The Dallas Stars surprised many by taking the Central Division crown and finishing with the most points in the Western Conference in 2016-17, just one season removed from missing the postseason entirely. Their success was driven primarily by the most prolific offense in the league as Jamie Benn (41), Tyler Seguin (33) and Jason Spezza (33) led the way with hugely productive seasons. However, while the team had no problem putting the puck in the opposition’s net, they did have plenty of issues keeping it out of their own. Along those lines, Jason Brough of Pro Hockey Talk writes that the club’s “biggest question mark” entering the new season remains between the pipes in Big D.
Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen combined to stop just 90.6% of the shots they faced during the regular season a year ago. Lehtonen (90.6%) ranked 38th and Niemi (90.5%) 40th overall among qualified net minders in that category. They were even worse come playoff time with neither goalie able to stop 90% of the shots against.
The Stars were thought to be considering the possibility of acquiring another goalie, with Ben Bishop named as one possibility but it’s not clear whether any substantive talks with the Lightning or any other club ever took place. Nevertheless, Jim Nill seems confident his goaltending tandem will rebound enough to give the club at least capable play between the pipes. Each has had success in the recent past and it wasn’t that long ago that Niemi backstopped the Chicago Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup so there is some reason for Nill’s optimism.
For more on the Stars…..
- In a separate piece for Pro Hockey Talk, Brough identifies Stars winger Valeri Nichushkin as being “under pressure.” Despite playing on the most prolific offensive team in the league, the 21-year-old Nichushkin struggled, netting just nine goals in 79 regular season contests. He followed that up with a lone point, an assist, in 10 playoff games. Nichushkin, the 10th overall selection in the 2013 entry draft, has a ton of ability and as veteran scorers Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky each enter the final years of their respective contracts, the club may well need the young Russian to step into one of those spots sooner rather than later.
- Revisiting the goaltending situation in Dallas, Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News addressed a reader’s question on the subject as part of a recent chat. Specifically, Heika was asked how much salary the Stars would need to retain in order to facilitate a trade of one of Niemi or Lehtonen. Heika speculated that any team that would look to acquire either goalie would want Dallas to keep 50% of the player’s salary on their books. On the other hand, Heika says that GM Jim Nill doesn’t seem too keen on the idea and would rather hang on to the duo in the hope that one or both can rebuild value with solid 2016-17 performances. At this point it seems most likely that the Stars will at least open the season with Niemi and Lehtonen manning the net. But should they again scuffle and with plenty of teams perhaps willing to move a goalie prior to the 2017 expansion draft, Dallas could look to upgrade the position ahead of the trade deadline.