The Dallas Stars took a step forward this year in many aspects. They won the Central Division with 109 points (their most since 2006-2007) a year after falling short of a postseason berth in 2014-2015. The faces of the franchise – Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn – and the rest of the Stars’ electric offense was explosive. The team made it as far as Game 7 of the Western Semifinals against the St Louis Blues this season. The Stars fell 6-1 to the Blues in a disastrous elimination game performance. Game 7 was a perfect representation of the glaring weakness that has plagued the Stars.
The Blues scored 6 goals on a mere 19 shots in Game 7. A self destructive performance from both of the Stars goaltenders is no unfamiliar sight. The Stars’ weak goaltending was able to be covered up on paper during the regular season due to the depth the team had in other facets of their game. The two netminders couldn’t get the job done and became baggage as the playoffs went on for the Stars. The drop off in production for the two goalies from the regular season to when their team needed them most in the playoffs was drastic.
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It’s obvious that the Stars need to address their weakness between the pipes if they’d like to take a legitimate step forward. The Stars are amongst the league’s best and look to be Cup contenders heading into next season. But if the team wants to separate themselves from the pack and become a real Cup favorite, they’ll need to address there goaltending.
A little bit of maneuvering with the goaltending situation could do wonders for the Stars. They are one move away from not only returning to where they were this year, but advancing.
Here’s the problem: It’s not that easy.
The Stars ran both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi relatively evenly. As the season started out it seemed to be a 1A and 1B goalie system – A tactic that several NHL teams use, but typically not as evenly split. Lehtonen appeared in 43 games while Niemi skated 47 times. As the season unfolded, the Stars were left with two backup quality goalies rather than two starting quality goalies. Or even one quality starter.
If the Stars want to find a quick solution in net, they’re going to have to get creative. Lehtonen ($5.9 million cap hit) & Niemi ($4.5 million cap hit) allocate 14.5% of the team’s cap. That’s a large sum to get rid of, especially with the way each of the goalies have been playing. It would be hard for the Stars to get rid of both, let alone one given the contract size. Between Niemi and Lehtonen, it’d probably be wiser to keep Lehtonen. The Stars will have to find a way to get rid of Niemi and if they have to sweeten the pot by adding a draft pick to lure a team into pulling the trigger, then so be it.
If the Stars do keep Lehtonen, he’ll have to earn his starts. After a lackluster playoffs, the Stars will need to find someone that can come in and challenge Lehtonen to perform better and ultimately get one of the two to emerge as the team’s number one. The Stars will have roughly $15 million in cap space and while all of that can’t go towards a quick fix in net, a large sum of the funds should be set aside to get a more reliable goalie.
Two names that come to mind out of the free agency pool are James Reimer and Frederik Andersen.
For the right price, Reimer could be a viable option. Since leading the Toronto Maple Leafs to the playoffs in 2012-2013, Reimer hasn’t been in an environment where he had players that could take pressure off of himself. In the highly scrutinized media crazy market that is Toronto, Reimer got a bad image and a bad rep. But for a price of $3-4 million a year and situated in a calm market like Dallas, Reimer could thrive if given another shot.
Anaheim Ducks goaltender Anderson is a restricted free agent this summer. It seems that the Ducks will be going in the direction of handing over the reigns to John Gibson for the long term. If the Stars give Anderson an offer sheet that would make things difficult for the Ducks. They could have their hands on a goaltender that if given the ball and allowed to run with it, could solidify himself as the team’s starting goalie for the long term.
Stars general manager Jim Nill has proved his worth with the team he has assembled. This offseason, acquiring a goaltending fix will be his greatest task yet.