Amid rumblings that Dallas is ready to move on from its maligned two-goalie system, Kari Lehtonen is trying to block out the noise.
Which is easier said than done.
Lehtonen could be moved, be bought out or remain and try to establish a new relationship with a younger goalie. He said he’s aware of all of the options but is working hard to keep them at arm’s length.
“It’s hard sometimes not to think about it, but you have a job to do,” he said. “It’s part of this sport, and you do best when you concentrate on controlling what you can control. To me, I feel most healthy when I don’t think about it.”
Both Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are 33. They’re also both under contract through 2018, but Lehtonen carries the slightly larger cap hit ($5.9 million to Niemi’s $4.5M). From a financial standpoint, it might make sense for Dallas to get rid of the bigger hit, but there’s also a case to be made for keeping Lehtonen over Niemi.
Lehtonen is playing his best hockey of the year. He has a .921 save percentage over his last five starts, which included 40-plus saves in consecutive wins over the Panthers and Capitals. That’s given the Stars the faintest flicker of playoff hope, as they head into tonight’s action seven points back of St. Louis for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference.
(Of note, Lehtonen will start tonight against Ottawa.)
But this all might be a case of too little, too late. Lehtonen’s overall body of work has been spotty — he hasn’t posted a save percentage above .906 in three years — and given Niemi’s equally underwhelming performance over the last couple of seasons, the case could be made to overhaul the entire thing, and move on from both.
Logistically, though, that could be tough.
Buyouts are costly, trades will be tough to orchestrate and it’s not like Dallas has a slew of goalie options in the pipeline. Prospect Philippe Desrosiers is only 21 and still a few seasons away from competing for an NHL gig.
Nill could try and upgrade the position in free agency, though it remains to be seen who’ll come available (and which other teams, like Calgary, will be in the goalie mix).
In the end, it could be that Dallas opts to part with just one of Lehtonen or Niemi. And if that’s the case, Lehtonen says he wants to stick.
“The whole city, the whole organization, it’s all very important to me,” he said.