Heading into the off-season, Dallas Stars management face a difficult decision regarding the state of their goaltending. Depth between the pipes was a serious issue, as the Stars failed to find a suitable backup for struggling starter Kari Lehtonen. As a result, they finished the season 27th in goals against.
In a recent chat with Stars fans, the Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News speculated over Lehtonen's future. While acknowledging the 31-year-old is a “35-win, .917 goalie” who would be difficult to part with, Heika is wavering on whether Lehtonen can regain his form with the Stars.
Heika's concern is understandable. While Lehtonen won 34 games for the Stars, his goals-against average (2.94) and save percentage (.903) was among the worst for NHL starting goalies. It didn't help that Lehtonen's backups (Jhonas Enroth, Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas) fared little better, though Enroth improved in his final games of the season.
Perhaps Lehtonen would benefit from a fresh start, but moving him won't be easy. In addition to his woeful stats, he's got three years left on his contract at an annual cap hit of $5.9 million. He also has a no-trade clause, though that becomes a limited one starting in 2015-16. Heika wonders if the Detroit Red Wings would be interested in a swap of Jimmy Howard or if Carolina would want to trade Cam Ward straight up for Lehtonen.
It could take switching Lehtonen with another high-salaried goalie to move him, or perhaps swinging a different deal whereby the Stars pick up part of his salary. A buyout is possible but expensive at two-third the remaining salary over twice the remaining tenure.
Ultimately, the Stars could have little choice but to stick with Lehtonen and Enroth for next season and hope their starter regains his form.
OILERS ALSO LOOKING FOR GOALIE HELP
Edmonton Oilers GM Craig MacTavish is expected to bolster his goaltending depth this summer. The Edmonton Journal's Jim Matheson reports hunting for a goalie is a priority for MacTavish, who acknowledged he could sign a veteran free agent or acquire a backup on the verge of becoming a starter.
If MacTavish goes the trade route, Matheson speculates he could dangle the first-round pick he received from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the David Perron trade earlier this season. He notes the Los Angeles Kings and New York Rangers are in need of first-round picks and possess goaltending depth (Martin Jones with the Kings, Cam Talbot with the Rangers). The Kings lack a first rounder for 2016 while the Blueshirts are without one for this year's draft.
Whatever moves MacTavish makes, they won't include core forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins or Jordan Eberle. Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reports the Oilers GM told the trio to ignore the trade rumors because they won't be dealt. Add much-maligned winger Nail Yakupov to that list, as he recently signed a two-year, $5-million deal.
KINGS IN CAP TROUBLE
The Los Angeles Kings are another club facing difficult decisions this summer. They lack cap space for 2015-16, which will hamper efforts to re-sign RFA forward Tyler Toffoli and pending UFAs Justin Williams and Jarret Stoll.
If Williams and Stoll depart via free agency, Kings GM Dean Lombardi must find the cap space to replace them. Lombardi must also look to next year, when superstar center Anze Kopitar becomes eligible for UFA status. Kopitar, whose current annual cap hit is $6.8 million, could command up to $10-million per season on the open market.
It's expected Lombardi will once again attempt to find a trade partner to take slumping center Mike Richards and his $5.75 million per season cap hit off his hands. As per NBC Sports' Ryan Dadoun, L.A. Kings insider Jon Rosen reports Lombardi isn't ruling out a Richards buyout. Considering how little interest there was in Richards during the season, buying out the rest of his contract could be Lombardi's best option.
WILL LECAVALIER STAY OR GO?
Speaking of teams stuck with an expensive fading star they want to move this summer, the Philadelphia Flyers could once again attempt to trade unhappy Vincent Lecavalier. CSNPhilly.com's Tim Panaccio believes moving the 34-year-old center is once again a priority for Flyers GM Ron Hextall.
Lecavalier, however, indicated he was willing to return with the Flyers next season, provided Craig Berube wasn’t the coach. (Something that came to pass Friday morning.) The veteran center feel he can still contribute offensively and contends he wasn’t properly used by Berube, who often played Lecavalier at right wing and made him a frequent healthy scratch.
But Hextall could prefer to part ways with Lecavalier. It doesn't appear he'll go the buyout route, meaning another summer beating the bushes to flush out a trade partner. With three years remaining on his contract at an annual cap hit of $4.5 million, Lecavalier won't be an easy sell.