Tag: Antti Niemi

Lindy Ruff

Under Pressure: Lindy Ruff


The Dallas Stars were a fun dark horse candidate for some time, but this summer ensured that they can’t get away with being a “work in progress” any longer. Much of the pressure to advance falls on Lindy Ruff’s shoulders.

Plenty of questions remain on defense

When you look beyond the flashy set of forwards and the gaudy prices on goalies, one cannot help but wonder if Dallas will still struggle to keep pucks out of its net.

Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi should (potentially) at least give them average-to-good goaltending most nights, but will the Stars’ hyped defensive prospects mature in time to patch up a leaky group of blueliners?

For one thing, it’s a little odd that Tyler Seguin wasn’t shaken off of his belief that Stars couldn’t just outscore their opponents in 2014-15.

“We felt we had all these top players, all this firepower that could score a ton of goals. Automatically in training camp we were scoring a ton, but we weren’t focusing on defense,” Seguin told Sportsnet in early August.

“That’s not the on the coaches or GMs at all. That was all on us. We felt we could outscore every team.”

Yes, Seguin lets management off the hook, but it still seems a little strange.

Rising expectations

On the bright side, the Stars were a pretty strong possession team. Defending Big D goes deep on that front.

To some extent, the formula might not be ideal, though; the Stars’ blistering offense (third in the NHL in “SAT For”) in some ways camouflages the fact that Dallas also gave up far more scoring chances than they would have preferred (20th in “SAT Against”).

How much can we reasonably expect the Stars’ defense to improve from there? Again, it’s difficult to say which prospects may make an impact (and when), so the blueline may be largely similar to the shaky one from last season. Johnny Oduya serves as a nice upgrade over Trevor Daley, but only to a certain extent.

Fair or not, Ruff will absorb plenty of blame if the same problems blot out the Stars once more.

Stars’ biggest question: Will the goalie gamble work?

Antti Niemi

If you were putting together a list of the best goalies in the NHL, how long would it take you to get to Antti Niemi or Kari Lehtonen?

Niemi won a Stanley Cup with Chicago back in 2010 despite some up-and-down playoff performances. He’s been a Vezina finalist once and is 31 years old.

Despite being the second pick of the 2002 NHL Draft, Lehtonen (also 31) has never been a Vezina finalist. He has eight (mostly lousy) games of playoff experience in his career and is associated as much with injury issues and any great on-ice accomplishment.

Neither Niemi nor Lehtonen is a “bad” goalie, but it may be optimistic to call either one of them “elite.”

Well, unless you’re working for the Stars, perhaps.

“In the end, I think it’s going to be a split situation. I think it’s going to work well,” GM Jim Nill told The Ticket back in early August. “Like I said, we’re fortunate because of our cap situation that we can do it. I know that if other teams had the cap room, they’d do it. You can’t get any better than having two No. 1 goalies in your lineup.”

Here are a few bottom-line statements about this situation.

Dallas is spending $10.4 million on this combination, and at any time, they’ll either have a $5.9 million goalie (Lehtonen) or a $4.5 million one (Niemi) watching on. Niemi and Lehtonen make up about 15 percent of the Stars’ cap spending as of this moment, according to General Fanager’s numbers.

Tyler Seguin hints at the Stars at least acknowledging their defensive issues, but do they possess the personnel or system to make life any better for their netminders? The Stars have reason to brag about a deep pool of defensive prospects, yet you have to wonder if that only means they’ll get to that point sometime after 2015-16.

The Stars have a lot riding on their unusual two-headed monster in net, and there’s a significant risk that this experiment may backfire.

It’s Dallas Stars day at PHT

Florida Panthers v Dallas Stars

Whether you like the moves he’s made since becoming Dallas Stars GM or not, you really can’t accuse Jim Nill of being lazy.

Every summer, the Stars seem to be one of the “winners” of the off-season, yet they’re still searching for their first playoff series win since that surprisingly deep run in 2007-08.

The 2014-15 season might just be the last one where they were able to play the “scrappy upstart” role, even if they seem to carry somewhat similar strengths and weaknesses into next season. Broadly speaking, at least.

Off-season recap

Expectations are rising each year, and with good reason.

The Stars nabbed Antti Niemi’s rights from the San Jose Sharks and then handed him a three-year, $13.5 million contract. Backup goaltending – and let’s be honest, goaltending in general – was a big sore spot for Dallas last season. Now Nill is spending $10.4 million on “two No. 1 goalies.”

That was a big enough change in itself, yet Nill had another trick up his sleeve, sending Trevor Daley and Ryan Garbutt to the Chicago Blackhawks for Patrick Sharp and Stephen Johns.

Each summer, the Stars have landed a big-name forward in a trade:

2013: Tyler Seguin
2014: Jason Spezza
2015: Sharp

You can’t do that forever and also retain a ton of cap space, even with bargains for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, so now Dallas is close to the ceiling. Especially after blowing much of their remaining budget on Johnny Oduya.

There weren’t many subtractions beyond assets handed over in trades and the departure of Shawn Horcoff, so the Stars look imposing on paper. Now it’s up to Lindy Ruff to make it all work.