The Dallas Stars currently roster four capable starters at the goalie position. There’s Ben Bishop, the veteran who helped lead them on a miracle run to the Stanley Cup Final two seasons ago. Anton Khudobin, a valued starter that can get the job done but has been falling off over the past two seasons. Braden Holtby, the once-elite netminder who has played well in Dallas, and Jake Oettinger, the second-year player the team is coddling. Holtby and Khudobin are currently battling injuries, while Bishop hasn’t played a game since the 2019-20 playoffs. When these three goalies become healthy, the Stars will have to move on from two of the four. Looking at each goalie’s stats and heal status, let’s break down the Stars goalie situation.
Starting with the only healthy goalie on the roster, Oettinger has been impressive. He has two starts and three total appearances this season, posting a .955 save percentage with a 1.43 goals-against average. He stopped 28 shots against the Detroit Red Wings and 35 against the St. Louis Blues. In between those two starts, he relieved Anton Khudobin during a 7-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild. Oettinger didn’t record a save in the six minutes he spent on the ice.
Stars GM Jim Nill made a confusing decision to sign Braden Holtby to the team. Oettinger had started more games, plus he had a better save percentage and goals-against average. Nill and Bowness both said they feared burning the young goalie out, and his demotion to the AHL was to protect Oettinger’s future.
Then the worst-case scenario happened. With Holtby and Khudobin dealing with injuries and Bishop still rehabbing, Oettinger is making his case to stay at the NHL level. A three-game sample size coupled with last season’s stats may be enough to convince management that another demotion to the AHL is a hindrance to Oettinger’s career.
It’s been a wild ride for Khudobin over the past few seasons. After taking over for Bishop during the 2019-20 playoff run, Khudobin seemed like he would be enough to hold down the fort for the Stars until Bishop came back. He started the 2020-21 season with a shutout against the Nashville Predators but would be inconsistent over his next nine games. Over that span, he had a .915 save percentage and allowed 25 goals over in those ten games.
For the 2020-21 season, he posted a 2.54 goals-against average with a .905 save percentage in 32 starts. Khubodin’s mediocre play influenced the Stars to sign Holtby in the offseason to give Khudobin more time to rest. Holtby seemingly took over as the far and away starter, as he started seven of the Stars’ first ten games of the season. Khudobin has looked rusty this season, allowing 23 goals through seven games.
It’s hard to tell if his skill is wholly gone or his religation to the backup role affected his play. With Khudobin starting only three of the first ten games, it would be unfair to judge him when he needed to fill in for an injured Holtby. However, his future with the team depends on management decisions. Do the Stars stick to their preseason plan? Or do they pivot and let Oettinger take the reins.
Holtby signed with the Stars during the offseason and has been good in net. He took on a fairly large workload to start the season, and his objectively good numbers were beginning to come back down to Earth. Then, he got hurt. Holtby and Khudobin held equal standing during the preseason, expecting that they would split goaltender duties. Khudobin and Oettinger split nearly 50-50 in starts last season.
Holtby is an interesting part of this because he played so well between the pipes. If he were posting Khudobin numbers, it would be easy to say the experiment of bringing him in failed. At this point, Holtby would be a good tandem partner with Oettinger but would likely be the starter if they stick with Khudobin.
When he was signed in the offseason, there was speculation behind the Stars trading one of their goalies away. Teams like the Pittsburg Penguins, the Buffalo Sabres, and the Ottawa Senators needed a stable option in net. Nill could have flipped Holtby, Bishop, or Khudobin to one of these teams, but it seems like the market for a decent goaltender has dried up. When all four goalies are healthy, the Stars will have to waive at least one while optioning Oettinger down to the AHL. If they keep Oettinger on the roster, then two goalies would need to be waived.
Holtby is likely not at risk based on his current performance. He missed last Thursday’s game with an injury but will rest and be active for the weekend.
Bishop’s situation is tough to analyze. Considering he hasn’t played in a year, he should be viewed as a boom or bust. Bishop’s health is up in the air, and his status will probably be a question mark for the entirety of this season. Another problem in activating him will be the cap situation. According to CapFriendly.com, he has a $4.9 million salary-cap hit. CapFriendly also estimates that the Stars have zero dollars in cap space. So, to active Bishop, the Stars would need to make multiple moves to finagle their cap situation.
To trade Bishop away, the Stars would probably package him with a first or second-round pick and trade him to a rebuilding team. That trade becomes more complicated if the Stars struggle to win games and miss the playoffs for a second consecutive year. This season, a bad finish for the Stars is possible at 7-7-2, sitting 6th in the Central Divison.
Bishop will likely stay on the long-term injured reserve. When he had knee surgery at the end of last season, the thought was that he’d be ready for training camp. He wasn’t. Holtby’s offseason signing was an indication of that. Early in November, Bishop became eligible to be activated from the LTIR, and three weeks later, he is not active.
If by some means he is activated, the Stars will play him because of his lumbering contract. That would force either Holtby or Khudobin to be moved from the team.
This situation is really tough for the Stars. Any changes to the current goalie tandem would mean that a player would be traded or waived. The Stars, who could’ve traded a goalie in the offseason, will probably lose value on a player they chose to waive. Anton Khudobin is likely the odd man out as he has struggled mightily over the past two seasons. Ben Bishop’s future consists of staying on the long-term injured reserve or being traded with a draft pick to free up cap space.
The ideal tandem for Dallas right now would be Jake Oettinger, backed by Braden Holtby. Both goalies have been more than capable, as the majority of Stars victories include these two in goal. The Stars would have to waive or trade Khudobin for this to work.
A final and equally likely scenario would be the Stars keeping the lineup unchanged. General manager Jim Nill could send Oettinger back down to the AHL and roll the dice with Khudobin and Holtby. The Stars would sacrifice short-term success and set their sights on winning in future seasons. The Stars goaltender situation is messy and filled with uncertainty.