The official passing of the goalie torch has officially been done as the Dallas Stars signed Kari Lehtonen to a 3 year deal with just over 10 and a half million dollars. The Stars picked up Lehtonen acquired him in a trade just before the Olympic Break as they sent former Prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a 4th Round Draft Pick to Atlanta for Lehtonen.
From John Tranchina of the Dallas Stars Website: www.dallasstars.com
If there was any doubt how much faith the Dallas Stars had in Kari Lehtonen, the club proved it with beyond question today with the 26 year old Finnish Net Minder of a three year contract extension worth $10.65 Million (Average of $3.55 Million a year).
While they are always personal changes from one season to the next, the Stars in 2010-11 are destined to be quite different, with perhaps the biggest line up alteration being the departure of the 10 year veteran goaltender Marty Turco as a free agent. That means Lehtonen, who was acquired in a trade with Atlanta on Feb. 9, will be counted upon to carry the load as the #1 man in net in Dallas.
Lehtonen showed the Stars down the stretch, demonstrating just how good he can be if he's in tip-top shape and remains healthy. Over the final 14 games, of which he started 9, Lehtonen sparkled, fashioned a 6-3-0 mark, including his 100th career victory, with a 2.44 GAA and a .926 SV%.
"We have had a long tradition here of having premium goaltenders", Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk said. "Marty Turco has been a solid goaltender here for over a decade now and has done great things on and off the ice. But I just felt like for the long term success of our franchise, we needed to acquire Kari Lehtonen. I think the way he played in the last 10-12 games, his performance showed with a good summer of training, we hope that he can be an elite goaltender once again like he was early on in his career."
"We're moving forward with Kari. I just felt like it was time to move in a different direction."
"The last maybe eight games, I felt very comfortable," said Lehtonen, whose four plus years with Atlanta resulted in a 94-83-17 record with a 2.87 GAA and a .912 SV%, along with 14 shutouts. "I think it also helped that the games went well, and with me starting to get comfortable being with the new team. It feels great to be here."
Lehtonen has already progressed a long way since arriving in Dallas before the Olympic Break. At that point, he was still recovering from two off-season back surgeries, and was in the process of working his way back into game shape. His first three appearances did not go all the way smoothly, as he surrendered nine goals on 54 shots in 122 minutes of action.
But as he continued to work diligently with strength and conditioning coach J.J. Mcqueen and goaltender coach Mike Valley, the 6-foot-4 215 pound Lehtonen began to see results and started to re-establish himself as an impact netminder.
"A lot it obviously stems from his conditioning, and just getting back to the rhythm of things," Valley said of how getting in better shape affected Lehtonen's game. "He could keep himself in a spot where he was able to make the recovery saves a lot quicker. So after his first shot, he could put really himself in position to get prepared for the 2nd shot or the rebound opportunity. He covered the ice really well, and while he's down on the ice, he shifted back and fourth really well. It was a lot of small things like that, that basically come out of conditioning, because when you get tired, thats when mistakes happen."
"When I came here, I started from zero," Lehtonen said of his fitness level. "I had no clue if my body could handle playing and all that stuff. It was great to see that I was able to do it again and that gives me a lot of confidence going into next year."
Keeping Lehtonen healthy is crucial his effectiveness, as he had a history of injures during his tenure in Atlanta. It's no coincidence that the one season he didn't miss any time was his best - in 2006-07, he recorded a 39-24-9 in 68 games played, with a 2.79 GAA and a .912 SV%, and led the Thrashers to the franchise's only playoff appearance.
As the long off-season began, Lehtonen indicated that his back was totally healed and he was feeling fince.
"Great, no issues at all, he said. "It feels very good."
One aspect of the game where Lehtonen presence in the crease requires his teammates to make adjustments. Revolves around he he plays the puck. Since Turco is one of the best goalies in the league at that particularly skill, often coming out of the net to make passes up the ice or to leave the puck in a certain spot for his defensemen, Dallas blueliners will have to adapt to Lehtonen's more modest abilities in that area.
"Obviously, he doesn't play the puck as well as Marty, Marty's the best in the league," acknowledged top defensemen Stephane Robidas." But you can't ask that, they're different and whoever going to be in net for us next year, we have to make sure we support him, and have confidence in our goalie."
"Yeah, it's going to be a big change," defensemen Trevor Daley added. "Marty's exceptional puck mover. I don't think there's a big goalie better then him at moving the puck in the games today, so that's going to change next year. There are plays where Marty just makes the play back there on his own, and we moved to let Marty make the plays or there on his own, and we moved to let Marty make the plays or there would be a set-up where he'd look to hit us and the wingers, or getting out and leaving pucks in position for when we would get back there. There's a lot of different things Marty was exceptional at, where if it does change, it's safe to say we're going to have to work a lot harder for sure. But we ask all of our goalies to stop the puck."
Lehtonen admitted he wants to upgrade that part of his game and noted that he learned a lot in the area over the final two months of the 2009-2010 season, just from observing and practicing with Turco. Lehtonen pointed out that he and Stars blueliners still had some bugs to work out as far as getting used to each other.
"It takes some time, we still have some things that take more time, but it's still basically, stop the puck and everybody's happy." said Lehtonen, who helped Finland win Silver at the 2007 World Championships. "There are still some things you can tweak with the players, like communications and me handling the puck - it's more work for the defensemen when I can't play the same way Marty can. But I think that's one thing that I'm getting a lot better at. I still need to work on that and we have time now to work on that."
After signing his new extension, Lehtonen will have at least three more years to hone his craft here in Dallas finally fully realize the promise he displayed for years in Atlanta. And as long as he can stay out of the training room, his re-emergence will hopefully go hand-in-hand with the Stars getting back to the playoffs after not qualifying two years in a row.
"It starts with your goaltender - you need solid goaltending in the league." and if you're going to win, your goaltender has to be in the picture," said Stars Head Coach Marc Crawford. "I think you see a little bit more of what our org. saw in Lehtonen. He gave our group confidence."
"I have a lot to prove for myself and I want to get back to be a great goalie in this league," said Lehtonen. the 2nd overall pick in the 2002 Entry Draft. "If i'm able to do that, i'm sure i'll help this club a lot."
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