The woeful performance of Stars goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi generated talk of a possible change between the pipes, but that’s not likely.
At the start of this NHL off-season, the woeful performance of Dallas Stars goaltenders Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi generated talk of a possible change between the pipes. They had the worst combined goals-against (2.78) of the 16 teams entering the 2016 playoffs. Their woeful 3.23 GAA was a significant factor in the Stars’ second-round elimination.
According to NBC Sports’ Jason Brough, it’s unlikely Stars GM Jim Nill will shake things up before the start of the season. Nill opted not to buy out Lehtonen or Niemi this summer, probably because of the expense.
Lehtonen, 32, has two years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $5.9 million, while the 32-year-old Niemi is also signed through 2017-18 at a cap hit of $4.5 million. Buying out either goalie at two-thirds the remaining value over twice the remaining tenure would’ve taken a significant chunk out of the Stars’ cap payroll over the next four seasons.
A trade at this point is doubtful. There’s currently no market for starting goalies, especially those with mediocre stats carrying significant cap hits for two years.
Brough cites Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News speculating Nill will see how things unfold with Lehtonen and Niemi in the upcoming season. Perhaps a situation will arise where Nill can find a club in need of experienced goalie depth willing to take a chance on either guy.
The goalie market could also improve later in the season. Brough notes the Stars were reportedly interested in Tampa Bay Lightning netminder Ben Bishop earlier this summer. If he’s not available, Pittsburgh Penguins veteran Marc-Andre Fleury could be another option.
If shipping out Lehtonen or Niemi isn’t possible, Nill will have little choice but to finish the season with them. He can try shopping them next summer or consider a buyout. He can also leave one of them exposed in next June’s expansion draft.
The New York Islanders could also attempt to move a goaltender before the start of 2016-17. With Jaroslav Halak, Thomas Greiss and J-F Berube on one-way contracts and Christopher Gibson inked to a two-way deal, they’ve got to clear their crowded crease.
Gibson is waiver-exempt so he’ll likely spend this season with the Isles AHL farm team in Bridgeport. Berube has to pass through waivers, where he could be picked up by a rival club.
Earlier this summer, there was talk the Isles could attempt to ship out Halak. The oft-injured 32-year-old suffered a season-ending injury in March, creating an opportunity for Greiss to shine. After backstopping the Isles into the playoffs and their first playoff series victory in 23 years, the 30-year-old could take over this season as the full-time starter.
Trading Halak, however, won’t be easy. In additon to his injury history, he’s under contract through 2017-18 at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million. NHL.com’s Brian Compton, however, isn’t dismissing that possibility, claiming Greiss and Berube are the preferred tandem.
Rumor Roundup appears regularly only on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and The Guardian (P.E.I.).
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