Kari Lehtonen

Stars putting their hopes in Lehtonen

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The Dallas Stars have high aspirations for this season, but whether or not they can actually succeed in being a serious Stanley Cup contender will be largely dependent on their goaltending.

The Stars defense doesn’t look like a Cup-caliber group, so they’ll need goaltender Kari Lehtonen to help pick up the slack. Is he up for the challenge though? Well, there’s two obvious areas of concern with him.

One is his history of groin and back problems. Those didn’t prove to be a big issue in 2013-14, but there’s the looming threat of them hindering the 30-year-old going forward. The other is his lack of playoff experience. The Stars’ 2014 series against Anaheim represented just his second postseason stint and his first since 2007. He didn’t look particularly impressive during the Stars-Ducks series and Dallas just has to hope that he will improve in 2015 now that he has a better idea of what to expect.

If he can’t hold his own in the playoffs or his campaign gets derailed by injuries, then things could start looking ugly for Dallas in a hurry. The Stars will enter the season with either Anders Lindback or Jussi Rynnas serving as the backup goaltender. Lindback is coming off of a playoff experience worse than Lehtonen’s and while Lindback has the potential to be a good goaltender, he was shaky overall in two seasons with Tampa Bay. Rynnas had a strong campaign in Finland, but it wasn’t that long ago that he was essentially buried in the Maple Leafs’ farm system.

So while Lindback and Rynnas are both interesting options, neither is a safe bet to be a solid backup goaltender, let alone someone that can be trusted to lead the team.

Of course, the X-factor in all of this is Jack Campbell. The 22-year-old is one of the better goaltending prospects out there and while he was only healthy enough to play in 16 AHL games last season, he did finish with a 1.49 GAA and .942 save percentage. It was likely that lack of playing time in 2013-14 that prompted Stars GM Jim Nill to sign Lindback and Rynnas in order to buy Campbell at least one more season worth of development in the minors. Still if Lehtonen ends up suffering a significant injury in 2014-15, it might mark the start of the Campbell era in Dallas.

Shattenkirk on Blues trading him: ‘That’s out of my hands’

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 23:  Kevin Shattenkirk #22 of the St. Louis Blues skates against the San Jose Sharks in Game Five of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 23, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
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In a vacuum, it’s confounding to imagine the St. Louis Blues trading Kevin Shattenkirk.

He’s a highly productive defenseman in the meat of his prime at 27, and his cap hit is a super-bargain at $4.25 million.

Of course, as is the case with many of the NHL’s biggest steals, the Blues will eventually need to pay up. In Shattenkirk’s case, his bargain deal ends after the 2016-17 season.

That’s a tough enough conundrum on its own, but consider the deals on the Blues’ cap that also expire after next season.

Now, there are also some areas of relief; some will be happy to see the Blues part ways with Patrik Berglund‘s $3.7 million cap hit (unless he plays out of his mind, naturally).

There are also some other things to consider.

A) What if the salary cap rises more than one might expect for 2017-18?

B) Would expansion help the Blues cut a little fat by losing a less-than-ideal contract?

C) Who are the Blues bringing back from this off-season?

Item C) dovetails with Shattenkirk. Will the Blues try to bring back David Backes and/or Troy Brouwer, possibly squeezing out Shattenirk?

There have been rumors about Shattenkirk being shopped around in the past, yet the summer is a great time to make deals. Teams get salary cap leeway, owners may want reboots and new coaches could really value Shattenkirk’s in-demand skills.

For what it’s worth, Shattenkirk would prefer to stay:

There’s a strong chance that Blues GM Doug Armstrong may bide his time, whether he’s inclined to trade Shattenkirk during the season or re-sign him.

Still, the talented defenseman’s situation shows that the Blues have big decisions to make even regarding situations that do not technically demand immediate choices.

One thing seems certain: it won’t be any easy call.

Related

Blues face tough questions

David Backes wants to stay

So does Troy Brouwer

It sounds like Troy Brouwer would love to return to the Blues

DALLAS, TX - MAY 07:  Troy Brouwer #36 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with Robby Fabbri #15 of the St. Louis Blues after scoring a goal against Kari Lehtonen #32 of the Dallas Stars in the second period in Game Five of the Western Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at American Airlines Center on May 7, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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How much is Troy Brouwer‘s magical postseason run worth to the St. Louis Blues or some other team in free agency? How important is comfort and familiarity to Troy Brouwer?

Those seem to be the most important bigger-picture questions, although from the sound of Brouwer’s comments, nuts-and-bolts issues may decide his future in or outside of St. Louis.

Brouwer raved about his time with the Blues as the team spoke with the media to close out the 2015-16 season. The power forward seemed very happy about his living conditions and the way his style fits with this blue collar team.

Even so, Brouwer also admits that “it’s a business.”

That’s typical talk, yet it was more interesting when he went a little deeper, acknowledging that he understands that GM Doug Armstrong must ask questions about more than just the 2016-17 season.

His playoff production was fantastic, but a smart GM will realize that it probably wasn’t sustainable. Case in point, facts like these:

Even so, Brouwer brings considerable value if you keep expectations in check.

While he fell a little bit short this season with 18, he generally falls in the 20-goal range each year. He’s one of those players who can bring some grit to the table without totally taking away from your team in other ways.

Brouwer was one of the Blues’ top penalty-killing forwards to boot.

It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising for Brouwer to enjoy a healthy raise from his expired $3.67 million cap hit, yet you must wonder how much. Maybe most importantly, what kind of term is he looking for?

That last question might just be pivotal regarding a possible return to the Blues. Would he sacrifice some stability to try to make another run with St. Louis?

Even if he isn’t that old at 30, his rugged style might mean that this is one of his last opportunities for a big payday.

Both sides face a tough call, yet it sounds like a reunion is at least plausible.

Related

Tough questions await the Blues

David Backes would prefer to return, too

Trio of Pens forwards take maintenance day on Saturday

TAMPA, FL - MAY 24:  Chris Kunitz #14 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shoots the puck against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the first period in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Amalie Arena on May 24, 2016 in Tampa, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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The Pittsburgh Penguins are about as healthy as you can be at this stage of the game. Outside of Trevor Daley (ankle), who’s done for the playoffs, the Pens have their desired roster at their disposal. That doesn’t mean that certain veterans don’t need a little bit of time to recuperate from the grind of the first three rounds.

On Saturday, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Chris Kunitz didn’t participate in practice. Coach Mike Sullivan confirmed that each player had taken a maintenance day.

The 36-year-old Kunitz and 39-year-old Cullen have surely picked up some bumps and bruises throughout the postseason, while Bonino might still feel the effects of a shot block from Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Not to worry Penguins fans, Sullivan says that each player should be available for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final on Monday night.

Related:

Pens enter Stanley Cup Final as favorites: online bookmaker

Need for speed: Sharks, Pens brace for ‘fast hockey’ in Stanley Cup Final

Pittsburgh’s run fueled by ‘Baby Pens’

‘No question,’ David Backes wants to stay in St. Louis

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 17:  David Backes #42 of the St. Louis Blues looks on in Game Two of the Western Conference Final against the San Jose Sharks during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 17, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
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We don’t always get what we want…but we try.

In David Backes‘ case, he’d like to remain a member of the St. Louis Blues going forward. It might be difficult to make the numbers work, but the two sides will give it a go.

Backes, who is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, scored 21 goals and 45 points in 79 games in 2015-16. The 32-year-old added seven goals and 14 points in 20 postseason games before the Blues were eliminated by the Sharks in the Western Conference Final.

Re-signing their captain will likely interest the Blues, but can they make it work under the salary cap? St. Louis also has to re-sign RFA Jaden Schwartz and fellow UFA Troy Brouwer this off-season.

The Blues might have to pick between keeping Brouwer or Backes and that might not work in Backes’ favor. Brouwer is younger, and the fact that St. Louis gave up T.J. Oshie for him just last year could also play a factor in their decision.

Even if St. Louis doesn’t bring back role players like Steve Ott, Kyle Brodziak and Scottie Upshall, they still need to have other players fill those spots on their third and fourth lines, which will eat into their limited cap space.

If they want to make room for Backes and/or Brouwer, the Blues may have to part ways with a defenseman like Kevin Shattenkirk (one year left at $4.25 million).

It looks like the Blues might be looking for a new captain in 2016-17.