Offseason Preview, Dallas Stars: Chapter 1; Goaltending

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Offseason Preview, Dallas Stars: Chapter 1; Goaltending
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Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen

This is the first of a four-part series in which I will examine one of my favorite hockey teams, the Dallas Stars. I will examine the organization top to bottom by position and ultimately finish off with a draft preview. If everyone enjoys my analysis enough, I will continue the series with my other favorite team, the Philadelphia Flyers. Enjoy!

The 2010-2011 season for the Dallas Stars was somewhat of an enigma. A seven-point improvement on the 09-10 campaign was not enough for a return to the postseason. With a loss to the Minnesota Wild in game 82, the Stars were beat out for the eighth and final playoff spot in the West by the Chicago Blackhawk's by the narrowest of margins.

Even without a win in their final game, the Stars would have secured the eighth playoff spot had they been in the Eastern conference. With a win against the Wild, the Stars would have been No. 6.

Despite improvement upon last year's campaign, highlighted by a goal differential increase from minus-six to plus-17, GM Joe Nieuwendyk ultimately deemed this year a failure with the firing of coach Marc Crawford after only two seasons.

The Stars front office certainly have a grueling offseason ahead of them. The sale of the franchise has left the team with little financial backing, which more then likely means star (no pun-intended) center-man Brad Richards will look to greener pastures via the free-agent market.

At some point, a new head coach needs to be found as well. One of the more successful franchises in the past 10 to15 years, the Stars will continue their search for a new on-ice identity this offseason. There will without a doubt be difficult changes made throughout the organization this summer. One position that looks to be solidified for at least next season, is goaltending.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Dallas goalie Kari Lehtonen makes a save against Phoenix's Ray Whitney in the shootout
The tandem of Kari Lehtonen and Andrew Raycroft will look to once again backstop the Dallas Stars for the 2011-2012 season. Both goalies endured their struggles, but the net-minding overall for Dallas this past season was a strong suit. If the Stars want to return to the postseason, former second overall pick Kari Lehtonen will have to be even better then he was this season.

Once touted as a future franchise net-minder, Lehtonen looks to have finally turned a corner in what has otherwise been an up and down career this far. Drafted second overall by Atlanta 2002, Lehtonen was never able to truly distinguish himself as one the league's best while playing in the Peach State.

When Lehtonen was healthy, he flourished. Unbelievably athletic for a man that stands 6'4", Lehtonen also boasts a tremendous level of technique, common in most Finnish trained goalies. But injuries were ultimately what derailed Lehtonen's chances at stardom in Atlanta.

Because he was constantly in and out of the lineup, Lehtonen was rarely ever able to develop any consistency, ultimately shattering his confidence. Despite his struggles, he has posted respectable numbers throughout his entire career, having never finished with a save percentage lower then .906.

With the emergence of Ondrej Pavelec, the Thrashers found Lehtonen expendable. Recognizing that his team needed a young, starting net-minder moving forward, Joe Niuewendyk dealt for the young Fin in a late season trade just one year ago.

Management hoped that with a change of scenery, Lehtonen could get a fresh start and live up to the projections of a second overall pick. In his late season debut, Lehtonen showed flashes of brilliance in front of an average Stars team. With the departure of Marty Turco last offseason, Lehtonen was anointed Dallas' starter.

Kari Lehtonen makes a spectacular glove save on Chicago defensemen Brent Seabrook
With the No. 1 job in the palm of his hands, Lehtonen took off and never looked back. He set a career high in games played (69), wins (34), and GAA (2.55) and was just off of his career high in save percentage (.916), finishing with a .914.

Not bad for a team considered to have one of the weaker defenses in the NHL. Most within the organization considered the acquiring of Lehtonen a bit of a risky project. Thus far, it's hard to argue the results as anything less then successful. His numbers were far from pedestrian, but aren't among the elite net-minders in the NHL where many project they could be.

What's important is that Lehtonen stayed healthy. Often criticized in his career as being "out of shape," Lehtonen worked on his conditioning this past season. The results are evident in his games played.

Lehtonen has certainly established himself as a No. 1 goalie in the NHL with his performance this season. The flashes shown earlier in his career were shown much more consistency this year, earning him an extension with Dallas through the 2012-2013 campaign.

However, the Stars will look for even more improvement from Lehtonen this coming season. He has always had the natural skill as well as the athleticism to be an NHL starter. But management knows with continued work, he can be dominant. The Stars will look for Lehtonen to come into training camp in even better shape then last season.

If the Stars get a conditioned, healthy Lehtonen in the fall and can reduce his workload by seven to 10 games, he should be able to post even better quality numbers in the coming campaign. 

In order for Lehtonen to take his game to the next level, backup tender Andrew Raycroft will have to be just as good, if not better then he was this season. The former Calder trophy winner played in just 19 games this season but for the most part played well in relief of Lehtonen.

Raycroft is what he is, a journeyman backup goalie that will give you 20 to 25 solid starts a season. In 19 games this season for the Stars, Raycroft posted eight wins, a 2.83 GAA and a .910 save percentage. A solid butterfly goalie with decent athleticism, Raycroft can even occasionally make a clutch save that will keep the momentum in his team's favor.

Dallas back-up goalie Andrew Raycroft brings American Airlines center to their feet with a miraculous glove save on Joe Corvo in OT
His problem throughout his entire career has been consistency. Those seeking proof may look no further then his 44-save performance against Nashville (.957 SV) on Dec. 28th, followed by a seven-goal blowout against Calgary on Jan. 21st (19 shots, .632 SV).

The Belleville, Ontario native will likely never come close to the numbers posted in his flash in the pan rookie season (.926 SV, 2.05 GAA), but if he can continue to post the respectable numbers he has in the past two seasons, Stars fans can sleep easy at night knowing they will get solid goaltending on a nightly basis.

However, it is imperative that Raycroft be on top of his game. Not only should the Stars attempt to give Raycroft more starts to reduce Lehtonen's workload, but there are other goalies in the organization ready to usurp him should his play become lackluster.

The Stars have a relatively strong pipeline of goaltenders. Richard Bachman, a fourth-round draft pick back in 2006, was excellent for the Stars AHL affiliate in a starting role this year. In 55 starts, Bachman had 28 wins and posted a 2.20 GAA and a .927 save percentage. In six AHL playoff games, Bachman posted a 2.29 GAA and a .917 save percentage.

A smaller goalie at just 5'10", Bachman relies on his excellent athleticism and quickness to make key saves. While Bachman does not project to be a starter at the NHL level, it is worth noting that he has performed well at every level he's ever played in. He seems the likely predecessor to back up Lehtonen after next season.

However, its not at all out of the realm of possibility we see him on the opening day roster. The former Colorado college standout should certainly give Raycroft a run for his money at training camp. While no one in the organization would want to see Raycroft or Lehtonen go down, the pleasure of having an NHL ready backup waiting in the minors is a nice luxury. 

Rick Stewart/Getty Images
Dallas Stars 2010 1st round draft pick and current Windsor Spitfire, Jack Campbell
Regardless of who is backing up Lehtonen on opening day, Tyler Beskorowany looks to have solidified the backup job for the Texas Stars. A project player, Beskorowany has shown great improvement in all facets of his game since being drafted 59th overall back in 2008.

A massive goalie at 6'5", the Hanmer Ontario uses his size well in net. He utilizes his large frame to make saves and has an excellent glove hand. Beskorowany moves exceptionally well for a man his size, but will need to continue to work on his rebound control and lateral movement at the AHL level.

The Stars organization are certainly happy with his smooth transition from the ECHL to the AHL this season as Bachman's backup, posting a 2.58 GAA and a .921 save percentage in 19 games. While Beskorowany is likely a year or two away from seeing any type of NHL action, at 21, there is no sense in rushing the former second-round pick.

At the junior level, blue chipper Jack Campbell had a dreadful season for the Windsor Spitfires of the OHL. In his first season of Major Junior, Campbell saw action in 45 games. His 3.80 GAA and ugly .884 save percentage certainly don't reflect the true talent of the former 11th overall pick.

It is worth noting that while Campbell's final statistics are still much lower then what is expected of him, he played much better as the season progressed after making some adjustments to his game. 

Management is still confident that Campbell is their future franchise goalie, especially after this years World Junior Championships. Campbell was voted the best goalie of the tournament, with a 1.70 GAA and an impressive .948 save percentage. It is certainly safe to say that despite his regular season struggles, Stars brass are breathing a sigh of relief after Campbell's excellent WJC.

At only 19 years of age, Campbell will return to Windsor next season and finish out the final year of his CHL eligibility. With Kari Lehtonen more then capable of holding down the starting position for the foreseeable future, look for GM Joe Nieuwendyk to be very, very patient with the former USNTDP stand out.

With a legit starting goalie manning the pipes, a veteran back-up, depth at the AHL level and a star waiting in Junior, goaltending looks to be a position of strength for the Dallas Stars at this time.

Thanks for reading!

Next up, Chapter 2: The Defense 

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