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.