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Last night the Atlanta Thrashers traded goaltender Kari Lehtonen to the Dallas Stars in exchange for defenceman Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth round draft pick.

Lehtonen, the second overall pick in the 2002 NHL Entry Draft, is one of the league’s most talented and most injury-prone goaltenders.  He was the MVP of both the regular season and the playoffs in his draft year, and prior to establishing himself as an NHL’er was dominant in the American Hockey League.  In parts of five seasons with Atlanta Lehtonen has played just over 200 games with a .912 save percentage.  The talent is incredible, and at just 26 years of age it’s entirely possible Lehtonen hasn’t peaked yet.

The flip side of the issue is his injury record.  Prior to back surgery which has sidelined him all season, Lehtonen had missed more than 100 games since the NHL lockout with groin, back and ankle injuries.  Lehtonen’s spent the last two weeks on a conditioning stint with the AHL’s Chicago Wolves, where he has a .899 save percentage.

Going back to Atlanta, Vishnevskiy is widely regarded as the Stars’ best defensive prospect.  The Stars aren’t exactly deep on defence; aside from Vishnevskiy, their only high-end defensive prospect is Philip Larsen, a fifth round pick in the 2008 draft.  Despite Vishnevskiy’s highly touted offensive game, he doesn’t appear to have developed offensively since his draft year (2005-06).  Below is his projected NHL offence, using Gabriel Desjardins’ league equivalencies.

Season League GP G A PTS
2005-06 QMJHL 82 6 15 21
2006-07 QMJHL 82 5 14 19
2007-08 QMJHL 82 9 14 23
2008-09 AHL/NHL* 82 3 9 12
2009-10 AHL/NHL* 82 6 11 17

 

*NHL numbers are counted on a 1:1 basis, with AHL numbers being projected using Desjardins’ conversion factor.

Those translated numbers don’t show a prospect ready to have an immediate offensive impact, and scouting reports indicate that Vishnevskiy’s defensive game is still developing.  He’s still young and there’s plenty of time for him to correct that, but despite three good games with Dallas at the end of last season he is a bit of a project at this point.

This adds credence to the Marty Turco rumours that have been floating around all season, although it’s hard to know what Dallas will be able to get for him.  He’s been effective in three out of five post-lockout seasons (and miserable in the other two), and the pending unrestricted free agent is getting paid like a franchise goaltender at $5.7 million this season.  It’s hard to know how Dallas has fared here until we see the return for Turco.

What we do know is that Joe Nieuwendyk has made a high-risk, high-reward gamble here.  I’m bullish on Lehtonen’s abilities and his potential, and he could make Nieuwendyk look like a genius.  Hopefully for Stars fans, Nieuwendyk doesn’t bet it all on Lehtonen and hangs on to a reliable backup for as long as his new goalie is under contract.

Atlanta gets a mid-round draft pick and a mid-level prospect, and are left with Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg as their goaltending duo.  They didn’t make out like bandits here, but once the decision was made to move on from Lehtonen they did a fair job of getting some value for him.  All in all, I’m inclined to mark this down as a slight win for Dallas.

Comments (6)

  1. I’m a little surprised Dallas decided to go this way. Not that it’s a bad deal, but giving up Vishnevskiy now when a casual glance at this summer’s free agent list shows a lot of middle of the road goaltending talent will be on the market seems an odd way to go. There’s Chris Mason, Pekka Rinne, Dan Ellis, Evgeni Nabokov, Ray Emery, Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, even retreads like Jose Theodore or Vesa Toskala or Turco. With such a glut, and with Josh Harding probably still itching for a trade out of Minny and Corey Schneider probably available, it strikes me as even more of a gamble to deal an asset for Lehtonen with all these guys free agents. And making Nikolai Khabibulin’s signing last summer even more asinine, for that matter, but let’s not get off topic. That’s not even including longshots for a starting job who’ve shown flashes of ability like Peter Budaj or Michael Leighton.

    Moreover, the goalie market is so stagnant with such a limited number of goalie jobs that will actually be available in this buyer’s market, I’m surprised Waddell got that much. The only teams that’ll be in the market for a starter this summer will be Nashville, San Jose, St. Louis, Philly and Tampa, assuming they don’t re-sign their current starters. That’s roughly twice as many guys who’ll be looking for a starting job as there will be such jobs available. And it’s not like Dallas was more likely to make the playoffs now than they were before trading for Lehtonen, unless they really do find a taker for Turco, which I’m skeptical about.

    I guess Don Waddell has a pulse after all, because after a terrible deal for Kovalchuk he managed to get decent value here for a player the Thrashers haven’t even seen this year. Lehtonen has potential to be better than any of these guys, but he’s 26 and it’s still all potential.

  2. I agree with the fact that it looks like at this point Dallas has won but the big if is can he stay healthy, if so than Newi has made a awesome deal. To comment on what Brian said I think the main reason Dallas went for it was the fact he is an RFA, so he is pretty much staying in with them for atleast a year or 2, and even tho there are a lot of UFA goalies this year who’s to say any of them would end up in Dallas and how much more money would they want compared to Lethonen.Given the teams limited pay-roll I think all of these things had to major factors.

  3. I’ve long wondered what it is about their goalies, but Lehtonen isn’t the only netminder to have injury issues (I think groin injuries in particular) while suiting up for the Thrashers.

    I personally think Dallas ran away with this deal even if Lehtonen continues to have trouble staying healthy. They needed a goaltender for the future since Turco wasn’t coming back, and rather than wait and see which goalies didn’t get re-signed by their teams by July 1st, Nieuwendyk was proactive and got himself a good one. He’ll have all offseason to find himself a reliable backup, and I know I’d rather be looking for a #2 netminder on opening day of free agency than a starter.

    Hey, he’s had better numbers than Khabibulin, is just as injury prone, and even if he doesn’t end up costing less (I suspect he will though), if Lehtonen decides to call it a career, the Stars won’t be on the hook for $3.75M against the cap for the next 3 years.

  4. There’s still a lot of factors to play out in this trade before we can start calling it a win for anyone. There’s Lethonen’s health of course. And what the Stars can get if anything for Turco. And what Vishnevskiy turns into as a defense man down the road. As with any trade there are a lot of factors obviously for now the Stars win but that could easily change if one of those 3 things work against them.

  5. Hey Willis,

    I know you PVR games like me so I wanted to let you know that CTV and TSN are are putting the games in the middle of 8 hour programming blocks listed simply as “olympics” and it’s not even set up as live event that you can edit the time.

    So say you wanna watch Canada/Norway and US/Switz on Tuesday like me, It’ll take 8 straight hours of recording 2 channels at once for 16 hours of PVR time…this really needs to get fixed at least by the 21st when things will start getting interesting.

    or maybe I just don’t know enough about my PVR?

  6. Vince:

    Thanks for the heads up; that really stinks.

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