And so the Joe Nieuwendyk era continues with a very interesting move. So interesting, in fact, that lost in this shuffle was a very legitimate road result in Chicago last night that could have easily been 2 desperately needed points. At least they were able to put a point in the bank. Something about seeing the Blackhawks across the ice brings out pretty nice efforts from our Dallas Stars. They need to finish this portion of the schedule (At Calgary, At Phoenix) with a few more points, and then they can have a March with substance when the Olympics are completed.
But, we aren't here to talk about a Tuesday game in February. We are here to discuss what the acquisition of Kari Lethonen means to the long term health of the Dallas Stars organization.
Last night, as you know by now, Lethonen was snagged by the Stars from Atlanta at the rather sizeable sum of the Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th round pick.
OK, where to begin....Let me just grab a topic and go with it:
* How good is Lehtonen? Well, he is one of only 3 goalies to be picked in the Top 3 spots of the draft in the last decade (Rick Dipietro, Marc-Andre Fleury) so we know he has the pedigree. He is 26, and he has talent to the moon and back. He is big, quick, and has scouts drooling with what he could accomplish at this level. He has also played for a team that has never really built much of a defense around him, and has been a guy who has not been overly healthy for his career. The guys on the NHL network this morning were even discussing his work ethic or the idea that he may not "want it" as bad as a guy at this level must. Also, he has not played all year because of back surgery. I don't know about you, but when I hear a goalie and back surgery, it is very similar to a pitcher with elbow issues. So, that gives me pause, too.
* Now some disclosure: I watch all Stars games. Then, on non-Stars nights, I gravitate to certain teams in either the division or teams I am interested in through my decades of loving hockey. They generally are: Edmonton, Calgary, Chicago, Toronto, Montreal, Pittsburgh, Washington, and the NY Rangers. I don't know why, but if the Stars are not playing, and there are no big Pacific Division games, I find my way to those teams on Center Ice, preferably playing eachother. The reason I tell you this is that if there are teams I DO go out of my way to watch, there must also be teams that I almost NEVER watch. Enter, the Atlanta Thrashers. I hate to say it, but there is a reasonable chance if the Stars are not playing them that I don't see them play 3 times a year. So with that in mind, I just want to be honest - I have almost no original opinion about Kari Lehtonen. Everything I feel is from information people I trust have written or said. Just some disclosure for you.
* On the health issues: I have to believe since it is Nieuwy's first major player move, he has done his due diligence on both the back issues and the overall skills/upside of the player that will go a long way in forging his performance record early on. There is much at stake, and people around Joe are quick to tell you how deliberate he is about almost everything he does. Maybe not Bob Gainey deliberate, but surely a guy who looks at every angle before he does something like this.
* On the three goalie thing: I suggest that what they are saying is smart business. The word is that they are not intent on moving a goalie here before March 3 and just covering themselves for the summer. But, I don't believe you trade your debated #1 prospect for an insurance policy. I believe they think Lehtonen is the #1 around here for the next several years, and are just saying the right things to keep their bargaining power high in the Turco marketplace. We know money is tight, so to bring in a player of a decent salary ($3M), there is a chance that money must now go out before the deadline. Also, carrying 3 goalies is not ideal for a team trying to make a playoff run. In my opinion, and I have no inside scoop here, the management team is going to sit back, watch the Olympics, and in the event of a contender suffering an Olympic injury between the pipes, the Stars will be working the phones. I don't believe there is any chance of a Turco extension now. Again, just my opinion. I appreciate Marty as much as the next guy, but the writing seems there for all to see.
* On losing Ivan: I think it is easy to say this kid is the "next Zubov", but there is only one #56. He is a talented kid who will spend years in the league, but is he special? Or is he a guy? Again, Les Jackson/Brett Hull/Doug Armstrong may have felt one way on Vishnevskiy, but perhaps what they saw was based on his development and realizing his immense skating talent and becoming a true elite offensive defenseman. And, since they are no longer pulling the trigger around here, it is up to the new regime to figure if they should ride it out or flip him now we the league still thinks he can be that. Joe has looked and looked and perhaps decided that for the right offer, Ivan can be had as bait. You have to give to get in this league, but if you think he is really Zubie II, you don't trade him for a goalie with back issues. So, we can assume he didn't feel that way. Now, we hold our breath and hope he is right.
* Overall, I have no problem with this move - assuming that the Stars obviously feel like this kid is ready to break out between the pipes. They want to turn the page and they think Kari is the guy to help them get there. If things go right, he could still be your goalie in 7 years. Now it is time to help him by solidifying the blueline in front of him. But, it sure looks like the Stars are turning the page and building with a newer, younger group.
Email Bob at Sturm1310@aol.com and follow him on twitter at www.twitter.com/bobanddan
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