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.”