Earlier this off-season, the Dallas Stars signed goaltender Kari Lehtonen to a five-year, $29.5 million contract extension. The signing spurred a quick debate over whether or not he’s worth that type of money. The question isn’t so surprising, but the answer is simple.
This new deal is validation for a guy who has made impressive strides as a starting goaltender the past couple of seasons. Playing in markets like in Atlanta and in Dallas haven’t helped him to earn credibility, especially given the lack of success that the two teams had with him between the pipes.
Lehtonen has improved every year he’s been in the NHL. The past two years have been his best, with last season proving to be the best of his career. He missed a bit of time due to injury, but established himself as a top 10 goaltender when he was healthy.
His final numbers fell in line with some of the league’s best netminders. He finished with a 2.33 goals-against average (9th in the league) and a .922 save percentage (8th). His record really held him back from getting more credit than he did, as he finished 32-22-4 for the year.
But look at the team that he played for. After a hot start, the Stars weren’t a very good team. They were six points out of a playoff spot in the Western Conference and were one of the poorer offensive teams in the league.
Whenever the new season begins, the new-look Stars are expecting to contend. While their additions up front will get much of the pub, Kari Lehtonen will be the anchor for this team, even if he does so quietly.
If the Stars do contend for a playoff spot, I look forward to seeing how Lehtonen performs down the stretch. A good showing in big games could earn him the respect that he hasn’t really garnered around the league yet.