Netminder Jake Oettinger has burst onto the NHL scene over the past two seasons and cemented his place as Dallas Stars' number-one.
With his level-entry contract now expired, the 23-year-old will expect a significant raise. But with the situation still ongoing, questions are being asked about whether the Stars, +3500 to win the Stanley Cup, will keep hold of the exciting prospect.
With Ben Bishop having to retire due to injury, Oettinger was given the starting role for the Stars in the 2021/22 season and more than proved that he is ready for a long-term contract in the NHL.
In 48 games (46 starts) 6'5" Oettinger posted an impressive 30-15-1 record with a .914 save-percentage and 2.53 goals-against-average (GAA) helping Dallas finish fourth in the Central Division (46-30-6) and claim a Stanley Cup Playoff spot.
In the post-season, he elevated his game even further and was the main reason why the Stars were able to push the much-fancied Calgary Flames all the way to a Game 7 in the first round.
Oettinger started all seven playoff games and finished with a 3-4 record. His outstanding .954 save-percentage and 1.81 GAA ranked first and second respectively among goalies in the playoffs and his 10.1 goals saved above expected ranked third.
In the 3-2 Game 7 overtime defeat, Oettinger made 64 saves which was a franchise record and the second most for a Game 7 in NHL history.
Over his two seasons in the NHL, Oettinger has a 41-23-8 record with a .913 save-percentage and 2.46 GAA in 77 regular season games (70 starts).
Looking at goalie contracts signed this off-season, Oettinger doesn't appear to be making an unfair demand by asking for a deal in the $4-5-million per-year range, a significant upgrade on the $925,000 that he was on.
Oettinger has made it clear that he wants to remain with the Stars, and they too have made it public that they see him as their starter for years to come. However, Dallas currently have just over $10-million in cap space, and sparkling forward Jason Robertson to sign too.
Like Oettinger, 23-year-old Robertson has come to the end of his entry-level contract and is a player General Manager Jim Nill cannot afford to lose after he scored 41 goals in just his second full NHL season and was a runner up for the Calder Trophy.
Robertson's demands will surpass Oettinger's and even with a hometown discount or short-term bridge contract on a lower figure, fitting the pair within what's left appears nigh-on impossible.
While there's no debate about the form Oettinger has shown since entering the NHL, the Stars are right to be slightly cautious about handing the Boston University graduate a mega money long-term deal based on a relatively small sample size of work.
Take Oettinger's rookie season for example. The Stars man received no Calder Trophy votes, but six other goalies did for the rookie of the year title. Of those six, four are no longer on the team they played for as a rookie just two years ago.
To the contrary, New York Rangers' Igor Shesterkin, who was one of the other two, won the Vezina Trophy as the league's best goalie last season.
So, while the Stars have liked what they have seen from Oettinger, Nill has clearly taken a step back from the excitement of his playoff form to ensure any deal made is a sensible one for his club.
It goes without saying that many NHL teams would jump at the chance to sign a goalie with the ceiling of Oettinger. But that's easier said than done.
As a restricted free agent any team can produce an offer sheet for the American. However, this is unlikely for several reasons.
At no point has Oettinger has expressed any desire to leave Dallas, and any team who he might be interested in moving to, a cup contender for example, will not have the salary room to make a high enough offer which the Stars couldn't match.
Any team with the cap room to even attempt it will be those in re-build, which would be an unattractive option for Oettinger, and most of those clubs are set in net already.
Since 2005, just ten players have signed offer sheets and all but two were matched, so a move away seems unlikely.
Nill and the Stars clearly have work to do, to negotiate a fair deal with Oettinger and Robertson.
Moves will need to be made to make room, but there appears to be a lot of understanding from Oettinger's side about the situation.
The two want to make a deal work, and while patience might be required, it'd be a stunning if a fair and reasonable deal for both sides isn't agreed before the puck drops for the new season.