When the defending Western Conference champion Dallas Stars take on the Chicago Blackhawks on Sunday, it won’t be playoff hero Anton Khudobin starting in net. Or dressing as the backup either, for that matter. Instead, the beloved veteran will sit in the press box, benched by head coach Rick Bowness for disciplinary issues. While Bowness would not disclose the specific reasoning behind Khudobin’s punishment beyond calling it an “internal issue”, per The Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks, he did provide a short synopsis of his thoughts on the topic:
You deal with things by communicating and making your feelings known, what is and what isn’t acceptable. I have very few rules, but you damn well better follow them.
The experienced coach clearly is not happy with Khudobin’s actions, as his words express. As a result, highly-touted rookie Jake Oettinger will get his third career start tomorrow with experienced AHLer Landon Bow serving as backup. Both players were in attendance at practice on Saturday; Khudobin was not. The veteran netminder showed up at the end of practice and skated without his teammates. It remains unclear whether Khudobin’s absence was a cause or effect of these ongoing “internal issues”.
When asked whether Khudobin’s benching would last beyond Sunday, Bowness remained non-committal. “We’ll deal with it one day at a time” was all that he would say at this time. With starter Ben Bishop on Long-Term Injured Reserve as he rehabs a knee injury and not expected back until March, Khudobin will obviously return to the Dallas crease at some point and there is no indication at this point that his current issues are anything that would force a trade or any other major move. However, with an off-season approaching in which Khudobin will be exposed in the 2021 NHL Expansion Draft, this could only add fuel to the fire that Khudobin’s time with the Stars could be coming to an end this season. If Bishop returns and appears healthy and Oettinger seems ready to become an NHL backup sooner rather than later, bad blood between Khudobin and Bowness could see the Stars hoping that the Seattle Kraken select the talented veteran keeper. Just a few months ago, that statement would have been unthinkable as the well-liked Khudobin led Dallas to postseason glory. However, something has clearly changed.