Auld's rise signaling end of Turco era
Emergence puts Stars in unusual position of considering their longterm options at goalie
It was the same spot he was in Saturday afternoon as he watched the Stars beat the Detroit Red Wings. And he'll probably sit Thursday when the team is in Vancouver trying to do something it hasn't done all season: win three straight games.
That's because Alex Auld is getting an opportunity to show if he deserves the majority of the playing time down the stretch. Turco has struggled, and the Stars -- desperate to find a spark after a winless three-game road trip last week -- have turned to Auld. And they seem content to keep it that way.
"It's Alex's net," general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said Monday.
The bigger question: Will it ever be Marty Turco's net on a regular basis again in Dallas? Turco will certainly play again soon -- he could see action this week with the Stars playing three games in four nights. The larger picture concerns his status for next season.
Turco will be an unrestricted free agent this summer as his contract expires. At this point, it seems highly unlikely he'd be returning to Dallas or that the Stars would spend $6.5 million on goaltending next season (that's what they are paying Turco and Auld combined this season).
Nieuwendyk could certainly shop Turco at the trade deadline, perhaps for help on the blue line, but it's unclear what his value is right now. Turco said after Monday's game that he isn't concerned about next season.
"What's gotten me this far in my career is not worrying about anything that's out of my control," said Turco, who said the main thing is that the team is winning. "The No. 1 thing I do is stop pucks, and the way I do it demands a lot of attention and focus. I'm moving better and feeling well, and I think the next time I play when I do get in there, it will hopefully be better than my last few outings."
Auld didn't have to be great Monday. But there were moments, as in every game, where big saves were needed. For the most part, Auld made those saves. The game got a little scary for the Stars midway through the third period, but Auld hung in and skated out with a win.
"He's a very methodical, technician in there," said Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley. "He has confidence right now and is playing well. He won't change his routine now. He's been able to get a lot of work in while Marty played, so he can now apply that. He's shown patience and is now showing what he can do."
The 6-foot-5 Auld knows he's in an audition of sorts. If he proves he can play to a level worthy of No.1 goalie status, he's an option for the Stars next season. That's because for the first time since the heady days of Eddie Belfour, Dallas doesn't have an heir apparent in goal.
Matt Climie and Brent Krahn are nice prospects, but they are getting ready to turn 27 and 28, respectively, and have just four NHL games between them. Before Turco was given the starting job, he had been Belfour's backup for two seasons and played in more than 50 games.
The Stars have actually been quite fortunate when it comes to goaltending. They've had two starters in the last 11 seasons. That's rare. Some teams, such as Philadelphia, Toronto and Ottawa, seem to shop at the clearance rack for goalies nearly every season.
Belfour inherited the job for the 1996-97 season and helped the team win the 1999 Stanley Cup and was tremendous in the club's charge to the Cup Finals in 2000. Even in the midst of that success, the Stars were busy grooming a replacement. Turco came in as the starter in 2002-03, the same season Dave Tippett was hired as coach. Turco's held the job ever since.
But his grip on it is anything but firm these days. He's 14-13-8 with a 2.84 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. The GAA is 31st in the NHL. The save percentage is 30th.
In fairness to Turco, the Stars' current spot outside the top-8 in the conference is not all because of the goalie. This team has had a multitude of issues, starting with a thin defense and inconsistent scoring. They look great one night and average the next, struggling to find any rhythm. That can't be blamed on just the goalie.
But even with the other issues, Turco has let in some goals that he knows he should stop. The veteran goalie hasn't had his usual number of stand-on-the-head performances. He hasn't been the difference-maker that he was in helping the Stars get to the Conference Finals in 2008.
There are probably a few teams willing to take a chance on Turco to see if a change in location might unearth the goalie who posted a 1.72 GAA in 2002-03, the lowest GAA since World War II at the time.
If so, that would leave the Stars trying to find more help in goal. Auld is one option, and the club will be evaluating how he does down the stretch. But it could also look to make a deal for a young goalie that has upside but is stuck behind a solid starting goalie.
That's how Mikka Kiprusoff ended up going from San Jose to Calgary. One possibility could be Wild goalie Josh Harding, who played half of Monday's game and even got into a fight with Steve Ott. Harding, 25, has shown promise and might blossom if given more chances.
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Nieuwendyk has some time to sort all of that out. In the meantime, he and coach Marc Crawford are hoping the Stars can put together a winning streak to crawl back in the playoff hunt in the tight and competitive Western Conference.
They're trying to do it with Auld, who is no stranger to taking over the starting duties from the backup position. He did it in 2005-06 in Vancouver when the starting goalie was hurt. Auld played in 67 games that season and was 33-26-6 with a 2.94 GAA. He also did it Ottawa last year, playing 43 games and going 16-18-7 with a 2.47 GAA.
Can he do it again? We'll see. For now, he's getting an opportunity.
"I just want to help the team win games," Auld said. "It's sort of been my goal, right from the start, when I'm playing, I want to give the team as good a chance as possible to win and make it difficult when they have to make decisions. But at the same time, it's a team game and you want to put that team first and put everything aside. I just want to keep playing and playing well."