Nothing has defined the Dallas Stars more than their goaltending. The netminding in 'Big D' has been a punchline to everyone with a press credential, and those without. To that end, Kari Lehtonen has become the persona non grata, leading to unimaginative puns and vulgarities.
Through the first half of the season this was mostly unjustified. In January, Kari's even strength goals against per hour ranked 6th in the NHL among goaltenders with considerable ice time.
It didn't matter too much in the grand scheme of things. His raw save percentage was .894 percent at the time.
The difference is often attributed to Dallas' penalty kill this season. Which was not just a league worst. But a league worst over the past 20 years. Lehtonen's struggles didn't occur in a cobalt vacuum. He simply didn't have much help.
However, goalies aren't silent partners on the PK. And even Kari's even strength numbers regressed. He closed the season out 24th of 50 goaltenders with over 1,000 minutes of ice time, and his even strength goals against per hour dipped to 20th. Even at even strength, Kari’s numbers read like a tale of two tenders.
Whatever goodwill and justifications could be made about Kari (and Antti’s) performance early on wouldn’t be sustainable. Especially as the season crumbled to a close.
By most accounts, Antti Niemi is the goalie most likely to get bought out. Niemi's contract is more "affordable" as a loss, should Jim Nill and Tom Gaglardi go that route. With Ben Bishop signed-ish, at minimum, one goaltender will be lost.
Meaning there’s a good chance Kari will be between the pipes next season.
Unless Nill can work some magic. After all, Lehtonen’s contract is an albatross by any measure. Even though he’s only signed for one more season, he’s not getting better. And at least Niemi’s contract could be trade deadline affordable if Dallas kept him over Kari.
Even though Bishop is signed, there should be a palpable fear for Stars fans over what happens if Bishop is injured during the season (as has happened to the 31 year old goaltender). Kari’s save percentage drops from .912 in the regular season over his career to .887 in his postseason career, feeding the narrative that Lehtonen is not the goaltender Dallas should rely on in any capacity at this point, especially during “crunch time”.
Dallas will have a lot of options in free agency for a potential starter and a potential backup with starter potential. Kari and Antti won’t be resigned after next season. Nill will have to twist himself into a pretzel trying to figure out how to unload both contracts without giving up assets, or taking back a bad contract. But it’s certainly worth a discussion among GM’s who are looking to compete for the draft lottery next year.
Lehtonen has led a respectable career. The teams in front of him haven’t always given him the benefit of the doubt. But his future as Dallas’ number one netminder is an era the Stars can longer give the benefit of the doubt to.
How would you rate Kari Lehtonen’s 2016-2017 season
This poll is closed
A - Oh. I thought this was a poll for Ed Belfour.
B - It’s all the PK’s fault.
C - Better than expected. As bad as infected.
D - Buy him out.
F - Game 7 last season. Game 6 two seasons before. Mediooocre!