falls more into the good category than great. With the leverage he's got, Talbot is going to require an agreement that pushes into his thirties with a cap hit full of squiggly numbers.
The Dallas Stars already have one of those guys. Kari Lehtonen is signed for two more seasons at $5.9 million a pop. A well-managed cap means the cash itself isn't an issue, but be honest, wouldn't some of the dollars Talbot wants look much better in the form of defensive reinforcements? Furthermore, at the age of 33, Lehtonen has had a single bad season in Dallas. Management would have to be awful sure to swap Lehtonen for Talbot with Talbot as the bonafide number one guy moving forward.
That brings us to whether Talbot would be a suitable backup goaltender for the Stars.
He'd likely be an improvement over the merry-go-round that has been the Dallas Stars backup goaltenders recently. The questions really come in when looking at how Talbot would do in a system that is not as defensively structured as the New York Rangers. His limited numbers at the NHL level would presumably take a hit in this "defense optional" style the Stars have had lately (though not necessarily by design.)
So the question of whether or not he would be a suitable backup most likely comes down to what you pay for him. Recent rumors have Edmonton offering a first round pick (obviously not their top pick where they will get Connor McDavid) in their trade deal. The Stars are unlikely to pay something that high for a backup, especially given this year's deep draft.
Next year is a weird season for the Stars. So much about this roster is ready to compete, but the holes are glaring. In a cap league, there's also a ticking clock. How long can you afford to wait to fix things? Someone probably told Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin how much money Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews are going to make next year.
No matter what, the Stars head into next season with a need to roll the dice. One option is to acquire a potential late-blooming starter squeezed out by an established starter on an elite team: Talbot. Another option combines the hope a veteran starter might rebound with the possibility of a backup pushing for a starting job. The age-old question: is goaltending the problem, or is it the defense? GM Jim is going to have to pick his poison.