Before the trade deadline, Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk wanted to be sure he had a goalie in place that he felt could be a major contributor in the 2010-11 season.
Marty Turco was at the end of his contract (and the club made the decision not to re-sign him) as was backup Alex Auld as part of a one-year deal. So Nieuwendyk didn't want to go into the summer needing to find a goalie. He also wanted to find one that was more economical. Dallas was paying its goalies about $6.5 million and needed to allocate that money in other areas (like raises to some of the core group of players).
So Nieuwendyk sent defenseman prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round draft pick to Atlanta for Lehtonen. It was a risk/reward trade in the sense that Lehtonen had two back surgeries and hadn't played in an NHL game since last April. When healthy, he showed signs of being an elite goalie, but is that what the Stars would get in the deal?
Nieuwendyk is confident that Lehtonen can be a No. 1 netminder for the Stars.
"I knew he could be a No. 1," Nieuwendyk said. "I saw the things he did in Atlanta when he was healthy. I just felt like we were giving this kid a second chance. He's come in with a great attitude."
Nieuwendyk sees a big goalie with fluid movements.
"Technically, he's makes it look easy," Nieuwendyk said. "He works hard and keeps getting better."
Lehtonen said his confidence grew along with his comfort level in Dallas in the past few months after fighting through the injuries to return to the NHL 11 months after his last game.
"It was a long season for me," Lehtonen said before the club's final game in Minnesota. "I didn't play a lot, but there was a lot of not-so-good things that happened. It was frustrating. But it was great to play again and to play well always helps too."
Lehtonen said the way the club finished the season and won some games late even though they were not in the playoff hunt can provide some momentum.
"That was good, but we were in a great position after the break and came out flat right after that," Lehtonen said. "That's still in everybody's minds. We are still young guys and we learned a lot. For me, it was great experience. These guys helped me to get used to everything. I feel very comfortable here."
Looking ahead: Lehtonen is healthy heading into the offseason, giving him a chance to continue to improve and work on things this summer. He has to prove that he can handle the grind of an NHL season from start to finish in 2010-11. He's looking forward to the opportunity.