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Will Jere Lehtinen return next season?

Image (1) Lehts-thumb-250x166-8158.jpg for post 573

Jere Lehtinen’s long, underrated career is coming to a close. The Finnish right winger who exemplified defensive hockey for so long will be 37 next season, and is currently playing on a one-year, $2.5 million contract ($1.5 million base, $1 million in bonuses).

He’s had to deal with injuries the past few seasons as his once reliable body has started to break down, but there’s no question he still has the leadership and skill needed to help teach a young team that defense is just as important as offense.

If you’ve seen the Stars this season, then you know that’s a lesson they need pounded into them.

Stars coach Marc Crawford, for one, is hopeful that Lehtinen decides to come back next season. From Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News:

“I think Jere is still a very, very good player,” Crawford said. “The guys who are smart players, who are hustling players, you don’t lose those abilities. He has skating and instincts, and that just makes him such a crucial player for us.

“He’s terrific for teaching, he’s terrific to put on a line with young players. We could actually use a few more players like him.”

It’s not just a matter of whether Lehtinen wants to return; it’s also whether general manager Joe Nieuwendyk sees him as a needed asset next season and what he’s willing to pay. If $1.5 million was the contract this season, then I’m guessing we’d see Nieuwendyk offer nothing more than $1 million; after all, Lehtinen has just 3 goals this season and is far from the 30+ goal scorer he was just a few years back.

Lehtinen has played his entire career in Dallas, and I’m certainhe wants to join Mike Modano as finishing it with the Stars as well. Just don’t expect any decisions to be made anytime soon.

“We’ll talk in the summer, but I can tell you that I am a big fan of Jere Lehtinen,” Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyksaid. “When he’s in the game, I think we’re a better team.”