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Stars Season Preview: Who’s Occupying the Crease

Stars Season Preview: Who’s Occupying the Crease

CEDAR PARK, Texas This offseason has been one to remember for hockey fans. With exorbitant price tags paid to players across the NHL, we will likely see many NHL-ready prospects be held in the AHL for the next year or two. Dallas is no exception, and what they have done to their goaltending situation in the Big D will surely profoundly affect who we will see occupying the crease in Austin.

What Dallas Did

Dallas Stars General Manager Jim Nill has been active in trying to keep his team’s championship window open despite their aging core. Due to his activity during this free agency period, the Texas Stars will be seeing a steady rotation of players coming and going from Austin to Dallas. What has really stood out has been Nill’s attempt to fill the crease with a cheap deal for 2016 Vezina winner and 2018 Stanley Cup-winning goaltender Braden Holtby. This is a solid deal for a team having difficulty cutting out their tandem this year after a disappointing finish outside the playoffs last season.

The Implications

So, we have seen what Dallas has done in their crease, but what does that mean for Texas? First, I don’t think Dallas wants to have Jake Oettinger in the AHL for much longer after he was the clear number one in the NHL net last season. Oettinger posted impressive numbers during his rookie season in the NHL with an 11-8-7 record, 2.36 goals-against average (GAA), and a .911 save percentage (SV%). At only 22, Oettinger should be the starter for Dallas for the season opener in October.

Oettinger’s success has put Nill in a somewhat favorable position. He has a solid number one but has to decide between Holtby, and 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs hero, Anton Khudobin. Khudobin is beloved in Dallas, but his numbers slipped by a bit from the 2019-20 season, where he was the leader in SV% for the entire NHL.

Holtby, on the other hand, had a disappointing season with the Vancouver Canucks, where he was brought in to serve as a 1A/1B option with Thatcher Demko. Holtby is a zero-risk addition to bolster the net in Dallas, but it does leave Texas in a precarious spot.

Who’s Left?

The only holdover in net for Texas will be 23-year-old Colton Point, who will likely get the lion’s share of starts for the 2021-22 season. Point has been between the AHL and the ECHL for the last 3 years and has shown slow, steady improvement during that time. Last year, Point posted quality numbers, though he definitely left a lot to be desired. With an 8-5-1 record, a 3.08 GAA, and an .898 SV%, Point is a decent option to have. While sub-.900 SV% is not typically deemed ‘good’ for a young goaltender with minimal experience, I’m positive the organization will be satisfied.

Dallas has another big question: Will Ben Bishop play this season? Bishop has been the starter for Dallas for the last few years, but after the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Final in the 2019-20 season, he has not returned to the crease. Granted, most of the team’s playoff games that year saw Khudobin stealing the show.

For Bishop, he has spent the last 10 months rehabbing a knee injury and is slated to make a return during the season. While the exact date is unclear, it is apparent the Stars have a decision to make with their goaltending situation when he returns. NHL clubs can only have three goaltenders on their roster at any given time, so we will either see one of Holtby, Khudobin, or Oettinger be relegated to Texas for some games. Or the Stars take the more likely approach, and trade either Bishop or Khudobin for a nice return.

At 35, I don’t see Khudobin playing in the AHL and the same goes for Bishop. Khudobin may leave for the KHL in Russia where he can finish his career close to home. As for Bishop, he will have no issue finding a new home in an NHL market if the Stars opt to go in a different direction.

To me, it doesn’t make sense for the Stars to keep an NHL-caliber goaltender on the bench when they can receive some sort of compensation from another club. If Nill and the Stars opt not to trade any of their goaltenders, one will be sent down to Texas and command the net, leaving Point on the bench, slowing his development.

Final Thoughts

The Stars are in a great position in net for this season and probably going forward. Having 4 NHL-caliber goaltenders is a dream for any NHL GM, but I think the Stars may want to see some improvement from Point at the AHL level. If Point can progress into a cheap, NHL-caliber goalie, then the Stars will have more cap flexibility. Cap flexibility is going to be huge for the Stars, with several players on the Texas Stars being groomed for a lengthy stay in the show.

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