It is the worst kept secret in the NHL.
The Dallas Stars need goaltending help. While it was by far not the only issue that prevented the Stars from having success last season, it has been an issue for a number of years now.
With the expansion draft this summer, it’s expected that several potential targets could be available this year that would not have been were this a regular offseason. Several teams will have quandaries when it comes to being able to only protect one goaltender and potentially losing another good goaltender for nothing (must be nice, she says with more than a hint of jealousy...)
There are also a number of potential free agents this offseason available. As we begin to look towards next season, we’ll obviously write more in-depth at potential acquisition targets and free agent targets.
But first, we need to look at the philosophy that the Stars could adopt as they look at upgrading their biggest roster issue: goaltending. Here are the three ways the Stars could approach the issue this offseason.
Let’s get the obvious philosophy out of the way. It’s the same one the Stars front office took last offseason. This would be rolling with both Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen this season, the last of their respective contracts.
There will be rioting among the fanbase if this is what occurs this summer.
It was understandable last season, to a degree. With as much money as the Stars have committed to the goaltending position, the only way to improve the position last season would have been to have someone take a contract in trade (not easy to do) or buyout one of the two. The problem last offseason with a buyout was that it would be dead cap space for four seasons, a prospect that was most likely unappealing in this cap world.
That isn’t the case this year. A buyout of Niemi (the most likely candidate given his sub-par play when compared to Lehtonen at even strength) would result in $1.5 million in buyout cap space over the next two seasons, a similar number to what a buyout last season would have been but on half the time frame.
Additionally, there should be many opportunities for the Stars to upgrade the position through either free agency, with targets such as Ben Bishop available, or through trade, with teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals facing tough decisions with protection requirements of their starters and their promising youth players behind them.
The “Get Rich Quick” Philosophy
This philosophy would see the Stars take on a goaltender that is more of a “win-now” piece. It could come in the way of a contract that is expiring within the three years or less (think Marc-Andre Fleury who has a contract that expires after the 2018-2019 season). Or as a short-term contract on an older goaltender (signing a 30-year old Bishop to a six year contract could be risky, but a four year contract is quite appealing — if you can get him to agree to it — or maybe Steve Mason would like to reunite with goaltending coach Jeff Reese, who he had one of his better recent seasons under in Philadelphia.)
This type of goaltending contract would fit with the Stars core’s prime years. They need to make some noise in the next season or two if they hope to re-sign Tyler Seguin in two seasons and if they don’t want to waste Jamie Benn’s best years.
What this does not do, however, is fix the bigger overall issue the Stars have in goal.
Who in the system will be ready to make a leap to the NHL any time soon? Do they even have one that looks like they could in the next four seasons? Possibly. Though the system does not appear at this time that it will produce a starter.
So, the Stars could find themselves in this position again in a few years time. Needing to upgrade the defense via trade or free agency and again looking for long-term answers.
A bit riskier philosophy, this would see the Stars somehow manage to trade for their next long-term goaltender. The target would be a younger, less proven goaltender that appears ready to take on a starting role. Think the 23-year old Joonas Karpisalo from the Columbus Blue Jackets or the 25-year old Philip Grubauer from the Washington Capitals.
It would likely require the trade of good young pieces to occur, but could be worth it if the Stars don’t believe they have an option coming from within in the next few seasons, as mentioned before. However, with some teams facing tough choices in goal as part of the expansion draft process, it’s possible that the asking price is less than it would be in other offseasons when teams don’t have to make a move instead of losing a piece for nothing.
The risk that comes in this plan would be that whomever they acquire might struggle for a season or two adjusting to life as a full-time starter. However, the reward of a steady presence in goal for the foreseeable future might be worth the risk of short-term struggles.
With Lehtonen and Niemi’s contracts coming off the books at the end of the next season, it would not surprise me to see the Stars take the short-term fix this offseason if the asking price for younger goaltenders is higher than they’re willing to pay. However, I expect that they will have to have their eye on acquiring the long-term fix next trade deadline or offseason if they cannot get it done this year.
The instability in goal the last few seasons has illustrated that the Stars need to figure out a plan — and quickly — if they wish to have sustained success moving forward. The flash-in-the-pan offseason appearances of late are nice, but won’t get them to the ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.