Kari Lehtonen has gone from Stars' rock to rock bottom with shaky play
Some quick thoughts for a busy hockey weekend:
• Here's an almost unbelievable stat: It has been one year since the Stars got a win in a game that was started by their backup goaltender. That, however, should change soon. Kari Lehtonen's play has hit rock bottom. He allowed three goals on 14 shots before being pulled on Thursday night in Florida and has posted a save percentage of .826 or lower in four of his past five starts. His confidence is blown, his mechanics are off (his glove and his side-to-side motion, in particular), and his teammates play like they expect the worst to happen at any moment. Even coach Lindy Ruff, a man who will take a bullet for his players, has had enough, calling out Lehtonen for not matching the efforts of the other Stars.
It wasn't that long ago that the Stars believed Lehtonen was a player who could help them get to the next level. Now? They have to be wondering whether they can get his head on straight by next season, or if they should look in another direction. Moving him won't be easy, though, not with three years remaining on a deal that carries a cap hit of $5.9 million. Just ask Carolina what it's like trying to sell an overpaid goalie with a history of underperformance.
In the meantime, the Stars need a few stops. And they need to figure out if Jhonas Enroth is someone who can provide them, both now and into the future. The former Sabres starter, acquired last month in exchange for Anders Lindback and a draft pick, becomes an unrestricted free agent this summer and is looking for an opportunity to start. It might be that Dallas is the team that can give him that chance.
• An insider told SI.com the trade deadline deal that sent promising young defender Simon Despres to Anaheim in exchange for low-ceiling veteran Ben Lovejoy wasn't as surprising as it looked on the surface, saying off-ice issues and broken trust played into Pittsburgh's decision to cut ties with its 2009 first round draft pick. It was pretty clear to anyone who was watching that the big blueliner had glaring consistency issues in his game, but it sounds like they were more than just part of the learning process. Our source wouldn't be specific about what the problems with Despres were, but said they influenced the team's decision not to pursue a new contract with the 23-year-old. To his credit, Despres has made a quick adjustment with Anaheim, putting up a +3 in his debut, and there's no denying that he has the tools to be a solid NHL defender. Sometimes a trade is exactly what a young player needs to get his priorities straight: see Seguin, Tyler. Here's hoping the change of scene helps Despres maximize his considerable potential.
• The acquisition of winger Devante Smith-Pelly wasn't warmly greeted by Montreal's fans, and his first couple of games with the Canadiens did little to convince them they were wrong. But after Thursday night's match in Los Angeles, he may have won a few folks over Smith-Pelly was in full wrecking-ball mode, landing eight official hits (along with a few other cases of non-incidental contact) and creating space for himself and his linemates against a suffocating (all right, interference-heavy) Kings defense. He won't be that effective every night, but that's the sort of physical presence that Montreal's undersized forward corps has been lacking. And if Smith-Pelly can provde something like that with consistency, this team's chances to emerge from the East look a whole lot better.
• New Blackhawk Kimmo Timonen announced on Thursday that he will retire at the end of this season. Looks like we've got this year's "Win One For..."
[daily_cut.nhl]• Added to my list of "Players Kids Should Watch If They Want To Know How To Play The Game Right": Islanders forward Frans Nielsen. He's one of those guys who'll never get the credit he deserves because he makes decisions based on team, rather than personal, success. He's always on the right side of the puck, always plays with tenacity and determination, and has surprisingly quick hands. He's a player whom coach Jack Capuano can tap on the shoulder for any situation and know that he's covered. Nielsen may be a long shot for the Selke Trophy as best two-way forward, but he deserves consideration.
• Nice to see two long-time residents of the IR back on the ice this week. Both Tyler Seguin and Kyle Okposo have been practicing with their respective teams. Okposo, out since he underwent surgery on Jan. 20 to repair a detached retina, could be back in the Isles' lineup this weekend. Seguin reportedly could see action next week, but you have to wonder if the Stars will allow him to rush back when the playoffs out of their reach. As much as he wants to be there, it makes sense for the team to err on the side of caution with their franchise center.
• With the Bruins re-signing Reilly Smith and Torey Krug to extensions on Friday morning, it's all but certain that third-line center Carl Soderberg will walk away as an unrestricted free agent this summer. While his play has slipped (along with several of his teammates') of late, he's got size, good wheels and a willingness to wade into the muck to make something happen. In the right situation, he could slide into a top-six role. In a sparsely populated market, he could command upwards of $5 million per season in a three-to-four-year deal. Look for Boston to replace him with either Ryan Spooner (currently centering the top line with David Krejci hurt) or Alexander Khokhlachev.