In the last display of Stars hockey, Jake Oettinger was the star of the show. There had been “welcome to the NHL” moments — standing on his head in Colorado on Feb. 15 or outdueling future Hall of Famer Marc-Andre Fleury in Chicago on Feb. 18 — but a .954 save percentage over a seven-game playoff series against Calgary — and against a couple of 100-point scorers while matching up against a Vezina finalist — was the signature introductory moment.
That performance couldn’t have come at a better time for Oettinger, who entered the offseason as a restricted free agent due for a new contract. While Oettinger’s playoff performance announced his arrival to the hockey world, there is still no new contract, and that could cause reasonable concern with training camp set to open next month.
By all indications, there has been little dialogue between the two sides, even though each side has made its feelings about the other very clear. According to sources on both sides, Oettinger, who trusts his agents with the business side and is not directly involved in negotiations, wants to remain with the Stars. The Stars, who traded up in the first round of the 2017 draft to select Oettinger, believe he is their future and have no reservations about Oettinger as a person.
What, then, is causing the impasse?
One issue is the lack of comparable contracts. Of the top 40 goaltenders in average annual values, ranging from Carey Price’s $10.5 million to Kaapo Kahkonen’s $2.75 million, only one goaltender was as young as Oettinger when he signed his deal. That goaltender is Carter Hart, who agreed to a three-year, $11.9 million ($3.979 million AAV) last summer, just days before his 23rd birthday. Oettinger turned 23 on Dec. 18.
Hart had a larger sample size than Oettinger, starting 95 games in three seasons before landing his deal. In his first two seasons, he had .917 and .914 save percentages while starting 30 and 40 games, respectively. However, in the season leading into his contract summer last year, Hart had a .877 save percentage in 25 starts during the 56-game season.
In 2020-21, Oettinger started 24 games as a rookie in the 56-game season and was the Stars’ best goaltender as he posted a .911 save percentage and 2.36 goals-against average. Despite being relegated to the AHL to begin the season, Oettinger started 46 games last season and had a .914 save percentage, including stretches in which he performed like one of the top goaltenders in the NHL and a significant stretch late in the season in which he was asked to carry the Stars alone because of a lack of options behind him. He followed that up with one of the great goaltending performances in NHL postseason history.
Oettinger has 25 fewer regular season starts to his name than Hart did when he signed his deal last summer but he’s essentially the same age and coming off of a much better season and postseason. Hart’s $3.979 million is not the only data point, but given the parallels in age and production, Hart is viewed as a starting point for what Oettinger deserves.