The Dallas Stars have a goaltending problem that doesn’t have anything to do with Kari Lehtonen or Antti Niemi.
Yes, the pair of Finns have drawn their share of criticism — especially after Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues — but they also each won 25 games this season. And while the Stars will always be looking at options in the crease, last week Dallas General Manager Jim Nill said he’s comfortable heading into October with the two-headed Finnish monster.
But what comes after options 1A and 1B in Dallas?
During the 2015-16 season the Stars were one the few teams that didn’t start a third goalie at any point in the season. At first glance it seems unlikely that a third goalie in an organization will play a key role, but then you remember the Pittsburgh Penguins, who happen to be just one game away from winning the Stanley Cup, started Jeff Zatkoff in Games 1 and 2 of the postseason.
The Stars have a couple promising projects in the system, but they don’t have a third goalie at their disposal that could start an NHL game — and be trusted — in October.
In the playoffs, Jack Campbell was effectively the Stars third option.
That third option had a 0.884 save percentage in the AHL and a demotion to the ECHL before he fell into a trio of AHL playoff starts. In those three playoff games Campbell had a 0.880 save percentage, potentially closing the book on his time in the Stars organization.
The Stars other minor-league goalies both made strides last season, but aren’t anywhere close to being ready for an NHL opportunity.
Philippe Desrosiers could be a long-term solution, but is still a raw prospect that would benefit from being the starter in the ECHL next season. During the ECHL playoffs with the Idaho Steelheads, Desrosiers said he could play in the NHL tomorrow if needed, but still needs time to learn the pro game.
Maxime Lagace was a pleasant surprise, and frankly, saved the Texas Stars season, but there are still too many questions (both his health and consistency faltered late in the season) to label him as the third goalie for a team with legitimate Stanley Cup goals.
So, how do you find an NHL insurance policy without stunting development in the pipeline?
How about signing unrestricted free agent Michael Leighton?Recently crowned the AHL’s All-time leader in shutouts, Leighton could bring the right mix to Dallas on a very reasonable contract and serve as a one-year stop gap while Dallas looks to anoint the true “goalie of the future.”
Leighton is coming off another strong season in the AHL where he posted a 0.918 save percentage and 2.44 goals against average in 46 games with the Rockford IceHogs. He’s also a strong locker room presence and enjoys working with young players.
The deal would likely a one-year two-way contract, with a cap hit close to the NHL minimum, while Leighton could collect $175,000 in the AHL. It would be a nice raise from Leighton’s $125,000 in Rockford last season, while it would still be within the realm of what Dallas typically pays AHL veterans to mentor young prospects and contribute for the Texas Stars.
And it could be the perfect fit to pair Leighton with Lagace in the AHL and have them share the workload in a league where dreaded three-in-threes are still legal and back-to-backs are the norm. In addition to sharing the crease, Lagace (a restricted free agent the Stars are likely going to re-sign) would be able to learn first-hand from a goalie with a plethora of NHL and AHL experience.
This would solidly entrench Desrosiers as the starter in the ECHL, while he’d have internal competition in Boise from Landon Bow, a big 6’5″ undrafted goalie the Texas Stars signed to an AHL contract.
And most importantly, the Stars would have an answer if the unthinkable happened and both Niemi and Lehtonen were unavailable due to injury.