With only a couple months left in the Thrashers season…and with the hopes for any possible playoff push long since departed…there is little left for the Thrashers to play for except professional pride and…well, quite frankly…job security. Over the course of the next few weeks, I want to try and highlight a couple of the players that have much to gain, or lose, between now and April 11…players that are “on the bubble”.
Today I submit for your approval…or disapproval… Kari Lehtonen.
As we have discussed many times already, when GM Don Waddell gave goalkeeper Kari Lehtonen a one-year contract last summer, it was done with the thought that this was the make or break year for the 2nd overall pick in the 2002 draft. Kari was going to take this job and run with it or…enter Ondrej Pavelec.
Inconsistent play and injuries have followed Kari around for the most part of his career…this season being no exception. However, with 26 more games on the schedule…and Lehtonen should receive the lion’s share of those starts…Kari is one of those players who are “on the bubble”.
Of late, the Finnish net minder has played much better than last fall. He currently owns a 10-17-2 record along with a .908 SV% and 3.14 GAA. A month ago, when I gave him a failing grade in the mid-season report card, those numbers were 5-11-2, .900 SV% and a 3.41 GAA.
His career numbers are 85-78-16 with a 2.87 GAA and .912 SV%. He has authored 12 shutouts.
Kari was a huge factor in both of the Thrashers wins since the All Star as well as the come-from-behind victory against Toronto last month. He also has the lone shutout of the season for Atlanta and in the past week and a half he has posted a couple of high quality-type starts. In New York, he turned away 39 of the Rangers 40 shots…giving his team the ability to escape with a shootout win. This past Tuesday in Tampa, his 40 saves on 41 shots paved the way to a 3-1 Thrashers win.
However, in between, was that steamer he laid on the ice against New Jersey in which he lasted only 28:08 and allowed five goals on 24 shots. Not to mention the 4 goals on but 15 shots versus the Islanders last month…but so much of that mess could also be placed at the skates of the defense in front of him.
A number of times in the recent past he has been able to string together multiple quality starts, but only once this season has he won consecutive games…last month during the three-game win streak.
On thing that we have all heard and read about Kari is…what kind of numbers would this kid put up if he didn’t have to face the unbelievable amount of shots that he normally is forced to endure. Truth be told, I thought that this year he would actually be blessed with better defensive play than last season. Unfortunately, this just hasn’t been the case as the team continues to rank near the bottom of the league in overall team defense.
So, given all that, I toss the question out to you…if you had to make the choice right now, based on what you have seen from Kari of late…as well as all season long…would you sign Kari to a long term contract this summer, yet another one-year job, or do you cut bait and look to Opie next season?