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Add of Niemi gives Stars faith in goaltending tandem

by Mike Battaglino /

Dallas Stars owner Tom Gagliardi had one very good reason to add Antti Niemi to Kari Lehtonen on their goaltending depth chart.

"I think it is pretty hard on Kari when we give him a night off and we never win," Gagliardi told the Stars website last week.

The Stars signed Niemi to a three-year contract on June 29 after acquiring him in a trade with the San Jose Sharks. He is expected to compete with Lehtonen for the No. 1 job, though it is more likely they will split time almost evenly.

"Kari had an off year, and while we don't think that will happen again, our backups haven't been good enough since I have been here," said Gagliardi, who became Stars owner in 2011. "So we discussed the 1A/1B view because there are so few backups now. …

"We knew we had to get deeper in goal, the 1A/1B thing, and that's why we went after Niemi. He was at the top of our list along with another guy. We got our first choice."

Gagliardi did not identify the other goaltender.

Lehtonen, 32 on Nov. 16, was 34-17-10 last season with a 2.94 goals-against average and .903 save percentage. In five-plus seasons with Dallas, he is 154-101-38 with a 2.58 GAA and .915 save percentage.

Niemi, 32 on Aug. 29, was 31-23-7 last season with a 2.59 GAA and .914 save percentage. In five seasons as the Sharks' starting goalie, he was 163-92-35 with a 2.40 GAA and .917 save percentage.

Each is signed through the 2017-18 season.

"I think the key to the Niemi deal is that he is a Finn, and he and Kari know each other," Gagliardi said. "I think they are going to work well together."

In five seasons with Lehtonen as Dallas' starter, the primary backups (Andrew Raycroft, Richard Bachman, Dan Ellis/Tim Thomas, Jhonas Enroth/Anders Lindback) were 36-38-2, but 14-23-1 the past two seasons.

"I think we have the best tandem in the League now," Gagliardi said. "From the goaltending perspective, we did a great job. What's key is we didn't give up any assets to get him unless you want to include a seventh-round pick (in the 2015 NHL Draft)."

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