On The Bubble: Kari Lehtonen

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?

 
 
 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

44 comments Add your comment

dwayne johnson

February 13th, 2009
11:37 am

I would sign him long term. Every goalie lays stinkers, but not every goalie has Atlanta playing d (or not playing d)in front of them.

Ron

February 13th, 2009
12:06 pm

Sign him. Overall our goalies must play their absolutely best game for the team to have a chance to win. So very game they must play better then the last game. Very similar to Office Space where every day is worse than the day before. The team will and has hung every goalie we have had out in the wind on a consistent basis. Sign him you know what you are getting. Then get a defensive system/players that are capable of letting your keeper having a mediocre game and the team still having a chance to win.

Season Ticket Sonny

February 13th, 2009
12:17 pm

Who cares…..just fire Waddell!

Bob

February 13th, 2009
12:27 pm

Kari has all the physical talent in the world, but does not have the mental makeup and loses focus, leading to far too many bad games. If Pavelec is ready, it’s time to move on, go with Kari/Pavelec tandem as insurance, move Moose to someone.

I also would like the new GM to bring in a shrink to work with Kari and teach him how to focus and prepare mentally, remember the wonders it did for Smoltz?

Barry

February 13th, 2009
12:31 pm

I would say sign him to a 2 year deal. I think things are harder for Kari than maybe elsewhere. At least elsewhere other teams play better defense and offense in front of their goalie, but with Kari he needs to bring his A++ game every game to give this team a chance to win. I think that’s why sometimes he may appear inconsistent. Granted yes he does need to always play at his best, but sometimes it’s almost like he has to be super goalie to bail out the rest of the team some nights. If we could just get some better NHL talent and a team with more chemistry and consistency then I think Kari would be able to play very good more consistently. His play as of late has just been awesome, but eventually he’s going to hit a wall and maybe just lay a dud one game. It’s human nature. He can’t possibly be that super focused every game without him getting mentally fatigued.

PS. Love the new blogging system here. Much easier to read and work with.

sisu

February 13th, 2009
12:52 pm

Sign Kari, Opie had his big chance this season and he fell from his potential in my mind. Kari is ready to get into his prime years as a goalie so why not sign him for 3 to 5 years?

Spud Webb

February 13th, 2009
12:53 pm

Bye Kari. You will go flourish somewhere else and be an all star!!!
FIRE WADDELL

Buzilla in CT

February 13th, 2009
1:00 pm

this is weird

Buzilla in CT

February 13th, 2009
1:02 pm

I would sign Kari and fire Weekes. Hire a Sports shrink to work on Kari’s head, and let Bear work on his spare tire. You also may want to get someone to tag along with him so he stays out of ‘Moondogs’ during the season. Me thinks the kid likes to party a bit too much. Maybe get him laid or something

allen

February 13th, 2009
1:12 pm

There is no doubt Kari could be a top notch goalie..but the key word is could..As long as he is in Atlanta, he is going to have a mediocre team in front of him which means he will always face 30-40 shots per game. His conditioning or lack thereof will not allow him to play to this intensity. That’s why if you sign him long term, he can not start 10 games in a row. He will be sharp if he plays three, sits one, etc..Now if he were to play for better teams and face 20-30 a game, I feel he is better.

Bottom line is unless the Thrashers plan on investing in a quality team, they should not keep him. They should sign an average goalie for an average team. He also has to be held more accountable for his off season habits. That is why it takes him half a season to get going. The true top goalies out there have off nights but they prepare before the season knowing they are going to have to play a lot of minutes. I don’t think he has or ever will have that commitment. So, no don’t sign him long term unless you plan on building a winner around him. That’s why the Heatley’s and Hossa’s have left. How about don’t sign the GM long term.

polskidawg

February 13th, 2009
1:16 pm

Rawhide – a good recap of what has been a typical Kari year. I was a huge fan his first 2 years, but have since cooled on him. He’s got TONS of talent, but a $.10 head (as Bob accurately pointed out).

My view on goalies has been altered, somewhat based on Kari’s history. I prefer these 3 things to happen:

1. Hire a professional-level GM in late April.
2. That GM to trade Kari at the draft for the best available offer (perhaps a 3rd round pick, or a late 20’s, defensively responsible 2nd line player with size).
3. Signed a veteran Goalie (not “old”) with some history of success, pay for it – Fernandez? Backstrom?

Mitch 4404

February 13th, 2009
1:23 pm

I say sign kari to a deal around 2-3 year deal but its a touch call he has the skills but there have always been questions about his mental toughness for a full NHL season ( Hockey Night in Canada comment concerning kari) He may never be a Hall of fame goalie but he is a good starting goalie with no Defense in front of him that is the real problem and he has never had a quality D in front of him that we can judge him by. If the Bruins defense was as bad as ours giving up 40 shots he wouldn’t look so great either

B. Thenet

February 13th, 2009
1:36 pm

This is a very tough decision. When he is healthy, he is capable of being excellent. But he gets hurt so much, you could end up throwing away a ton of cap space on a guy that really can’t help you too much.

I would roll the dice and give him a solid 4-6 year contract for $3-$4 million a year.

A$G

February 13th, 2009
2:04 pm

If he wants money we must get rid of him.

Joey

February 13th, 2009
2:09 pm

Sign Kari to a 3-year contract at $3M/season. Our team defense has been terrible since his rookie year. Yes, there have been growing pains, but what goalie drafted from 2002 forward has not been full of setbacks? M-A Fleury, Carey Price, Cam Ward? Kari is just as good if not better than all of these players. Yes, they have out up better numbers, but these goalies all have had much better overall teams. Don’t let Kari be another Braydon Coburn. Kari will be an All-Star for sure. He just needs a better team in front of him.

Wayne

February 13th, 2009
2:23 pm

I would only sign Kari for a 1-year deal only with the hope that the new GM (Pat Quinn?) can shore up the D.

Midfield

February 13th, 2009
2:34 pm

At this point, the priority for the franchize should be to replace Don. Right now, looking from the outside in, it’s hard to say if a player is capable of performing reliably for the duration of the season, given the state of the organization. Perhaps, Kari could be the franchize goalie he was meant to be – under a different regime – or, perhaps, not. I also would like to have an idea about what really happened behind the scene during the 10-game stretch that got Bob Hartley fired.

LAC

February 13th, 2009
2:39 pm

I would sign to wo year deal, Trade Hedberg and have Pavs here
either later this season and for sure next year.

Then simply put let the BEST goalie win, really very simple concept…
except for don waddell that is, the GM with NO brain cells.

Then it will become clear when #1 is established, one gets traded for some offense… Let the sparing begin SOON ! Can you even do that waddell ? Why is waddell HIDING these days, plus sprit clowns, really class guys aren’t they ? Simply they are The WORST of The WORST
as professional sports owners, always hiding from the fact they are complete FLOPS at running any type professional sports teams !

STENDEC

February 13th, 2009
2:44 pm

I HAD A CHANGE OF HEART…KARI IS AWESOME, I HOPE HE CAN FORGIVE ME FOR ALL THE MEAN THINGS I HAVE SAID. THE LORD HAS OPENED MY EYES. HE HAS TAUGHT ME TO LOVE EVERYONE, EVEN FINNISH NETMINDERS.

Russian

February 13th, 2009
3:13 pm

First of all, WOW !!!! newblog format. I like it.
Second I like to trade Kari IF we will get something back. Kari is NHL goalie and always will be. We can trade him for talented prospect.

wangdong

February 13th, 2009
3:31 pm

I think they should give Kari one more shot…1 year contract. Trade Moose at the trade deadline for whatever we can get for him and go ahead and bring up Pavelec. Have Pavelec here to light a fire under Kari’s ass and show him the first time he slips up that he will lose the job. If Pavelec is then the better option go ahead and make him our #1 and show Kari the door. P

PS. FIRE WADDELL!!!!

Spud Webb

February 13th, 2009
3:50 pm

Stendec, I know your having a tough time, but I don’t buy that you love the swede!!
Serious note, hope your family is hanging in there.

Spud Webb

February 13th, 2009
3:59 pm

Hedberg will be in DC by the trade deadline. For a nice set of golf balls for DW.

ben

February 13th, 2009
5:00 pm

a few uncomfortable truths:

Kari is by the numbers not the best goalie that’s been here. Pasi was. Kari has not “stolen” a lot of games. Hasek, Roy, Belfor, Khabibulin, Price, Lundqvist, and others have done this for years. Yes, these are top-shelf, but this is what Kari was supposed to be. Kari is clearly not that. What he is is a solid #1. D and netminding is a chicken / egg thing. Obviously both are failing and have for years.

This needs to end but won’t for years unless some drastic changes get made. Sign Kovy, dump Kari, go out and pay for a #1 netminder, a #2 scoring center, unleash Enstrom and Hainsey, and for the love of God change the defense.

Tony C.

February 13th, 2009
5:01 pm

I wouldn’t give KL more than $2M per (gauranteed) based on his past two seasons. He signed a “fair market value” deal this season and has promptly sh!t the bed. Poor defense aside, KL was hurt early in the season **again**, he’s had probably his worst-played campaign as Thrasher as well. The poor outing against NJ being but one example this season.

Our other rising stud goalie [Pavelec] caught sight of the limelight and started making demands even before he showed that he is STILL a not-ready-for-primetime player. Apparently he’s more likeable than KL, but his positioning and use of angles is well behind Kari. I think we can all think back to (at least)one goal against Pavelec where “The Giant” was waaaaaaaaaaaaaay out of position, and NHL shooters made him pay.

So, I think we can safely say that Pavelec, isn’t the answer and Lehtonen may very well have regressed this season.

Proposed solution?

Sign KL for 2 years @ $2M (gauranteed) with performance escalators that would pay him up to $4.5M. Now that’s not an insulting offer for a player with his track record, and depending on how attainable you make the escalation clauses, perhaps even a very attractive contract given his past injury/ADHD issues. I would also hope that KL and his peoplpe demand a full-time goalie coach, by full-time I mean that is ALL that person does: help Kari with his form & attitude. Why not get the guy from Jokerit??? KL seemed to be doing pretty well when he was there…why not bring in a familiar and trusted face to help out?

Anyway, I wouldn’t let him walk away for nothing. Just on G-P. You don’t let 1st rounders walk for free.

Tony C.

February 13th, 2009
5:05 pm

I guess what I’m trying to say is:

**FIRE WADDELL**

Stephanie

February 13th, 2009
5:56 pm

Get rid of Kari. Kari has never been as good as he was before he got hurt. All he does is complain about the defense. His JOB is to stop the puck no matter how many times it comes at him. The team has no confidence in his hot today-cold tomorrow style of play. What the team needs is a solid goalie that is good no matter how bad the team is. Look at Backstrom in Minnesota. He’s great on a team that never scores.

While you’re at it. Great rid of Moose. He was good when he started with the Pens, but has NEVER been a reliable starter. He is only good when he comes into a game.

Pavelec has his chance at the beginning of the season and he blew it. Maybe it was just nerves, but maybe he’s not that good either. Give him a shot and see what he does the rest of the season. If he stinks also, spend the summer getting some goalies that work instead of more d-men. God knows we have enough of them. A solid goalie will make the d work harder.

Bryan

February 13th, 2009
6:48 pm

For what its worth, sign him. But it doesn’t matter as the Thrash will be gone as soon as the ASG can legally sell them.

Wreckin & Thrashin

February 13th, 2009
8:38 pm

In celebration of this new blogging system, I’m gonna post for the first time since the first month of the season. The worst thing possible has happened to me as a Thrasher fan… I’m just plain apathetic to this franchise, and the decisions it makes. The Thrashers are still and always will be my favorite pro sports team, but until they bring in new personnel and show a commitment to building a franchise, they’ve lost my monetary support. As far as Kari goes… does it really matter who our goalie is until we start building a real team?

Done

February 13th, 2009
8:46 pm

Waddell promised Pavelec something when he threw his tantrum. I bet it was Kari’s job. I do not expect him to be here next year. Kari will go somewhere else and be an excellent asset to the team. No goal tender stops every shot on goal. Few goal tenders in the league face 40 shots a night or have their own players screen the puck for them. The New Jersey Devils coach thought facing 30 shots on goal was outragious. We think 30 shots on goal is a quiet night or close to a miracle.

I don’t think you can look at his wins to judge Kari. He would have to have a shut out everynight to make this a winning team. Kari is not the issue. Unfortunatley, he is getting the blame. As for the injuries, it’s like Kovy being a selfish player. Not true, just a label that people picked up and continue to state. The sprained ankle was an intential by the other team. Other goal tenders get hurt too. Kari was out so long this year because DW wanted Pavelec in goal and Pavelec showed he was not ready. Rumor was that DW was shopping Kari.

Kari and Moose are keeping the wins possible every night. Both have nights that they do not do as well. It must be hard to come to work every day and still be mently ready to stop evey shot on goal. I would not want to work under that kind of stress.

Tony C.

February 13th, 2009
8:59 pm

I’ll give you that KL was probably ready to go sooner than he was allowed to, but my point was made that as you look over Lehtonen’s whole career, you see true brilliance at times, but EVERY season has been marred with injuries.

It may not be fair but it is a factor at the negotiating table.

Hockey Biltong

February 13th, 2009
9:52 pm

Did ya hear about Espo?? ACL blown. TSN reports he may be back in time for training camp this fall. FWIW.I can’t figure Kari out. So I would not sign him long term. Couple of years maybe and sign another journeyman keeper. Lose Moose and see if Pavs develops.

sisu

February 13th, 2009
10:31 pm

I think all of us look at Pavs with rose color glasses, he HAD HIS chance this season and he blew it. He is young but if you think having him as #1 next season then the next season is lost before it started. To suggest that the team trade Kari for a 3 rounder??? No way in my opinion, not even for a prospect. A solid player at the very least in their prime, maybe Dion or someone like him, nothing less!

Kari is hitting his prime years and to just give him away would be insane! just my 2 cents:)

Rawhide

February 13th, 2009
11:29 pm

Espo out with a blown ACL?

Well, that’s just fan-frickin’-tastic….

ben

February 13th, 2009
11:41 pm

Mr. Tiller–

I agree.

W & T–

Me too.

Rawhide

February 14th, 2009
12:01 am

Ooooh, look at me in shades of gray….and the posts pop through super quick too.

So, what do you guys think of the new blog-o-sphere?

I’m gonna be learning some new trick too…embedding photos, videos and even web polls. I only have the bacic tools right now…but we are gonna be able to do some cool stuff here soon.

Jameson

February 14th, 2009
1:27 am

I think the season has probably managed to bring Kari’s price down lower than his actual value, and as Brendan has stated multiple times, trade values for goalies are tremendously low right now, so I don’t think trading him is a good idea. Since I believe we could sign him for less than what he’s actually going to be worth over the next few years this summer, I say we try to tie him up for several years (4-5ish). I also think it would be wise of Don to offer Pavelec an extension that will be a one-way contract at the end of next season to get the competition going between the two, and hopefully we’ll wind up with the goalie tandum with the most value for a couple of years.

Jameson

February 14th, 2009
1:29 am

Among other things, I like that “Report this comment” link. It’ll come in handy if we ever hear from those guys from that Canadiens forum, again.

Dwayne Johnson

February 14th, 2009
6:19 am

i’d complain about the d too if i were Kari. put Kari in net behind NJ’s d and everyone would be talking about how great Kari is. Look at Clemmensen, do not tell me he is better than Kari. Kari stealing games? almost everyone he wins is a steal

Brendan

February 14th, 2009
12:15 pm

I believe Waddell will offer a “comprise contract” of 3-years/$10 million for Kari. If Wadddell just offers a 1-year deal, what does that really accomplish? In 2010, Kari’s situation will be the same as Ilya’s, unless a longer term contract gets done this summer. If the Lehtonen camp says, “We won’t sign ANY deal for less than $10 million,” then I think Waddell would bump that up to 3-years/$11 million. Or offer 4-years/$13.6 million. Or even 4-years/$14 million. I think Kari is making $3.0 millon now. The team can easily afford to give him a modest raise to $3.33 to $3.5 million cap hit, per season. Cap room isn’t the issue for this team.

As for Kari, the hockey professional, I think he still has a ways to go in his development. To be clear, I’m NOT slamming him. I’m saying his best years may still lie ahead. Kari can become an elite goaltender, with better mental focus, a dedicated goalie coach, and continued offseason conditioning. When a netminder shows up to training camp 35-pounds overweight, smiling and chuckling, it’s embarrassing. It’s not a matter for school-girlish giggling. It’s, perhaps, easier to endure as an 18-19 year old. At that point, the goalie is still very much a PROSPECT, not the foundation piece counted on to bring home banners hanging from the rafters. No player should want or intend to show up to training camp out of shape. It reflects poorly on your attitude and commitment to the team, as a professional. The NHL is not a beer league. Kari will not be dying his hair blue again anytime soon. He KNOWS what’s at stake, now. And he KNOWS that he is an injury-plagued goalie. And it’s a tag he won’t shed within the space of a season. Kari, to get HUGE dollars, has to play several injury-free seasons, while still displaying the skills of a true #1 goalie, with the stats to support it.

Thrashers Recaps

February 14th, 2009
1:48 pm

To see how consistent he’s been, I looked at the standard deviation of Kari’s save percentage for each game this season and compared them to Hedberg and Pavelec. Turns out Kari is about twice as consistent as the other two, and with a higher save percentage and lower GAA. Plots of the data are on my blog.

Rawhide

February 14th, 2009
11:58 pm

Nice work on the graphs, Thrashers Recaps…nicely done and very relevant. It does show how Kari has faired this season as opposed to Moose and Pavs. Thanks for bringing it to the converstation.

But to me, it simply shows that Kari has been the least “in”consistent of the three.

Also, I’m judging Kari based on his stats and performance, not as a comparison to others. The Thrashers have a decision to make regarding him this summer and I think it’ll be made based on whether or not the team still feels he is the #1 guy for the years to come.

Honestly, right now I don’t know how I would decide if I were faced with the question. For the most part, he’s been sharp since returning from his injury. But, that there WAS yeat another injury…and the GAA is still over 3 and the SV% is still closer to .900 than it is .910…I don’t know if a multi-year deal is in the offing.

That, plus the fact that Opie under-whelmed me last fall…and he’s still an RFA this summer…I think he gets a 1-year deal again.

Ms. Blueland

February 16th, 2009
2:26 am

RUN KARI RUN !!!!

Jessica

February 17th, 2009
11:15 am

In my opinion, Kari has been one of the shining stars on the team. I think he has heart and the want to be good for Atlanta. I think we have yet to see him hit his stride and that’s saying a lot. I believe the issue is Waddell. I have NO idea why he is still on the payroll. I mean, who is he black mailing to stay on as GM? LOL

I say, sign him to a 3 year.