Finishing with a 42-32-8 record, the Dallas Stars fell just three points shy of a playoff berth in 2017-18. The Stars’ took a top-heavy approach to offense, stacking the first line with their three best forwards. Their lack of depth upfront ultimately limited the Stars’ offense as they struggled to get any sort of production from their second and third lines. Dallas finished 18th in the NHL in goals for; not what you expect from a group that features the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
In Benn, Seguin, and John Klingberg, the Stars have a great core to build around. Unfortunately, to this point, they’ve failed to surround them with an adequate supporting cast. A recently announced eight-year contract extension for Seguin buys Dallas some more time to figure it out. 2018-19 looks to be another year of untapped potential for the Stars, but contributions from their young, unproven players could change that.
➕ Valeri Nichushkin (KHL)
➕ Blake Comeau (Free Agency)
➕ Anton Khudobin (Free Agency)
➕ Erik Condra (Free Agency)
➕ Roman Polak (Free Agency)
The Stars’ loaded first line of Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov should remain intact to start the season. The three of them played over 630 minutes together at 5v5 last season, averaging 32 scoring chances per 60. The Stars outscored their opponents 38 to 22 when all three of them were on the ice at 5v5. They will continue to be extremely productive together, but if you’re Jim Montgomery you must question whether it’s worth starving your second and third lines. Going with a more balanced attack, and perhaps separating Benn and Seguin, could help the Stars avoid the pitfalls of their 2017-18 season.
Unsurprisingly, the Stars’ second-line ranks as the second-worst in the league, according to Corsica. Centre Jason Spezza is coming off what was by far the worst season of his NHL career. The 35-year-old had just eight goals and 18 assists in 78 games for the Stars. He’s just not the same player anymore after 15 seasons and countless injuries. While he’s still a serviceable NHL player, he fails to meet the requirements of a second-line centre. Valeri Nichushkin returns to the Stars after a two-year stint in the KHL. The former No. 10 overall pick of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft logged 23 goals and 41 assists in 166 games for the Stars from 2013-2016. He doesn’t seem to have taken a major step forward since, putting up just 51 points in 86 KHL games over the last two seasons. He has the skillset to surprise people in 2018-19, but it won’t happen so long as he’s playing with Spezza and Mattias Janmark.
On a more positive note, Radek Faksa is one of the more underrated two-way centres in the league. He posted a 50.3 CF% last year despite a sky-high defensive zone start-percentage of 66.6. He’s constantly matched up against the opposition’s best, and he should serve the same role this season. Though he’s listed as the third-line centre, his role affords him substantially more ice time than Spezza. It will be interesting to see how free-agent signing Blake Comeau handles being on the shutdown line; don’t be surprised to see him flop with Janmark sooner than later.
The Stars’ blueline was a one-man show last season. Klingberg finished the year with eight goals and 59 assists, good enough for the second most points among NHL defensemen. Echoing the problems of their forward corps, Dallas struggled to get any sort of production from their other five defensemen. Esa Lindell had the second most points on the Stars’ blueline with 27, a full 40 points less than Klingberg. It got to the point where Klingberg was regularly playing on both Stars’ powerplay units. If anyone can change that narrative in 2018-19, it’s Miro Heiskanen.
Heiskanen was the No. 3 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and is expected to make his highly-anticipated NHL debut on opening night. The 19-year-old picked up 11 goals and 12 assists in SM-liiga last season, earning himself the Pekka Rautakallio Award as the league’s best defenseman. He is projected to play on the Stars’ second pair and has the perfect makeup to fill the role of Klingberg’s offensive understudy. Montgomery should have no worries about turning the second powerplay unit over to the Finnish phenom. One of the top defensive prospects in the league is set to arrive at the perfect time for the Stars’ blueline.
The remaining Stars’ defensemen leave a lot to be desired as the team is still in search of a legitimate candidate for the final spot in their top four. Stephen Johns projects to be there to start the season. He lacks any real offensive upside but is a solid stay-at-home complement to the up-and-down style of Heiskanen. He’s far from ideal but is the lesser of three evils with Marc Methot and Julius Honka making up Dallas’ third pairing.
Ben Bishop had a middling first year with the Stars, finishing with a .916 SV% and 2.49 GAA. He won just 26 games in 53 appearances, as a lower-body injury caused him to miss the last nine regular season games. Assuming a clean bill of health, Bishop should be closer to 60 starts in 2018-19. Free-agent singing Anton Khudobin is capable of biting into his playing time should Bishop struggle. The 32-year-old veteran has a .915 career SV%, but hasn’t posted a SV% above .913 since the 2013-14 season. The Stars’ goaltending tandem is respectable but shouldn’t be expected to steal a lot of games.
|Tyler Seguin (37)||Jamie Benn (47)||Tyler Seguin (82)||Tyler Seguin (12)|
|Jamie Benn (33)||Alex Radulov (47)||Jamie Benn (80)||Jamie Benn (12)|
|Alex Radulov (25)||Tyler Seguin (45)||Alex Radulov (72)||Alex Radulov (7)|
- 7. Tyler Seguin — C5
- 12. Jamie Benn — LW3
- 35. John Klingberg — D4
- 53. Alexander Radulov — RW12
- 86. Ben Bishop — G14
- 251. Valeri Nichushkin — RW51
- 276. Miro Heiskanen — D73
- 295. Esa Lindell — D77
Predicted Central Standings
The Stars will always be competitive so long as they have guys like Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg on their roster. Unfortunately, they failed to properly address the lack of depth that killed their playoff hopes a year ago. With no real difference makers being added to the roster, aside from potentially Heiskanen, the Stars project to finish right around the playoff bubble again this season. Given the wealth of strong teams in the Pacific Division, their most plausible route to the post-season is through the Central’s third divisional playoff spot. They’ll have to outduel the likes of the St. Louis Blues and the Minnesota Wild in order to claim it.