The Stars have made a big move on Tuesday, which was expected for the most part this off-season, as they have signed Kari Lehtonen to a brand new 3-year contract, reportedly worth $10.65 million, which works out to a $3.55 million cap hit for each of the three seasons.
The Stars acquired Lehtonen from the Thrashers in February and since then the franchise has not been shy about letting everyone know that Lehtonen is going to be the guy going forward in the Stars' nets as the successor to Marty Turco as the Stars starter in 2011. Turco will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st and the Stars will have no interest in bringing him back then.
Lehtonen has been trying to return from a series of back/groin injuries that have hampered his amount of playing time over his entire NHL playing career. In 2007, Lehtonen managed to play in 68 games for the Thrashers and he ranked 45th in league pool scoring that year, which was a pretty good year. I would imagine that the Stars are expecting that kind of effort again from their new starting goalie. Lehtonen managed to play in 12 games for the Stars before getting shut down a little bit early for precautionary measures when the Stars were eliminated from playoff contention. Lehtonen had a 6-4-0 record and an assist in his 12 appearances, giving him 13 points and a points-per-60 minutes rate of 1.18 per 60, which is quite reasonable on a struggling Stars team.
So, the next reasonable question is, how does this work with the Stars and their salary cap situation? I'm glad you asked. The Stars are in pretty good shape when it comes to the salary cap situation, which is important in a rebuilding stage. I had mentioned in their Pool Outlook a couple of weeks ago that the Stars had plenty of room for the remaining signings they need to do and signing a starting goalie for a cap hit of under $4 million has to be considered a savvy move, especially for three seasons. Now, the Stars have 15 players signed on for 2011 at an approximate annual cap hit of $39.5 million, which is nowhere near the projected cap ceiling, but creeping in on the cap floor.
In some ways, this deal kind of reminds me of Rick DiPietro's longest-term deal, because it's a gamble on the health of the goalie signing a deal. I think what Lehtonen's deal gives up on term (12 years), it makes up for in risk (health a major question going in). Lehtonen claims that he feels 100% and he feels really good, but I'm not going to buy in to that word just yet, especially in my hockey pool. On the other hand, having a goaltender, presumably a number one goalie with an expert skill set, signed for under $4 million against the cap has to be considered a huge bargain, if he remains healthy. The Stars may not say it, but I do believe that this is a high risk/high reward scenario. It's the same scenario for you in your hockey pool draft next season, but the reward may only be as good as the team in front of him as well. This is just a warning...