If there’s one area where the Dallas Stars have undergone a major overhaul over the past year it’s the goaltending position.
That process started at last season’s trade deadline, when the Stars sent defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth round draft pick to Atlanta for Kari Lehtonen, setting the stage for the Finn to take over as the team’s new No. 1 netminder.
Turning the page to Lehtonen, the second overall pick in the 2002 NHL draft, meant closing the chapter on Marty Turco, who had been the Stars’ starting goaltender for seven seasons.
“I just felt it was time we went in a different direction,” Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said in announcing that the Stars would not bring back Turco, who has since signed a contract with the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks.
Lehtonen, who has had injuries issues throughout his NHL career, missed most of last season due to a couple of back surgeries and didn’t get into an NHL game until early March, when he made his debut with the Stars. As expected, he looked rusty in his first few outings but as he worked his way into shape he was sharp over his final nine starts, posting a 6-3-0 record, a 2.45 goals against average and a .926 save percentage.
“We saw how good he was the last part of the season, once he got himself in a semblance of condition,” said Crawford. “He was terrific. His numbers were terrific and he gave us an opportunity to win. He just did so many good things. That’s why we’re so excited.”
Now, the question is if Lehtonen can string together a solid, full season. Crawford said he believes the Stars and Lehtonen are building a foundation for that this summer.
“We’ve kept him very tight with Mike Valley, our goaltending coach. He’s gotten a trainer for himself and he’s gotten his weight down ten pounds from the end of the season,” said Crawford. “All those things point to that he understands what a great opportunity is in front of him with the Dallas Stars, and he wants it.
“My expectations are that we’re going to get a goaltender that is playing with that type of attitude and that’s going to be infectious for our group.”
And the hope is that goaltending, particularly Lehtonen, can help fuel a turnaround for the Stars this season.
“The goaltender is the backbone of your team and he showed that he was a pretty good backbone for us at the end of the year,” Crawford. “If there is anybody we’re excited about it would be that position.”
The backup job is up for grabs and should be one of the most notable battles in training camp and the preseason.
The Stars signed Raycroft to a two-year contract on the first day of free agency this summer. He’s got a two-way deal this season and a one-way deal the next. The 30-year-old has 251 games of the NHL experience. He was the backup in Vancouver last season, playing 21 games and registering a 9-5-1 record with a 2.42 goals against average and a .911 save percentage. He’s been a starter as well, playing 72 games with Toronto in 2006-07. He brings ample NHL experience.
The 28-year-old Krahn, a ninth overall pick in 2000, was impressive with the Texas Stars last season. He posted a 17-4-0 record, 1.83 goals against average and .945 save percentage. He missed time due to sports hernia surgery and then time in the playoffs with a concussion, but there were no problems with the knee that had plagued him early in his career. Krahn has seen NHL action just once, playing one period against Chicago during the 2008-09 season.
Heading into training camp, the belief is the battle between Krahn and Raycroft is a toss-up.
“I think the opportunity is equally as good between Raycroft and Krahn as to who is going to grab that back up position,” said Valley. “That competition becomes so important because it makes each guy push that much harder.”
The goaltender that comes up short in the backup battle will end up with the Texas Stars of the AHL and likely will share time with Richard Bachman, one of the Stars stable of promising young netminders.
Bachman spent most of his season with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL, where he had a 22-7-4 record, 2.28 goals against average, .910 save percentage and four shutouts. He led the ECHL in GAA and tied for second in save percentage. He also saw time in the AHL with Texas, going 4-4-0 with a 2.15 GAA and .932 save percentage.
But Bachman should get pushed by Tyler Beskorowany, the Stars’ second round pick (59th overall) in the 2008 NHL Draft. Beskorowany turns pro this season after an excellent career in the Ontario Hockey League and will likely start his career with the Steelheads.
That competition that will start with Raycroft and Krahn for the backup job and will carry over into the battle for positioning within the minor league system is something the Stars see as a big positive.
“I don’t think anybody should be handed anything. Andrew wants that [backup] job. It’s going to be healthy. It’s going to push Brent Krahn to be better,” said Nieuwendyk. “It’s going to push Tyler Beskorowany to better and Richard Bachman. We’ve got a stable of goaltenders that we feel very comfortable with.”
And pushing from the junior ranks will be Jack Campbell, the team’s first round pick (11th overall) in this summer’s draft. Campbell will play for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL this season and gives the Stars what they believe is great depth at the position for years to come.
“Competition is always the best thing internally. Over the years, for the most part, we’ve always had that but we’ve had a bit of a blip the past couple years. I think we’re in a good situation now,” said Les Jackson, Stars Director of Player Personnel. ” We’ve got three good young goaltenders. As Jack, Tyler and Richard move ahead we could be sitting in a real good position for the next six or seven years. “
Dallas Stars Goaltenders
Goaltenders under contract for 2010-11