Credit Where Kari Is Due

Back around the mid-point of the season, I gave Kari Lehtonen a failing grade on the Thrashers’ mid-season report card. At the time he was 5-11-2 with a .900 SV% and 3.41 GAA with one shutout on the season. He was also coming off of an injury that kept him on the shelf for 21 games.

A lot of you thought I was being quite harsh on him with my grade. However, I was judging him not only on the numbers but the overall performance of the job. Kari was not brought here to be a backup…or even to simply compete for the top job. He was selected with the second overall pick in 2002 to be “The Man” between the pipes.

That sorta job you either pass or fail in most cases.

Also, the reason for the “F” was because I felt if he was indeed playing for his future with the Thrashers…given last summer’s one-year contract…those numbers and yet another injury wasn’t going to get it done for him. He was failing in proving once and for all that the #1 job in the ATL would continue to be his.

So, I believe that grade was the corect onem at that time.

Key words being…”at that time”.

Since mid-January, Kari has gone 13-9-1. Placing those numbers into some perspective, that type of record played over…say…a 55 start season would run out to something like 31-21-3. A team that plays an entire season at a clip of 13-9-1 would finish the year with 96 points.

Keri Has Had Everyone Hopping With Exitement Lately

Kari Has Had Everyone Hopping With Excitement Lately (AP Photo)

Kari has added two more shutouts to the total, his GAA has dipped below three for the first time all season and now sits at 2.94 and the SV% has risen to .915…which is just one point off of his career high for a full season. Lehtonen has won his last five starts, six of his last seven and seven of his last nine. During that time, he has a 2.22 GAA and a .937 SV%.

During his 5-game win streak, Lehts has stopped 170 of the 176 he’s faced, a .966 SV% and he’s posted a 1.64 GAA. Monday night’s 49 save on 50 shot performance was a thing of beauty that we will all not soon forget.

In short, Lehtonen has performed in the manner that justifies the faith and hope placed in him by this franchise by selecting him with that precious second overall pick seven years ago.

Going back to my post on January 11…I summarized my comments by saying “If the first half of the season is indicative of what is to come, the Kari Lehtonen era in Atlanta is but months…if not weeks…away from being officially over”.

I happy to now be able to say that, indeed, the first half was definately not a foreshadowing  of what was to come…the the past two months has seen him play at his best level yet and because of it, I would say that Kari Lehtonen has taken full and total control of the top goalie status for the Atlanta Thrashers.

He may very well have also earned something more than another one-year deal this coming summer.

64 comments Add your comment

Buzilla in CT

March 19th, 2009
11:47 am

I agree. He has performed extemely well

waffleboy

March 19th, 2009
11:47 am

I have to agree. It’s time to lock up Kari for a few years and see what to do with the rest of our goalies.

English Teacher

March 19th, 2009
11:49 am

I’ve never doubted Kari. I have, however, doubted the defense.

Tony C.

March 19th, 2009
11:52 am

eh.

I’m not sold still. Let me see how he finishes out the season and that would dictate the terms…I mean he might be the big chip needed to pull of some blockbuster draft-day trade…. I dunno.
I think he’s got what it takes to be “the man”, but the injuries really really bug me.

Jason

March 19th, 2009
11:53 am

His injury-plagued irradic play every season is what makes it so difficult to decide what the best thing for the franchise to do about the goilies in the offseason. I’m really glad to see him playing so well, but is this the new Kari we can plan to expect from now on, or an aberration? Longterm deal to Kari and trade Pavs, or the opposite? I still go back and forth.

Supes

March 19th, 2009
12:01 pm

Will this blog be free of the Pitt moron fan otherwise known as Darius?
One can only hope:)

Russ

March 19th, 2009
12:12 pm

I agree with Tony C. I have never had a problem with his play. I think he has played quite well over the years (for the most part) considering the defense (or lack thereof) in front of him. The problem is with his injury history. I don’t think I would offer him a big money/long term contract until he shows he can avoid these nagging injuries. I think he has earned a raise over his $3 mil. salary from this season. I would think a 2-3 year deal at about $4 mil. per season would be fair. Then, during that contract if he proves he can play consistenly well and give you 60 games per year, he will have earned a contract comparable to the top goalies.

Glovesave29

March 19th, 2009
12:30 pm

While the groin injury is most likely related to lack of conditioning, the back issue is not. He has taken a professional approach to his craft and thus has not had the groin problem recurrance. The back can get thrown out of whack anytime for a goalie. Its a constant concern. You are stretching and reaching out in all manners, and all it takes is a bump to the wrong part of the body at the wrong time to mess things up for weeks.

Personally, we sign Kari to the long term deal. Show a committment. Showcase Ondrej over the coming weeks for one of two reasons…to have him be the back up Kari, or to have him as trade bait. Since it appears as though we are playing our way out of the lottery, we can use him plus our first rounder for the first overall pick (and possibly their third rounder)should it be to a team that needs a goalies (i’m thinking Colorado or Ottawa…perhaps Toronto. Land the coveted Tavares. My feeling is that Ondrej is going to be good, really good. But he is going to be unhappy as a back up here. We don’t need that kind of discontent in the locker room.

Spud Webb

March 19th, 2009
1:06 pm

Tough spot. I tend to lean towards Tony C. Kari has been fantastic for sure over the last month. I need to see a little more and I hate to write it but I smell “payday”. I hope, hope I’m wrong, but Kari can SMELL the cash coming.
Lets look at it like our boofon owners are probably looking at it.
We are going to stay near the minimum cap, kari (in my opinion) is going to get 4 million a year. What are we going to cut to get down to the minimum? How are we possibly going to sign Kovy? It scares me. I can see them getting dandy don to trade Kari (for some pucks, a 12 pack of PBR, a first round pick and Denny Lambert), save that money, play Ondrej, because he’s obviously cheaper. Then it will be spun that Moose will help Ondrej and we are building for the future again!! It’s an uneasy feeling with these owners and I don’t trust them for a second. I just don’t know how they can expect to sign Kovy and Kari and expect to stay at the floor of the cap??? Maybe I’m wrong, usually am, but what do you guys and girls think?? Rawhide??

NASCAR Dave

March 19th, 2009
1:22 pm

Let him play all of the remaining games, then we can decide. I would not give him more than 1 or 2 years… And there MUST be an incentive in there for staying healthy…

I have had enough of MOOSE… I would be happy not having to watch him for the rest of the season.

Next year should be LEHTONEN/PAVELEC… Trade MOOSE at the draft for a 7th rounder or something like that…

Glovesave29

March 19th, 2009
1:35 pm

Moose won’t get anything in trade value. That’s the problem. Think of all the goalies that have passed though waivers this season. There are also many ex-NHLers in the AHL. I can only hope we can talk him into being a part of the coaching staff.

I’d like Ondrej as a backup to Kari. Yes he is cheap. But some guys (Moose) have the backup mentality. Ondrej clearly does not, so who wants that in the locker room. This is a really deep draft. Trade him now to move up to get Tavares if that can be done. I think Pavelec can be good. But we don’t know how he will handle the long season. Kari was a stud in Chicago too. Makes me think back to Chico Resch. He wanted to be a starter and get out from behind Billy Smith’s long shadow. Never really panned out from him once he was traded.

J Blue

March 19th, 2009
2:03 pm

Kari has been playing well recently.

CNNSI NHL had an article recently talking about the physical stress on butterfly goalies.

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2009/writers/david_epstein/03/18/butterfly.hip.injuries/index.html?eref=T1

Jimbo

March 19th, 2009
2:16 pm

Never doubted Kari’s ability or importance to the Thrash. With Pavelec, we should have a good duo next year and there is no question that good teams are built from the goal out. I hope that DW can get him on a long term deal.

kracker

March 19th, 2009
2:41 pm

I agree on trading a goalie and Kari is the keeper if the Thrash expect to contend for the PO next season. I have to trust the hockey people in our organization on this but to me going with Ondrej who is, excepting short stints, untested at the NHL level would be risky and possibly disasterous. His play has been stellar at times and it stunk some other times.

So sign Kari and I would be thrilled to trade Pavs and our #1 for the overall #1. Straight up if necessary, assuming Tavares will live up to all the expectations. Surely Kovy would be quite pleased, yes?

kracker

March 19th, 2009
2:45 pm

Of course, if the Islanders own the #1, I don’t expect they will be interested in trading it for a goalie. They have DiPietro, the 15 year man.

Buzilla in CT

March 19th, 2009
2:47 pm

Islanders would never do that since they have Rickey Di locked up until the next ice age. They would be fools to do anything but draft the next golden boy. Unless of course they get screwed by the ping pong balls

Go UCONN!

Glovesave29

March 19th, 2009
3:05 pm

Right – the Isles are set in the net (or are they, DiP misses a ton of games too…think they would like a redo and keep Luongo?) so we’d need Colorado, Toronto, Ottawa to get the top pick. TB will never trade within the division and PHX has Bryzgalov.

Rawhide

March 19th, 2009
3:13 pm

:!: SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT! :!:

We’ve scheduled another Thrashers Viewing Party at TJs. Click on “Trixie’s Corner” in the top right corner of this page for the details.

hint hint… someone in attendance will go home with a most excellent prize!

Please leave your RSVP with Trixie.

Glovesave29

March 19th, 2009
3:14 pm

J Blue – GREAT article. Very, very insightful.

I never used the butterfly because – A. I am too short and B. wearing the pads that loose (that is how they slid forward to face the shot instead of rotating with the legs) always hurt my knees when I tried to bounce back up to face the next shot. Thanks so much for the link.

Rawhide

March 19th, 2009
3:20 pm

N/A – Per your question from last night. It looks like Holmstrom and Lilja are a “no-go” for the Wings tomorrow night.

J Blue – Great article you linked. Thanks!!!

Buzzeng

March 19th, 2009
3:28 pm

What’s even more telling with Kari’s recent performance is how much better he’s fared when compared to Moose. Same defense, but a statistically significant different story. I’m glad to see Kari putting on a show, and am hoping for more of the same tomorrow night. Go Thrashers!

five_hole

March 19th, 2009
3:48 pm

My problem with Kari has been consistency, not conditioning. I have never doubted his physical tools; they’re as good as any goalie I’ve ever seen in the league. Does he have the mental toughness to play sharp, game in and game out, for 55-60 games?

As Bill pointed out, over the last 23 games, he has been as sharp as he’s ever been. Not only has he stopped everything he should, he’s stopped pucks he shouldn’t be able to.

The bottom line you should be asking yourselves is, do you have confidence in Kari to play like this for 55-60 games in a season? I don’t.

kracker

March 19th, 2009
4:06 pm

I think Kari is now, as he said in the VS on-ice interview after the win over the Caps, “older and wiser.” He is still young (25) but I think he realizes he is getting old in terms of his player profile around the league and it is time to fulfill his potential.

An interesting stat line on Kari that doesn’t seem to fit together:
He has 18 wins, tied for 25th in the league, a 2.94 GAA, 37th place and a .915 SV%, tied for 14th. So….put better skaters in front of Kari to maintain puck control and the wins total will go up, probably by a lot. Hopefully that will happen for the next decade or so.

LAC

March 19th, 2009
4:25 pm

I 100% agree with NASCARDave… We need to trade Hedberg, yes great guy, BUT… I want to see the two young goalies battle it out next season. Then after next season, one will have to be traded… But then and ONLY then, they need to battle next season to win the job.

Just makes easy sense, plus Pavs will cost less and that should endear waddell to these owners !

But if one does go, there better be a VERY HIGH rate of return coming here, no question. ! But Hedburg needs to go, I have seen enough…

Alan

March 19th, 2009
5:12 pm

Machacek and Sterling sent back to Chicago. Crabb has been re-called to Atlanta.

There goes post-deadline move number four.

ThrasherTim

March 19th, 2009
5:17 pm

I think Hedberg is signed through next season and assuming we can’t trade him or waive him (someone earlier mentioned that it’s been tough to unload veteran back-ups), we’d have to buy Moose out, sign Kari and also pay Pavlec an NHL salary. All while staying near the cap minimum? I think Moose may be here one more year – I don’t think we should trade Pavs by any means until Kari can make it one full year uninjured and we get more depth at the position in the system.

kracker

March 19th, 2009
5:20 pm

As already has been said, Moose has no trade value or very little. He might get picked up for 1/2 price on waivers but there are other goalies willing to work for the same price. Since we have him signed for next season at $1,087,500 and we are paying him for his mentoring and experience, I expect him to be on the roster next year. But that’s just me.

kracker

March 19th, 2009
5:22 pm

kracker

March 19th, 2009
5:29 pm

I would have to consider trading Pavs if it would yield a top two pick this year. I don’t think that’s too likely but let’s see how things play out the rest of this season in the lottery positioning.

N/A

March 19th, 2009
5:34 pm

Aw darn, Homer is still out. As much as I want the Thrashers to win tomorrow I was kinda excited about seeing him. Thanks :D And I think if Kari stays healthy then he’ll be an awesome goaltender, also I think we should hang on to Moose, he’s kinda like Kari’s mentor and to me that’s worth something.

Glovesave29

March 19th, 2009
5:50 pm

Kracker – if you package Ondrej and our first pick (which will be in the top 10) to the team with the first overall pick (provided they are one of the teams mentioned earlier that needs a goalie) I think it is a trade that works for both teams.

Look at Moose’s numbers – he is dead last in the league for save%. The only way we get rid of him is if there is another team that is low in salary cap that is willing to take some sort of split with the Thrashers and will receive multiple draft picks to do so. To be honest with ourselves, the best we can hope for is for Moose to realize his skill have eroded and for him to retire.

We may also be vastly over rating Mr. Pavalec. Look at his numbers in Chicago…he’s 13th in the league with a 2.45 and .917. Kari was far better his last year there with a 2.27 and a .929.

Tony C.

March 19th, 2009
7:45 pm

We may be over-valuing Pavelec, but so are a lot of other people in the league. His much vaunted “winner’s attitude” that had Elliott gushing over him has not gone un-noticed around the league. Also, when you look at the success of Mason and Rinne as rookie netminders, I think the market for unproven goaltenders is better now than … well, maybe EVER.

As far as unloading Moose, dude, let’s be real CuJo has basically let it be known that he will work for peanuts next season, and if you’re a team with a young netminder, there are way worse guys your youngster could take advice from. I’d be tempted to offer him a job as a system-wide goalie coach. Never hurts to have a “living legend” be the guy that helps you break down your video…

Rawhide

March 19th, 2009
8:17 pm

Per Mike Knobler, “Joey Crabb is back. Brett Sterling and Spencer Machacek were sent to Chicago”.

Wings fan in Ga.

March 19th, 2009
9:16 pm

Speaking of goalies, Osgood is scheduled to start tomorrow night. Should be interesting. Hopefully it will be a good, close game. … Rawhide, do you read Puck Daddy over at Yahoo? If not, you got mentioned in his post about d-bag Matt Cooke’s hit on Bogosian. F’in Pittsburgh.

Rawhide

March 19th, 2009
9:34 pm

Wings fan in GA – Yeah, I saw the mention in Puck Daddy’s post…I get the occational bone tossed to me from his way, and I always appreciate it!

I think one of our regulars…cough Sara cough…was actually getting into the frey as well on that blog.

So, am I to assume you will be in attendance tomorrow night?

Tony C.

March 19th, 2009
9:52 pm

Sara definitely holds it down for the A-Town over there… also from elswhere in the ol’ blogotopia I found this interview with The Kapitain:

http://www.fromtherink.com/2009/3/19/803351/an-interview-with-ilya-kov

Wings fan in Ga.

March 19th, 2009
9:55 pm

I’ll be there. Now that work stuff is winding down, I’ll be able to make it to a few more Thrashers games, which will be nice. I’m glad to see Kovy practiced today. As much as I want Detroit to win, I do want to see Atlanta’s best players in the line-up.

Am I a troll? If so, I don’t think I am as obnoxious as that Darious dude. What was that about?

I know I am late on this, but work gets me behind at this time of year – how was the protest at the Montreal game?

kracker

March 19th, 2009
11:06 pm

Great link Tony! Kovalchuk: “You can’t be an amoeba when you play hockey…” Huh? Great quote, I am wondering if something got changed in the translation….About the future: “Basically, I’m not thinking about the future right now. I’ll say it again-I like it in Atlanta, and I hope I can stay there. But I understand that this is a business. We’ll see.”

Alan

March 19th, 2009
11:07 pm

Beat you by three hours on the Crabb thing, Rawhide. Also, I too posted on that Puck Daddy blog posting. You might recognize the name, but few others will. And I like it that way.

Alan

March 19th, 2009
11:09 pm

kracker, sounds more to me like he’s worried about being traded. That says a few things. My favorite part was where, in response to playing with Heatley again, that he would “go talk with Dany now so that he can ask to be transferred to Atlanta.”

kracker

March 20th, 2009
7:11 am

I sort of got that idea, too, Alan, but more like Ilya knows something big will happen soon. Hopefully, by this summer it’s over with the long extension. If not….I just can’t envision Waddell trading Kovy except mafia style, with a gun to his head.

ranallo10 (in AT)

March 20th, 2009
7:22 am

I liked the amoeba and Healtey statements too…he’s a funny guy.

Rawhide

March 20th, 2009
8:19 am

Wings fan in GA – You are certainly not a troll. I hope to see ya tonight.

Alan – yes…yes you did. But it’s not “official” until I report it! :lol:

Russian

March 20th, 2009
8:37 am

I got few comments also.
1. Kari needs to get contract. I will say give him a contract for 3 years around $10 mln. First year – $3, second – $4, third year – $3 mln or any other combination.
2. It is very funny situation with Pavs and Moose. Moose is horrible on this year. Why? Nobody knows. I guest he is getting older, his reaction is not sharp anymore. I do not know. Pavs is not stable person. Some game he was playing Great, next one he was just blew it. I guest it is call expirience, which he needs to get here as back-up. Perfect scenario will be as keep Moose for few months next season. We will play him in First and Second month around 10 games and if he is fine and if his Saves % is good and GAA is low, just keep him of rest of the season. If he will bad as now, trade him, or buy-out his contract and bring Pavs to the team.
3. Kovy interview was great. I read that interview in Russian also. He wants to stay here. Why? His wife Nikole likes warm weather, no ice in winter. They Loves a house and they have two little kids. And Big things that Russian people do not like relocate to much. I know that. He will be here if team will play good hockey. As for today I am sure for 50% that Kovy will sign here.
4. Last one I like to see Heatly back to Atlanta. He will be great help for us, but it is never happend :-(

kracker

March 20th, 2009
11:31 am

Russian — 2. I think Moose will retire and be goalie coach if team does well next season and he can not perform to backup goalie level, which to me is close to 50% points total on a good team. Maybe he will agree to be goalie coach.
3. Your thoughts on Kovy staying here are nice to hear. He seems to be not a big publicity needing person. If the team can compete, I believe he will extend his contract and stay here. For how long…who knows?.

B. Thenet

March 20th, 2009
9:10 pm

Say something nice about the guy and he rewards you with a couple of soft goals through the first two periods.

Rutherford Sydell

March 20th, 2009
9:24 pm

Hey, Thrashers fans! It appears we’ve worked out a deal to get Hossa back in Blueland! Did I mention we’re offering ice-level seats at LOW, LOW PRICES???

Old Time Hockey…Since 1999!!

stendec

March 20th, 2009
9:28 pm

Rawhide. I respect and love ya guy. However. Were the love letter to Kari Letemin on newsprint I would have shredded then burned it! LaLa Land boy looks like his pitiful self tonight. Even the most worthless of scum stumble into hot streaks from time to time. These do not offset the other abysmal choke jobs! Oh well. Best to you and yours. That said…The true Toiletlids are back! Another totally gutless performance by a completely heartless group (team is not proper word to use here). Kari Letemin is back to being his normal untalented sieve self. Damn bestard Finn! All three goals (to date) were stoppable. Think not? Check out legitimate goaltender in Red Wing net! Somebody should nail that turncoat Maryann Hossa. Gloating son of a betch! No one will. Why? Toiletlids possess no manhood. They are only compliant betch dogs for other true NHL teams! Now 3-0. Hope it winds up 10-0! Do not want these miserable quitters to break the shutout! They and mindless fans deserve to be shut out. Lined up to offer excuses for this mail-in job? Do not bother. There are no damn excuses. Keep any to your own damn self! Unacceptable no matter how you cut it! Hope these guys are quitters for fans in another city next season. Minor league toilet residue!

B. Thenet

March 20th, 2009
9:44 pm

That 4th goal is all on Kari as well, garbage rebound given up there.

Brendan

March 20th, 2009
9:47 pm

SCORE!!! Bryan Little, his 31st!!, on the PP!!