Tag: Kari Lehtonen

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.

Under Pressure: Mike Smith

Pittsburgh Penguins v Arizona Coyotes

Signed through 2018-19 with a cap hit approaching $6 million, the Arizona Coyotes are indeed “married” to goalie Mike Smith.

As Coyotes fans will tell you, it wasn’t exactly wedded bliss last season, as Smith struggled to a 14-42-5 record with a .904 save percentage. Among goalies with at least 40 starts, only two — Kari Lehtonen and Ben Scrivens — had a lower save percentage than that.

Goaltending was a major reason the Coyotes finished 29th overall, just two points better than the dreadful Buffalo Sabres, and it left GM Don Maloney to deflect some of the blame away from the 33-year-old Smith.

“I think [next season] we’ll play better defense in front of (Smith), which is important,” Maloney said, per NHL.com. “I think we’ll have a better structure in front of Mike so he doesn’t feel like he has to be all-world every night and he can just do his thing.”

To be fair to Smith, he did post considerably better numbers in the latter stages of the season. He then gained even more confidence at the 2015 World Championships, as his solid play helped Canada win gold.

“It reiterates that I’m a pretty good goalie,” he said. “It’s been a tough year mentally on me. Physically, I got a good handle on that, but I think mentally, going into the summer knowing that I’ve played some pretty good hockey now for three months or so, I think it’s important.”

Smith will be backed up next season by Anders Lindback. Considering the Coyotes will be Lindback’s fifth NHL team since 2010, it’s anyone’s guess how he’ll perform. In 2014-15, he struggled badly with the Stars before playing considerably better for the Sabres.

Nill believes Stars have ‘two No. 1 goalies’

Jim Nill

Kari Lehtonen won’t have to play hurt next season.

Lehtonen made 65 appearances last season including a stretch, which had him as the goaltender of record in 14 of 17 games.

The Stars simply weren’t comfortable in starting Anders Lindback who eventually found his way to the AHL’s Texas Stars before being dealt to the Buffalo Sabres.

“There was a lot of games last year, people don’t know this part of it, where Kari Lehtonen was pretty banged up and we didn’t have a choice but to ride him,” Stars GM Jim Nill told Dallas radio station The Ticket per The Dallas Morning News. “Now he knows that he can get four or five days off and get re-energized.”

Jhonas Enroth and Jussi Rynnas also had stints in the Stars’ net last season – neither gave Nill confidence he had a reliable replacement when Lehtonen needed a night off.

As a result, Nill went out and acquired the rights to Antti Niemi and gave him a three-year, $13.5 million contract in June.

“I really believe it’s becoming a two-goalie league. It’s hard for one goalie with all of this travel and back-to-backs. The league is so close. If you can win an extra two or three games because you have a rested, healthy, very competitive No. 1 goalie that you can put in any time is going to make a big difference,” said Nill. “I think it’s going to be a great competition. I’ve talked to both goalies. They’re very comfortable with it. They think it’s going to be very great for them. They know that they got a chance if they go on a run winning five or six games in a row, good for them. And once they start to get tired or something they have another guy who can come in and play for them.”

Lehtonen was 34-17-10 last season to go along with a 2.94 G.A.A. and a .903 save percentage.

Niemi meanwhile made 61 appearances with the San Jose Sharks posting a 31-23-7 record to go along with a 2.59 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage.

Together they’ll have a cap hit of $10.4 million next season.

“We think it’s going to be a split job. Now someone might get it and run with it for a while. We’ll play it by ear,” said Nill. “There’s always the unknown. There’s injuries. So many things can happen. Somebody can get sick. You don’t know what’s going to happen.

“In the end, I think it’s going to be a split situation. I think it’s going to work well. 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.”

Campbell credits ECHL stint for turning his game around

Dallas Stars training camp

When Jack Campbell was sent from the AHL to the ECHL in February, it wasn’t a particularly promising sign for a young goalie who was once so highly touted.

At the time, Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill explained the move like this: “He’s going there to play games, and that’s exactly what he needs right now, so it’s a positive thing.”

But let’s face it, the ECHL was not where the Stars had forecast Campbell to be playing almost five years after they made him the 11th overall pick in the 2010 draft.

To Campbell’s credit, he made the best of his short stint with the Idaho Steelheads, and now he’s feeling a lot better about his game.

From the Stars’ website:

Campbell played seven games in 13 days with Idaho, posting a 5-2-0 record, 1.73 goals-against average and .945 save percentage.

“Just playing, getting away from everybody a little bit,” said Scott White, Dallas Stars Director of Hockey Operations and Texas Stars GM. “He just played. He played a lot of hockey in a short period of time. I think he had fun.”

“I think it was just knowing I was the guy down there,” Campbell said. “I played seven in a row, which was nice. The boys had a lot of confidence in me and the coaches. I relaxed down there and came back with the same attitude and everything kind of took care of itself.”

The dividends continued to roll in when Campbell returned to the AHL. He went 0-1-1 in his first two starts, but then went 11-3-0 with a 2.45 goals-against average and .924 save percentage to finish the season.

Clearly, the Stars haven’t given up on Campbell. They re-signed the 23-year-old in June.

“Jack winning 11 out of his last 14 games last season was huge in solidifying another postseason appearance for Texas,” Nill said. “We fully expect him to build off of that success and continue his growth.”

It’s hard to say what the future holds for Campbell, but with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi signed for the next three years, there aren’t currently any openings on the big club’s roster.

Campbell knows he has to be patient.

“My goal is to be a starting goalie in the National Hockey League for the Dallas Stars,” he said. “That’s my main goal, but that’s a process. I have to show that I can be a starting goalie for the Texas Stars.”