Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill didn’t identify goaltending as a major need as the NHL celebrated unrestricted free agency Friday.
He still sees Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtnonen as the team’s netminders next season – and believes their roles will be even more important with a slightly condensed schedule.
Last season, Niemi played 48 games and held a 2.67 goal-against average and .905 save percentage. Lehtonen had a 2.76 goal-against average and .906 save percentage in 43 games.
They were torched in the playoffs as the both finished with sub-.900 save percentages.
“Our goalies got us 50 wins last year and we’re looking forward – I think they’re going to be even better this year,” Nill said. “I think they learned a lot from it. One thing I’ve learned being in the Western Conference is it’s a grind. I think you saw it in the playoffs last year – it’s tough for one goalie to handle the whole load so we’re comfortable with our two-man system and we’re looking forward to our guys being even better next year and we’ll move forward from there.”
“I think he’s going to give us versatility and where our defense is set up, we’re good from 1-8 and we have lots of options to spread the ice-time out,” Nill said of the 33-year-old Hamhuis. “I’ve looked over the schedule and every team, this year the schedule is 2 1/2 weeks shorter and it’s going to be a grind for every team and I don’t think you can have enough players in these situations so I think everybody is going to play. Everybody wants ice-time. In the end Dan is a top-four defenseman who is going to play major minutes for us.”
Oduya and Hamhuis are the only two blueliners above the age of 30 amongst this group that Nill believes is ready to take the next step.
“You can never have enough defensemen,” Nill said. “I know last year was tough on some of our young kids, but it’s a learning process for those guys too and it will make them better players this year. I know we’re going to need all our defensemen this year.”
Hamhuis had the Stars circled as an organization to visit this summer in unrestricted free agency. A deal to Dallas from the Vancouver Canucks fell through at the trading deadline, but during that time Hamhuis – who is from Smithers, British Columbia – became comfortable with the Stars.
“I think going through that process really opened our minds to change, and that it’s a potential thing that could happen,” Hamhuis said. “It certainly made the pending free agency an easier thing to deal with, but to have an option like the Stars to transition from Vancouver certainly made it easier.”
The biggest selling point for the Stars could have been the ability for Hamhuis to play with Klingberg, a budding superstar.
“I mean, from what I’ve seen playing against him, he’s a tremendous talent and a real exciting player in the organization that can change games – just playing on defense it takes years to kind of mature the complete game, the defensive part of the game, the ins and outs of it,” Hamhuis said. “It’s something he’s improving on and will continue to improve on. I think there’s such a bright future but what a great start to his career so far and he’s such a special talent for sure.”
Hamhuis could be one of the keys to helping the Dallas goaltending. With the Canucks, Hamhuis was an all-situations defender who finished with a plus-78 rating in 389 games. Goligoski was more of an offensive player, but Dallas has enough scoring. Nill needed a solid defensive blueliner, which is why Hamhuis was important for the Stars’ offseason plans.
“Throughout my career I’ve always seemed to be partner maybe the new guy or a young guy or a struggling player. I think coaches have put me in a position to maybe stabilize a defensive partnership. I feel my game is kind of a simple, steady, effective type of game out there,” Hamhuis said.
“I think I have versatility. I really enjoy playing on the penalty kill. I have the ability to jump in and play power play minutes if needed. I can kind of move up and down the lineup and play shutdown roles. I’ve played against all types of players. That’s kind of what I hope.”
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