Deaths, taxes, and the Dallas Stars needing decent goaltending.
For several seasons now, the Dallas Stars have been looking for one of their goaltenders to stand out and hold the fort for the team’s high-octane offence.
Now Ben Bishop is now a Dallas Star.
Well, there’s always the possibility Bishop could refuse to sign with them and go somewhere else. He is an unrestricted free agent, after all.
My assumption is that won’t happen. We’ll see something similar to what we had in Carolina this past week with Scott Darling.
If Bishop decides to sign with the Stars, that’s when the fun begins.
Dallas has Antti Niemi locked up at $4.5 million for one more season. Dallas also has Kari Lehtonen locked in for $5.9 million next season. That’s $10.4 million combined.
Now add in Bishop.
The Stars obviously need to trade a goaltender. Here’s the problem.
Lehtonen had a .902 save percentage this season, .906 the season before, and .903 the season before that.
Niemi had a decent .915 with the Sharks three seasons ago, followed by a .905 in his first season in Dallas and a miserable .892 save percentage this past season.
Moving either of Lehtonen or Niemi is going to be an extremely tough sell because they make a lot of money and, frankly, they haven’t stopped enough pucks in recent memory. Moving one of these two should be a goal for Dallas and acquiring Bishop has made it a necessity.
I scoured the NHL today trying to find situations that would make sense. Here are some ideas…
Any move Dallas makes to ditch one of their goalies is going to require them to sweeten the pot. That being said, the hockey gods gave the Stars a miracle recently in the form of a draft lottery win and the third-overall pick in June.
Would Vegas, a team with all the cap space in the world because they only have two players right now, be willing to take Niemi from Dallas along with the third-overall pick in exchange for the sixth-overall pick? Vegas moves up three spots and takes on a veteran for just one season and Dallas dumps a goalie. Who says no?
That might not be enough to convince the Golden Knights. After all, they’ll have over 600 players available to them at the NHL Expansion Draft in June. Why take Niemi when they could take a goalie who’s better and/or cheaper for free? Moving up three spots, especially in this supposedly even draft class, might not be enough. I think it’s a start though and something Dallas ought to consider.
Of course, Vegas could decide to be really nice and just claim one of Dallas’ goalies from them.
I’ve seen people suggest seeing if some kind of Niemi plus a sweetener for Marc-Andre Fleury deal could be worked out. It used to make some sense: The Penguins get something for a goalie they could have lost for nothing, they still have a veteran backup for Matt Murray, and most important they get to actually keep Murray.
A couple things have changed. First of all, Fleury has stood on his head in these playoffs. Second, the Stars just got Bishop. Ignoring the fact that a Fleury-Lehtonen tandem would carry an $11.65-million cap hit for Dallas, the Stars just got another goalie. They need to dump one, likely Niemi because he’s more affordable, without taking one back.
If Bishop refuses to sign in Dallas, this option might be worth exploring. Otherwise – no way.
WHEN IN DOUBT, BUY ONE OUT
Oh, yeah! I almost forgot this was an option.
Buying out Niemi, who makes $4.5 million next season, would carry a $1.5-million cap hit for each of the next two seasons. Not that expensive but not exactly ideal when you’re probably already paying a tandem of Bishop and Lehtonen somewhere in the neighbourhood of $10 million combined or higher.
Buying out Lehtonen would cost $2,566,667 against the cap next season and $1,666,667 the season after that. The Stars would actually save $333,333 more against the cap next season if they bought out Lehtonen instead of Niemi.
If Dallas can’t find a trade partner, buying out is an expensive but possible option.
Similar to Vegas, I wonder if Buffalo would take Niemi and the third-overall pick in exchange for Buffalo’s, which is the eighth-overall pick.
Buffalo has to re-sign restricted free agent Robin Lehner in net and Anders Nilsson — who was a nice bargain backup for $1 million last season — is a UFA. They performed incredibly for a tandem with a $3.225-million price tag.
Let’s say Nilsson goes elsewhere. Is moving up five spots in the draft enough of a sweetener for taking on an expensive backup when you already have to give your starter a raise? Tough ask.
Here’s a potential factor though: What if a team, not necessarily Buffalo, thinks they can salvage Niemi?
Niemi has been brutal with the Stars but had decent numbers with the Sharks in most seasons and even had two particularly good ones: A .920 in 60 games in 2010-11 and a .924 in 43 games during the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Maybe behind a better defence he would have better numbers?
Brian Burke isn’t the GM but he likes whacky.
Dallas has the third pick. Calgary has the 17th pick. That’s one heck of a jump.
Could Calgary do a season of Chad Johnson starting and Niemi backing up if it means moving from 17th to third? Could Dallas maybe help out if Calgary is feeling some buyer’s remorse on the Troy Brouwer deal somehow?
Now we’re getting really silly but what if Calgary took Niemi and the third pick for the 17th pick, and then flipped the third for something else that can help them now?
Oh, it’s all silly. But hockey has several silly seasons and the summer is a big one. Add an expansion draft to the mix and who knows what will happen.
These were just a few weird scenarios I came up with. Do you have any of your own?