Thursday, February 11, 2010
Thursday Morning Cupcheck: Two Goalies, One Cup
This week, three goalies enter, up to two goalies leave.
Howdy, hockey fans! Here's hoping FrozenWinterArcticSnowBlast 2010 hasn't brought your city to a screaming, chilly halt. Last week we stepped inside the cavernous confines of Tom Hicks' wallet and found nothing there but some empty Blatz beer bottles and a moldy old box of Bacon Crackers; this week, I was planning on writing my tri-annual nine-part series, Why Do Hockey Experts Write So Much About Goaltending?, when recent events in el mundo de hockey forced me to look elsewhere for the low-hanging fruit of Poorly Informed Stars Rant Material.
Namely, GM Joe threw down the Gauntlet two days ago, anointing one-time Thrashers franchise savior Kari Lehtonen as the new netminding sheriff in town. Or, at least, as one of the three possible sheriffs in a pretty cozy small town in North Central Texas.
Now, Stars fans probably have little quarrel with the player coming to the team in this move -- of all the available goaltenders, Lehtonen was easily the most affordable option and the best deal at the position. The guy is only 26 years old, huge at 6-4 and lightning quick. He owns practically every Thrashers goaltending record ever (which is about as impressive as owning every Texas Rangers postseason pitching record ever; it exists, you should be proud, but not proud enough to mention anything about it in public). He starred for a surprising Team Finland in the 2007 IIHF World Championships, stealing the silver medal by beating an insanely talented Russian team 2-1 (giving up a lone goal to some stiff named Malkin) before losing to the unbeatable Canadian team in the final (Kari was also named the tournament's Top Goaltender).
The kid's legit: The downside, and reason Lehts 2 came so easily was his injury history. In four seasons since coming up to the NHL level, Lehts 2 has played just 200 games (out of a possible 328), with a 68-game 2006-07 campaign as the high-water mark in health. He's not played an NHL game since April of last year due to back surgery, and has a long history of groin and back issues that no doubt scared away most potential suitors.
Still, the former #2 overall pick is worth a gamble, right? It's not like we're in the Nabokov sweepstakes, shelling out Luongo-type money for a goaltender in his mid-30s. But the real reason most Stars fans are infuriated by the trade is the player going the other way: none other than Future Hockey Jesus Ivan Vishnevskiy.
"Crazy Ivan" Vishnevskiy was undoubtedly the Stars' top-rated defensive prospect for the past two seasons: With amazing offensive ability and a powerful shot despite a small frame, many hopefully anointed Ivan as the Next Sergei Zubov (particularly following the departure of the Actual Sergei Zubov). With fellow offensive d-man Niskanen having the mind-numbingly brutal season he is, many hoped to see Vishnevskiy in a Stars uniform as soon as humanly possible this season, with Niskanen shipped off to some jive sucka in exchange for absolutely anything. Or absolutely nothing, even.
Unfortunately for us mouth-breathing morons on the message boards, GM Joe provided an ice-cold Backhand Slap of Reality Tuesday night, sending Blue Line Saviorski Vishnevskiy and a 4th round pick to Atlanta for the aforementioned Lehtonen. Immediately I was up in arms; but was the trade really a bad one for the Stars?
The cold, hard reality of the situation was this: despite his offensive potential, Vishnevskiy was having problems cracking the NHL lineup. In three games at the end of last season he excelled, posting two assists; in two games this season, he was mostly invisible -- other than scoring into his own empty net in a tight game against a divisional rival.
More importantly, when the Stars needed to fill the blue line with a warm body due to injuries, they almost never called up Crazy Ivan, preferring Dan Jancevski and the awesomely-named Maxime Fortunus. The fact is, Vishnevskiy was having a hard time cracking an NHL roster and was not even a world-beater at the AHL level; for comparison's sake, Sergei Zubov led a Stanley Cup-winning team in scoring as a defenseman in his second season in the NHL. The jury's obviously still out, but Ivan was looking a lot more like Martin Vagner than a Gonchar or Zubov.
So when the Stars had the opportunity to pull a potentially-elite NHL goaltender for a potentially-good offensive d-man, they played the odds and pulled the trigger. With both Marty Turco and Alex Auld becoming unrestricted free agents this summer, the Stars needed stability at the goaltender position more than they needed another promising young d-man; with Tobias Enstrom, Pavel Kubina and Zach Bogosian taking up most of the Thrashers' powerplay minutes, it will probably be a long time before we find out if GM Joe made the wrong move in this trade.
Most importantly, where does this leave Turco? Hopefully in a Flyers uniform, in exchange for one of Philly's numerous defensive prospects (we can dream of Coburn, but more than likely we'd be getting Kevin Marshall, Marc-Andre Bourdon or Denis Bodrov). Despite what Stars fans think of the guy, Turco would come into Philly as something of a relief from their Terrible Trio; his ability to move the puck will certainly bring relief to Flyer blueline graybeards Pronger and Timonen, while his ability to actually stop some of the pucks that are shot his way will make him an instant star in the Eastern Conference -- not to mention his not-inconsiderable sense of humor and interviewing skills.
Of course, to dump Turco on Philly would mean we'd have to take some $5 million in salary back, most likely in the form of fan favorite Scott Hartnell and maybe another player or two. But depending on what we'd get back? Totally. Worth. It.
Tune in next week, when a grizzled, unshaven Marty Turco turns to his loose-cannon Finnish sidekick and says "I'm too old for this sh*t!" -- the Finn's charmingly dorky fashion sense may surprise you.