This post is part of Stars Day on PHT…
There’s a saying that goaltending is 50 percent of hockey, unless you don’t have it, then it’s 100 percent.
The 2015-16 Dallas Stars, everyone.
OK, fine, goaltending wasn’t the only reason the Stars didn’t make it past the St. Louis Blues in the second round. There was some other stuff, too. “It’s breakdowns, all kinds of things,” said Alex Goligoski.
But statistically speaking, nothing was as glaring as Kari Lehtonen finishing the postseason with an .899 save percentage in 11 appearances and Antti Niemi posting a ghastly .865 save percentage in five appearances. In Game 7 against the Blues, Lehtonen was yanked after surrendering three goals on just eight shots in the first period. The Stars lost the game, 6-1.
With a combined cap hit of $10.4 million, it’s hard to defend that kind of play from the netminders. Lehtonen and Niemi also had modest numbers during the regular season — in fact, the Stars’ team save percentage (.904) was among the lowest in the league — but Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and company scored a lot of goals, and that mostly covered up the problem.
Lindy Ruff, of course, would take issue with calling it a “problem.” The head coach got pretty “tired” of constantly having to explain the two-goalie system during the postseason.
“You can write any story you want,” Ruff told reporters after the Stars were eliminated. “We used two guys the whole year. They were comfortable with it. It might have been the reason we got to where we got to. It’s not the reason we lost.”
Many would disagree.
Lehtonen, 32, and Niemi, 32, are both under contract for two more years. Given their age, numbers and cap hits, it may not be possible to trade either of them, even if the Stars were to retain salary.
So, what is GM Jim Nill going to do? Buying out Lehtonen was a no-go. He made that clear.
Stars beat writer for the Dallas Morning News, Mike Heika, thinks Nill will wait and see how things play out next season.
“I believe his thinking is that if either or both goalies play well, and their contracts start to decrease this season, they will become easier to trade,” wrote Heika. “Plus, any of the teams that will trade you a top goalies, probably need some sort of veteran to serve as a back-up goalie for the youngster they are keeping.”
There’s been speculation that the Stars could be interested in Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, who can become an unrestricted free agent next summer. The Lightning have Andrei Vasilevskiy under contract for the next four years, and it seems unlikely that their cap situation will allow them to re-sign Bishop. But GM Steve Yzerman may want to see how Vasilevskiy looks in 2016-17 before he trades away Bishop. The Bolts are Cup contenders right now, and Bishop has been a big reason why.
So goaltending is going to be a story either way in Dallas. If one of Lehtonen or Niemi can bounce back, then Nill might not have to do anything. If not, the pressure will be on to find a solution, and that’s never easy to do mid-season.