SUNRISE, Fla. -- Well, the goaltending situation for the Dallas Stars is about to get interesting, with a distinct Finnish flair.
After starter Kari Lehtonen turned in a rather tepid 2014-15 season that saw the Stars fall out of the playoffs in the Western Conference, on Saturday, general manager Jim Nill bolstered his goaltending by acquiring the rights to pending unrestricted free agent netminder Antti Niemi from the San Jose Sharks for the 193rd pick in the 2015 draft.
On Saturday, a source told ESPN.com’s Pierre LeBrun the Stars are already working on a contract for Niemi, the long-time Shark and former Stanley Cup-winner with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Niemi, 31, wasn’t exactly a world-beater for a Sharks team that also missed the playoffs the past season. He had a 2.59 goals-against and .914 save percentage, and the team seemed to lose confidence in the 6-foot-2 netminder.
Lehtonen, also 31, might respond to being pushed for starts in Dallas' goal if Niemi is brought under contract. That didn’t happen the past season, as the Stars misread the abilities of backup Anders Lindback, and young goaltender Jack Campbell has not evolved the way the team imagined.
Lehtonen, once the second overall draft pick in the 2002 draft, was saddled with a .903 save percentage and unsightly 2.94 GAA, and the Stars finished 27th in goals allowed per game.
That both netminders are the same age and shared time with the Finnish Olympic team in Sochi in 2014 might provide the right balance of familiarity and competition to bring Lehtonen back to the form he showed in 2013-14, when he backstopped the Stars to a surprise playoff berth.
It better, or the Stars are doomed to once again watch the playoffs from the outside.