Here is my story on the Lehtonen trade:
Kari Lehtonen will play another NHL game – it just won’t be for the Thrashers.
The Thrashers traded the goaltender, recovering from two off-season back surgeries, to Dallas on Tuesday for defensive prospect Ivan Vishnevskiy and a fourth-round draft pick this year.
Lehtonen, 26, is the franchise’s all-time leader in games played (204), wins (94), save percentage (.912) and shutouts (14). He is also the single-season record holder for games (68), minutes (3,934), wins (34), shutouts (4) – all set in 2006-07 – and save percentage (.916, 2007-08). He finished his Thrashers career with a 94-83-17 record and a 2.87 goals-against average.
After returning from a two-week conditioning stint at AHL Chicago on Sunday, Lehtonen practiced with the team on Monday and Tuesday. He was scheduled to accompany the team to Denver for Wednesday’s game against the Avalanche, but did not make the trip.
With the Thrashers carrying three goaltenders, the play of Johan Hedberg and Ondrej Pavelec made Lehtonen the odd man out, according to Thrashers general manager Don Waddell.
“As the season went on, we had two guys that proved they were capable of carrying the load,” Waddell said. “ … One hundred percent (Hedberg and Pavelec) are doing a good job for us.”
Lehtonen required surgery to repair a herniated disc in his back in July. In October, he had a second surgery to remove edges of bone that were applying pressure to nerve roots in two locations in his back. He has not played an NHL game since April 11, 2009.
For his part, Lehtonen said he believed he was NHL-ready after this minor-league stint. He went 1-2-2 with a .899 save percentage and 2.67 goals-against average in four starts for Chicago.
“The first couple of games over there were pretty tough,” Lehtonen said. “They got a lot better and I feel really good. We got what we needed from it. … [Playing an NHL game] is going to be different, but I think I’m ready to take that next step.”
Waddell said several teams scouted Lehtonen during his AHL stint, wanting to see if the goaltender was fully recovered. In the end, he said, Dallas made the best offer.
Getting Lehtonen into NHL games, while the team is in a playoff race, was also a reason the deal. The trade comes before Friday’s NHL roster freeze for the two-week Olympic break.
“We were obviously in a situation where we had three goaltenders,” Waddell said. “We were afraid if we went into the Olympic break it was going to be hard to get Kari back in [to play games]. This was something that made the most sense.”
Lehtonen can become a restricted free agent on July 1.
The trade for Lehtonen, a first-round pick in 2002 (No. 2 overall), comes five days after the Thrashers traded Ilya Kovalchuk, a first-round pick in 2001 (No. 1 overall).
“Kari Lehtonen is a proven elite goaltender,” Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk told the team’s Web site. “We are very excited to add him to our hockey club.”
Vishnevskiy currently plays for the AHL’s Texas Stars and is considered a top prospect. The first-round pick in 2006 by Dallas (No. 27 overall), turns 22 in eight days. He made his NHL debut last season, appearing in three games with two assists. He played two December games with the Stars this season and has appeared in 51 AHL games for Texas with 24 points (eight goals, 16 assists).
The 6-foot, 195-pounder is a native of Barnaul, Russia. He played most of last season with AHL Peoria, scoring 19 points (six goals, 13 assists). The three previous seasons he played for Rouyn-Noranda of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Vishnevskiy led all QMJHL rookie defensemen in scoring in 2005-06 with 48 points (13 goals, 35 assists). Vishnevskiy was assigned to AHL Chicago following the trade.
“He’s got great upside, plus we have another draft pick in the basket,” Waddell said.
This blog comes to you from the plane before departing for Denver.
Only real news to come out of this morning’s practice is that defenseman Boris Valabik did indeed suffer a torn ACL in his left knee. He was placed on injured reserve today. The plan is wait several days for the swelling to go down before scheduling surgery.
At practice today, Niclas Bergfors and Evander Kane were working with the power-play unit. Coach John Anderson said he would like them to get a little more practice before getting into a game on the special team but “if I see we need a little spark, I will put them in.”
Here is Anderson on the importance of this road trip:
“We were just talking to the team, our goal on this trip is to get into the playoffs (position) before the break That’s going to be our goal. I think it’s pretty realistic. I think we’ll need four or five points. We’ve got some tough teams to play but if we play as a team … we are moving in the right direction and I think we can do it.
“If you don’t set goals, you end up wandering around. I’m trying to set bars for us. We’ve got to make the playoffs. That’s the bottom line.”
Line combinations remained the same. Slava Kozlov skated on the line with Marty Reasoner, Chris Thorburn and Eric Boulton.
I shall report in from Denver at tomorrow morning’s sate.