Energizing the Stars
A top defensive team last season, the Stars will look to replicate that success while using a young, new coach to help energize their offense. If Dallas can get decent goaltending, the Stars could have what it takes to finally start making moves in the Central Division.
An A+ for team defense and a D for goaltending – yikes. Goaltending was the Stars biggest issue last season. Dallas allowed the fewest high-danger shots in the league yet finished with a goals-saved above average that ranked 26th. Simply put, the Stars goalies allowed a lot of goals on low percentage shots.
What went right:
Dallas’ team defense was terrific last season, led by John Klingberg, who finished 6th in Norris voting. They gave up only 4.9 inner slot shots-per-game, the only team to give up fewer than five a game. They were also the only team to give up fewer than 20 scoring chances per game. Offensively, they were led by their Big Three of Tyler Seguin (40 goals), Jamie Benn (36) and Alexander Radulov (27).
What Went Wrong:
Their top line combined for 103 of the team’s 231 goals, which demonstrates a severe lack of secondary scoring. Jason Spezza dropped from 50 points two seasons ago to a meager 26, a near 50% drop. Ben Bishop was disappointing in net, despite facing the second-fewest slot shot attempts per game, unable to take advantage of the elite defensive play in front of him. Dallas was also plagued by a lack of discipline. The Stars iced the puck more than anyone else; went offside more than anyone else; and took the 3rd most penalties.
Key Additions: Valeri Nichushkin, Blake Comeau, Anton Khudobin, Roman Polak
Key Departures: Kari Lehtonen, Antoine Roussel, Dan Hamhuis
Other Key moves: Hired Head Coach Jim Montgomery, fired Head Coach Ken Hitchcock, extended Tyler Seguin
Dallas will start the season with its third different head coach in as many years, as Jim Montgomery will replace the departed Ken Hitchcock. Montgomery is coming off a successful stint coaching the University of Denver, which included a National Championship in 2016-17, so Dallas hopes his winning ways will rub off on his new team. He will also come into the season with the guarantee that Tyler Seguin will be on the roster for the foreseeable future, with Seguin inking an 8-year contract extension in September.
In terms of on-ice moves, Dallas had a quiet offseason. Its most notable addition was bringing back Valeri Nichushkin after a two-year stint with CSKA Moscow in the KHL. Nichushkin was a Dallas first round pick in 2013. He put up 27 points in 50 games last season in the KHL and they hope he will bring an extra scoring punch that was sorely missed behind their Big Three. Apart from that, they made a mostly lateral move by replacing the departed Kari Lehtonen with Anton Khudobin. Boston posted similar numbers to Dallas in terms of quality and volume of shots allowed and Khudobin posted nearly the same save percentage (.913) as Lehtonen’s (.912). Blake Comeau is a solid penalty killer and will slide right into Antoine Roussel’s spot in the bottom-six. Dan Hamhuis was expendable if they believe Miro Heiskanen is ready for a full-time NHL role. Roman Polak was also added for defensive depth.
Next season preview
What could go right?
There is no denying that the Stars have elite talent on their roster. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin form one of the most potent scoring duos in the NHL. They were both top-15 in goals in the NHL, a feat only one other pair of teammates accomplished (Anders Lee and John Tavares). John Klingberg tied for second in points among defensemen and finished 10th in possession driving plays, establishing himself as one of the best offensive defensemen in the game. Miro Heiskanen is looking to crack the lineup this season. Dallas management reportedly refused to include the highly touted prospect in potential trade packages for Erik Karlsson, so this gives you an idea of how highly regarded he is by the organization.
What could go wrong?
Has Dallas done enough to boost its secondary scoring? Valeri Nichushkin only scored 16 goals against inferior competition in the KHL. If he kept the exact same pace, he would post a respectable 26 goals over a full season, but expecting him to score at the same rate against NHL competition seems unrealistic. Outside of him, Dallas hasn’t added anybody else, so the Stars will be relying on the same group of players, not an encouraging thought. The same thing applies to their goaltending. Anton Khudobin has bounced back and forth between the AHL and NHL and at 32 years old, it’s unrealistic to expect anything more from him than a backup performance. The pressure will once again fall on the shoulders of Ben Bishop. If he can’t bounce back, Dallas will struggle once again.