The Dallas Stars goaltending has undergone changes this offseason. Kari Lehtonen remains locked in as the team’s No. 1 netminder, but there has been some turnover below him.
Gone are backup Tim Thomas, who departed via free agency, and Cristopher Nilstorp, who helped lead the Texas Stars to the Calder Cup championship last season, but decided to return to his native Sweden and will play for Växjö of the Swedish Hockey League in 2014-15.
The two new faces are Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas, both of whom signed with the Stars as free agents.
Then, of course, there is Jack Campbell, the Stars first round pick from 2010, who just completed his second full professional season with the Texas Stars in 2013-14.
During the team’s recent development camp, Dallas Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley talked with the media about the goaltending situation. Here’s a look at the Stars’ top four goaltenders.
Lehtonen was 33-20-10 last season with a 2.41 goals against average, .919 save percentage and helped lead the Stars to their first playoff berth since 2008. He led the NHL in games played (65) and minutes played (3804) and ranked second in shots faced (1,888). In his second crack at the NHL playoffs during his career, he was 2-4 with a 3.29 goals against average and .885 save percentage.
Valley on Lehtonen: “I’ve always said how we get Kari to play at even a higher level is, first, that the idea number of games for him is about 60. We say that every year and then we get into a situation where it’s hard when you have a world class goalie at your disposal not to play him, especially when you are in such a tight playoff race. But I think if you have the ability to play him a little bit less and keep him mentally fresh then you can squeeze a little bit more out of him. Saying that, he played the most in the league last year. The other thing to get him to that higher level, how you get anybody to a higher level, is you have somebody nipping at your heels. It keeps you sharp and it keeps you extra motivated every day. Not that these guys need extra motivation, but that is just human nature.”
Valley on if Lehtonen was physically or mentally fatigued going into the playoffs: “Kari is such a good soldier. I feel like I know him really well and I can tell based on his attitude and his body language and where he is at. But he is going to play. What a lot of people don’t know is that Kari is a guy that shows up three hours before a practice, three hours before a game. He is the first guy here taping his stick. He puts so much into it mentally and emotionally every day that when he does finally get a day off it’s very relaxing to him because he can completely unwind. He wants to be successful and he does all the little things. He is the ultimate pro, so he’ll never tell you or any of us that he is mentally drained. If you look at the last two seasons that we had, the lockout schedule which was a condensed schedule, and you look at last year it was a condensed schedule because of the Olympic break, it’s a lot to put on anybody and he played the most minutes in the league. For us to say he wasn’t mentally drained was pretty unreasonable for any of us to assume.”
The Stars signed Lindback, a native of Sweden, to a two-year contract on July 1. Lindback spent two seasons as a solid backup for Pekka Rinne in Nashville before being traded to Tampa Bay, which was hoping to groom him to be its No. 1 goaltender. It didn’t work out for Lindback, who was slowed by an ankle injury in his first season with the Lightning and ended up being a backup to Ben Bishop last season, posting an 8-12-2 record, 2.90 goals against average and .891 save percentage. With Bishop injured late in the season, Lindback got the call in the playoffs and went 0-3 with a 3.91 goals against average and .881 save percentage as Montreal swept Tampa Bay in the first round. The Stars see a lot of potential in Lindback, who is only 26 and has size (6-6, 210 pounds) and ability.
Valley on Lindback: “He’s a guy with one heck of a physical presence to him at 6-6, and he’s an athletic guy. What I like most about him is his work ethic is unbelievable. He is so determined. When I talked to him before we signed him, he said, ‘I’ve got something to prove.’ He said when was in Nashville that he probably got into the league a little too early and they had to force him into Nashville because they had nobody underneath of him, and he played well under Pekka. He then got thrust into that starting role in Tampa based on that contract they signed him to. He adjusted his game a little bit, and it just didn’t work out for him. I’m the type of person who is not going to look too much into the past, criticize what was done or what wasn’t done, but I am going to look at where are we now and what needs to change.
“The first thing we did with Lindback is we dissected all 27 games that he played in, that’s including playoffs. We looked at every single goal and started looking for patterns and came up with a nice document of where we need to get to, these are the things that need to change, these are the things that are great in your game. We have to get him playing really well, and I believe we can get him there. I believe a big part of it is confidence, but I think there are six or seven major things within his game that we want to adjust. I like it because he is extremely motivated and he said he is coming in here not to be a backup. He is coming in here to push Kari.”
The Stars signed Rynnas two a two-year deal on July 7. Rynnas spent last season with Karpat in Finland’s top league, registering a 28-5-7 record and leading the league with a 1.51 goals against average and .939 save percentage. He saw limited time in the playoffs due to injury. Rynnas has North American experience. The 27-year-old, who is 6-5, 212 pounds, spent three seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, playing most of the time with the Toronto Marlies of the AHL, where he posted a 31-33-5 record from 2010-13 with a 2.64 goals against average and a .910 save percentage. He appeared in three NHL games for the Maple Leafs during that span, posting a 0-1-0 record, 3.84 goals against average and .848 save percentage.
Valley on Rynnas: “Jussi is a guy we tried to recruit here four years ago. He chose to go to Toronto and had three years. Like any European that comes over you have adjustments that you are making to the game, the lifestyle. It’s huge. We sometimes think it is easier, and for some guys it is, but for some guys it is a big adjustment. It took him a while, he dealt with a lot of different injuries like broken fingers that just kept him out for a while. After three years he decided to go back to Finland and played extremely well, got his confidence back and probably made a couple of adjustments in his game. He has that hunger that he wants to come back to show that he can be an NHLer.
“He’s very similar to Lindback in that he has many of the same qualities. He’s a big guy, an athletic guy. He has a burning desire to show that he can be an NHL guy, not only an NHL guy but a top NHL guy. When you have guys like that and you can form a good relationship with them, work with them and come up with a plan of how are we going to reach these goals, it is a good combination. It is a good problem to have when you have four goalies that are all the same.”
Campbell saw limited playing time last season due to a knee injury, but when he played he was outstanding for the Texas Stars in the American Hockey League. He was 12-2-2 with a 1.49 goals against average and .942 save percentage. Campbell was alternating starts with Cristopher Nilstorp in the Calder Cup playoffs, but was injured in Game 5 of the second round and did not play after that. He made his NHL debut during the regular season, stopping 41 of 47 shots in a 6-3 loss to Anaheim.
Valley on Campbell: “I was really happy with Jack’s development. He’s come a long way since we drafted him. I started working with Jack two years before we drafted him, so I have seen him as a young kid who just was always a go-getter, to maturing as a person and as a goalie on the ice. He’s come a long way. And while there is a lot of technical things that he has adjusted, a lot of it is how he deals with his day-to-day life. He’s much more in control of his emotions now. I am not going to say it is perfect yet because there are still times we have to make sure we address it, but he has definitely gone the right way.
“Last year was a huge challenge for him. He put up [12-2-2 record, .942 save percentage], so when he played he was fantastic. Would that have remained over the course of playing 50 games? Who knows? I would hope so. The reality of it is that his next step is to stay healthy and make sure that we get him to play a full season at that high level and then we can start talking about the next step. You’ve got to walk before you run and right now we are walking. We are starting to walk a little faster and soon we’ll start running.”
The Stars also have two goaltending prospects turning pro this season. Henri Kiviaho, a fifth round pick (144th overall) in the 2012 NHL Draft is coming to North America after spending part of last season playing in Finland’s top league. Maxime Lagace, a free agent signing in 2012, turns pro after wrapping up his career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Both Kiviaho and Lagace could end up playing in the ECHL this coming season, but exactly where is still to be determined.
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