When the Dallas Stars dealt for goaltender Kari Lehtonen(notes) from the Atlanta Thrashers in February, it was their way of saying to Marty Turco(notes) "thanks and good luck" as the veteran netminder finished the final year of his deal with the club.
Lehtonen played well for the Stars when he returned from injury almost three weeks after the deal. Posting a 6-4-0 record, .911 save-percentage and 2.81 goals-against average, it was a good way for Lehtonen to build confidence heading into the off-season, and it gave the Stars an opportunity to see if he could be a long-term option with their goaltending situation unclear for the 2010-11 season.
On Tuesday, the Stars made it official: agreeing on terms with Lehtonen to a three-year extension worth $10.65 million. The Dallas Morning News' Mike Heika wrote Tuesday that the breakdown is $2.7 million, $3.7 million and (gulp) $4.25 million for the final year of the deal.
Health has been the No. 1 issue surrounding Lehtonen's career since he was drafted second overall by Atlanta in 2002; and with an unrestricted free agent goalie crop this summer including such affordable names as Dan Ellis(notes), Chris Mason(notes) and Martin Biron(notes), the Stars are taking a gamble on the 26-year-old.
Dallas general manager Joe Nieuwendyk(notes) said Tuesday that the team's goal is to get Lehtonen on a conditioning program that would enable him to be more durable.
Stars blog Defending Big D was surprised by the length of the deal and points out that with Lehtonen's injury history, it'll also be important to fill the backup position wisely:
"It was previously suggested (by this blog and others) that the Stars might try a one-year "tryout" or "bridge" deal with Kari because of his injury history and lack of play the last several seasons. Now it seems that the Stars are more comfortable with a few years, perhaps quelled by his strong play down the stretch.
In his last 9 starts this season, Lehtonen won 6, allowing 2.4 goals per game with a save percentage of .926%. The quesiton [sic] of his potential and talent aside, the biggest issue moving forward becomes his health. The oft-injured Finn has faced question about his work ethic and conditioning since arriving in the NHL. Recent back surgeries have been said to solve the particular problem that had plagued him for the last several seasons, but moving from the durable Marty Turco to Lehtonen is still seen as somewhat of a gamble.
Andrew's Stars Page has a great breakdown of the position-by-position salary info for Dallas next season.
Nieuwendyk was in a tough spot with Lehtonen. Trading away a highly touted defensive prospect in Ivan Vishnevskiy(notes) and a fourth-round draft pick to acquire him back in February was a sure sign that he would be given a new deal, but the combination of Lehtonen's injury history and money handed to him is somewhat of a surprise -- considering some of the name that could be had for cheaper in this summer's free agent goalie crop.
Their bank accounts must have done back-flips upon hearing the final numbers of the deal.