The Dallas Stars have missed the playoffs in three of the past four seasons, but they’ve also been close, recording at least 91 points in four of the past five years.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Stars team that has been close, and might just get the boost they need from a new coach.
After the Stars let Ken Hitchcock go, they hired Jim Montgomery from Denver University and the expectation, for anyone following Hitchcock, is that should open up the style of play. That makes sense, because the best this Stars team has been in recent years was in 2015-16 when they were turned loose. That team wasn’t perfect, to be sure, but they were fun and they won.
With a core that includes Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and John Klingberg, the Stars have some high-end talent around which to build. Finding the right pieces to support that group is the challenge, but that’s not a terrible place to be for a team that missed the playoffs.
Basically, the Stars are close, and it wouldn’t take much for them to get back to the postseason.
Jim Nill/Jim Montgomery
John Klingberg – A dynamic puck-moving defenceman, Klingberg had a career-high 67 points and strong shot differentials (53.3 CF%, +3.7 CFRel%).
Jamie Benn – The captain finished with a flourish, scoring 21 points (14 G, 7 A) in the last 15 games, on his way to a team-leading 79 points.
Alexander Radulov – After coming over from Montreal as a free agent, Radulov produced a career-best 72 points.
Jason Spezza – Who could have guessed that Spezza and Ken Hitchcock wouldn’t work well together? Oh, everyone? Anyway, the 34-year-old saw his production plummet from 50 points to 26.
Martin Hanzal – It was no surprise that injuries would affect Hanzal’s season but, even when healthy, he managed just 10 points in 38 games and had unusually poor possession numbers.
Julius Honka – This one may not fall entirely on Honka, the 2014 first-round pick who is still trying to establish a regular spot in the lineup, despite stellar possession stats, but he didn’t really contribute a great deal while playing 13 minutes per game in 42 games.
FREE AGENT FORWARDS
By the end of the season, Jamie Benn’s production was typically great. He had a brilliant finish to the year, which included some production after the playoffs were at least virtually out of reach but, over the past five seasons, only Sidney Crosby and Patrick Kane have more points than Benn’s 403.
Coming off the first 40-goal season of his career, Tyler Seguin is poised for a big contract extension this summer. He has one year left on his deal, but if he doesn’t sign an extension, Seguin would be a huge attraction on the 2019 free agent market. Naturally, there’s lots to like about the sixth-leading point producer over the past five seasons.
It’s certainly possible that Alexander Radulov’s long-term contract may pose a problem eventually, but he was every bit as good as advertised last season, elevating his game and playing an even bigger role than he had the year before in Montreal. He’s a high-end skill player who is an impressive complement to Benn and Seguin.
An improving force as a defensive forward, 24-year-old Radek Faksa contributes offensively, but was an absolute beast without the puck. He has to continue playing a bigger role going forward.
Injuries contributed to Tyler Pitlick struggling to break through when he was in Edmonton, but he stayed healthy and was a productive, and inexpensive, depth winger after moving to Dallas.
A very productive playmaker who has 888 points in 989 career games, Jason Spezza’s season was a mess. He had solid possession stats, but managed just 26 points. Will a new coach be able to resurrect Spezza for the last year of his contract? It would seem feasible that he could still be productive in a sheltered offensive role. Maybe that’s not ideal for a $7.5-million cap hit, but any other solution likely involves dumping his salary with another asset, if that’s even possible.
After a bit of a breakthrough in 2016-17, when he scored 16 goals, Brett Ritchie struggled to generate offence last season. He had strong possession numbers, and is a physical presence, but played a career-low 10:50 per game. The 24-year-old should either find a bigger role on this team or maybe he could end up as trade bait.
Typically, Martin Hanzal is a strong two-way centre, who can contribute offensively and handle matchups against top players, but injuries have been a perennial problem and that may not be getting better now that he’s in his thirties. After last season, the Stars have to figure that it can’t get much worse.
After missing the entire 2016-17 season, Mattias Janmark returned to play last season and while the 25-year-old wasn’t necessarily an impact player, he was a useful secondary contributor and could conceivably take his game up a notch as he gets another year removed from his knee injury.
A versatile skilled player who has lined up at all three forward spots, Devin Shore can move around the lineup and produce secondary offence. His shot differentials weren’t great, but poor percentages resulted in his getting outscored 44-21 during 5-on-5 play last season; getting closer to break-even should be a goal for next season.
Remi Elie is a blue-collar winger who hasn’t scored much as a pro, but managed to hold down a regular spot on the Stars’ fourth line last season. There will likely be a battle for positions under a new head coach, and Elie should be in that battle.
Twenty-four-year-old Gemel Smith didn’t play a lot, but had positive shot and goal differentials when he did get into the game, which could help him earn a more significant checking role next season.
Drafted in the first round in 2013, Jason Dickinson has dressed for 38 games over the past three seasons, managing just five points. He turns 23 this summer, so the time for him to make the jump, if he’s going to stick long-term, is now.
The Stars are hopeful that they can get Valeri Nichushkin back from the KHL after a two-year sabbatical. It seems like he has been around for a long time, but he’s 23, and has enough experience that he could step into a supporting role and produce. Nichushkin has scored 27 goals in 86 games over the past two seasons with CSKA Moscow.
It’s possible that the Stars could take a run at a top free agent, but they also might aim for improving their depth. If Antoine Roussel departs, the likes of Matt Calvert, Leo Komarov, Blake Comeau and Daniel Winnik are among the established vets who would figure to come at a reasonable price.
FREE AGENT DEFENCEMEN
An elite puck-moving defenceman, John Klingberg gets the Stars out of their zone seamlessly and that ignites the Dallas attack. He could be sturdier without the puck, but all of the pluses that come from his ability to skate and pass easily outweigh any of Klingberg’s defensive shortcomings. He has Norris Trophy potential.
Stephen Johns is a physical presence who can clear the front of the net, but who also has limitations with the puck. With that understanding, there should still be a role for him to play, maybe as the safe and steady option next to a more mobile partner.
Veteran blueliner Marc Methot gave the Stars another thumper on the blueline, or at least he did when healthy, as he played only 36 games. Methot struggled in terms of shot differentials, but an on-ice save percentage of .954 put him on the right side of the ledger when it came to goal differentials.
It seems that the Stars are doing their level best to remove the entertaining part of Julius Honka’s game, but there’s surely value in a smooth-skating, right-shooting, puck-moving defenceman who has positive possession results in 58 career games. If Honka learned how to make safer plays under Ken Hitchcock last season, then maybe he will get turned loose a bit more under Jim Montgomery. If that’s not the plan, then maybe the right play is to deal Honka to a team that still values him more for what he can do when he has the puck.
Esa Lindell’s solid numbers may be a product of playing with John Klingberg, but there’s nothing wrong with providing positive results when paired with a top talent and Lindell has done that while playing 22 minutes per game over the past two seasons.
Last season’s shutdown pair, Dan Hamhuis and Greg Pateryn, is headed for unrestricted free agency and the Stars may move on from both, depending on the price of poker.
The Stars might want to make some depth additions, especially if Hamhuis and Pateryn leave, but the exciting potential addition is Miro Heiskanen, the third pick in the 2017 Draft who has the appearances of a future, um, star. The 18-year-old was a primetime player in Finland, and played internationally in the World Juniors, Olympics and world hockey championships.
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2018-19 CAP|
FREE AGENT GOALTENDER
|NAME||GP||W||L||T||SV%||EV SV%||2017-18 CAP||STATUS|
The Stars made an aggressive move to get Ben Bishop last summer and it paid off for the most part, as he was an above-average starter when healthy. The issue is, however, that injuries may have started catching up to Bishop and that may become a greater problem for the 31-year-old.
As such, the Stars could use a quality second-string goaltender. There are few viable starters that will be available this summer, but for teams that need help for that second slot on the depth chart there are options. The Stars could consider Petr Mrazek (a restricted free agent who seems unlikely to receive a qualifying offer), Carter Hutton, Jonathan Bernier, and Anton Khudobin among others.
|Miro Heiskanen||D||30||11||12||23||+17||HIFK Helsinki (SML)|
|Valeri Nichuschkin||RW||50||16||11||27||+11||CSKA Moscow (KHL)|
|Jason Dickinson||C||42||18||10||28||-3||Texas (AHL)|
|Denis Gurianov||RW||74||19||15||34||-10||Texas (AHL)|
|Jake Oettinger||G||38||.915||Boston University (HE)|
|Jason Robertson||RW||68||41||46||87||+8||Kingston (OHL)|
|Roope Hintz||LW||70||20||15||35||+1||Texas (AHL)|
|Riley Tufte||LW||42||16||13||29||+11||Minnesota-Duluth (NCHC)|
|Colton Point||G||33||.944||Colgate (ECAC)|
|Nicholas Caamano||LW||64||25||32||57||+9||Hamilton (OHL)|
|Joseph Cecconi||D||40||5||22||27||0||Michigan (Big 10)|
|Ondrej Vala||D||59||7||21||28||+17||Everett (WHL)|
|Landon Bow||G||46||.903||Texas (AHL)|
|Gavin Bayreuther||D||71||7||25||32||+11||Texas (AHL)|
|Tony Calderone||RW||40||25||20||45||+14||Michigan (Big 10)|
13th – Dominik Bokk, Joe Veleno, Rasmus Kupari, Ty Smith
The Stars have approximately $57.3 M committed to the 2018-2019 salary cap for 13 players.
One top-six forward, depth forwards, backup goaltender
WHAT I SAID THE STARS NEEDED LAST YEAR
Two top-six forwards, depth forwards, a veteran defenceman, starting goaltender
Alexander Radulov, Tyler Pitlick, Marc Methot, Ben Bishop
Martin Hanzal, Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, Remi Elie, Gemel Smith
PROJECTED 2018-2019 DEPTH CHART
|LEFT WING||CENTRE||RIGHT WING|
|Jamie Benn||Tyler Seguin||Alexander Radulov|
|Mattias Janmark||Radek Faksa||Tyler Pitlick|
|Valeri Nichushkin||Jason Spezza||Devin Shore|
|Matt Calvert*||Martin Hanzal||Brett Ritchie|
|Gemel Smith||Jason Dickinson||Denis Gurianov|
|Roope Hintz||Justin Dowling||Brian Flynn|
|LEFT DEFENCE||RIGHT DEFENCE||GOALTENDER|
|Esa Lindell||John Klingberg||Ben Bishop|
|Miro Heiskanen||Stephen Johns||Petr Mrazek*|
|Marc Methot||Julius Honka||Landon Bow|
|Xavier Ouellet*||Niklas Hansson|
|Dillon Heatherington||John Nyberg|
Scott Cullen can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org