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Kari Lehtonen Embraces Competition In Dallas

Kari Lehtonen Embraces Competition In Dallas
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The Dallas Stars made big changes in the offseason, and Kari Lehtonen will now be forced to compete for ice time with Antti Niemi. (Photo by Clint Trahan)

The Dallas Stars made one of the biggest splashes in the goaltending market this offseason when they traded for, then signed Antti Niemi to a large contract. Attention quickly turned to Kari Lehtonen, who hasn’t competed for playing time since his first season with the team in 2009-2010.

Lehtonen, who is coming off one of the worst season of his career, recently spoke with Mark Stepneski of Dallas Stars Inside Edge about his reaction to the goaltending shakeup, and how he expects the situation to play out.

“From my point of view, it’s a big change,” Lehtonen said.

“We were at the Olympics together, grew up a mile apart and we are the same age. We have been crossing paths here and there,” Lehtonen said. “He’s a really nice guy, and I am happy that he is going to be here. He is going to be pushing me, and I have to do well if I want to get ice time.”

The interview also includes quotes from Stars GM Jim Nill, who made it very clear that last year’s goaltending performance was not acceptable. The team ranked 26th in goals against, and 29th in save percentage last season.

Head Coach Lindy Ruff called out Lehtonen and then-current backup Jhonas Enroth on February 27th in a post game rant following a loss to the Colorado Avalanche. Enroth has since left the organization and has signed with the Los Angeles Kings.

Later in the interview, Lehtonen also spoke about the team’s decision to move Mike Valley into a developmental role and hire Jeff Reese – the former Philadelphia Flyers goaltending coach.

“[Reese] is a nice guy and he’s been around for a while. I liked what he was able to do with [Steve] Mason in Philly, turning his game around,” Lehtonen said. “We’ve been watching video, going through things he sees that are really good in my game that I should do more often, and there’s some stuff I should stay away from. It’s been back and forth, throwing out ideas, and it’s been good.”

“It was hard when I got the phone call from Mike that he was not going to be here anymore,” Lehtonen said. “But when you look on the other hand, it’s been six years with the same guy, and that’s also a long time. Maybe it’s good to get a set of new eyes, new thoughts about my game. And I’ll still talk to Mike. We are good friends. I’ll have that forever, and that’s pretty cool.”

With the addition of Niemi’s three-year, $4.5-million per season contract, the Stars are now the team that spends the most money on their goaltending tandem. The pressure will be on for both goaltenders to perform at an elite level. With the scoring talent on the Stars roster, solid goaltending would likely put them over-the-top.

After posting the second-worst GSAA in the league last season, Lehtonen was included in our recent list of goaltenders that have something to prove. With a bounce back season in mind, and Niemi breathing down his neck, it will be an interesting situation to keep an eye on all season long.

About The Author

Greg Balloch

Greg Balloch is a Vancouver-based writer for InGoal Magazine, broadcaster for Sportsnet 650, and goaltending coach. His career began in Hamilton, Ontario with the Junior 'A' Hamilton Red Wings, before moving to Vancouver to cover the Canucks on the radio and work with the Surrey Eagles of the BCHL. A lifelong goaltender, he has been teaching the position for over a decade.