The Dallas Stars put together an impressive 2018-19 season under first-year coach Jim Montgomery, nabbing a wild-card playoff spot in the West and taking eventual Stanley Cup-champion St. Louis to double overtime of Game 7 in the second round. But it could have been a lot better had scoring woes not plagued the Stars all season.
Instead of hoping for better puck luck after finishing tied for 28th in offense, Dallas added elite finisher Joe Pavelski. The longtime Sharks captain and his scoring touch have the Stars looking to improve on their second-round cameo.
Fans in Dallas are also getting used to the idea of having public enemy Corey Perry in victory green. The pickups of Pavelski and Perry indicate the Stars are going for the Cup right now.
The lack of a true second line was a problem for most of last season, and the team relied far too heavily on the top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Benn turned in a career-worst 53 points, while Seguin led the team with 80. The output wasn’t what the front office had hoped for, and frustrations boiled over when CEO Jim Lites publicly ripped the Stars’ top offensive players at mid-season.
After missing out on re-signing trade acquisition Mats Zuccarello, Dallas is looking to Pavelski and Perry to provide secondary scoring and relieve the pressure on Seguin’s line. Homegrown talent will also be part of the mix with playoff sensation Roope Hintz and 2015 first-rounder Denis Gurianov both hoping to make an impact. Add in contributions from top-flight offensive blueliners John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, and Dallas appears primed for improvement.
Due to a rash of injuries, the Stars deployed 12 different defensemen last season, most of whom turned in solid to spectacular efforts. The big loss on the blueline, due to post-traumatic stress headaches, was Stephen Johns, a seemingly perfect partner for Heiskanen. With Johns back in action, Roman Polak will be slotted more properly on the third pair next to Jamie Oleksiak or free-agent addition Andrej Sekera.
Esa Lindell’s new deal suggests that the Stars expect him to be a top-tier defender and play around 25 minutes a night with Klingberg. A healthy season from this group would cement them as one of the NHL’s top bluelines.
Ben Bishop was the best goalie in the world last season, Vezina Trophy results notwithstanding. Between his .934 save percentage behind a pop-gun offense in the regular season and 52-save effort in the Game 7 loss to St. Louis, the 6-foot-7 backstop was easily the Stars’ MVP. Filling in splendidly when Bishop was nursing his frequent nagging ailments was Anton Khudobin with a .923 SP. Dallas figures to give Khudobin a few more starts to keep Bishop fresh for the playoffs.
Assistant coach Todd Nelson came aboard last season to rework the power play and got decent results. Adding the goal-scoring Pavelski and Perry might push this unit into the top 10, provided the Stars can draw a few more penalties. Heiskanen, entering his second year, could be deployed to quarterback the second unit in an umbrella set or slot alongside Klingberg on the top unit. Either look is equally dangerous. Montgomery expects Hintz to play big minutes on both special teams.
On the penalty kill, Dallas was a top-five unit last season, and that should remain the case with key cogs Radek Faksa, Jason Dickinson, Lindell and Polak all back.
Adding Pavelski to an already stacked leadership group, even without a letter, is a coup. Dallas lacks deep playoff experience, and Pavelski has 100 points in 134 post-season games.
Ty Dellandrea, the Stars’ 2018 first-round pick, will have every chance to grab a spot in camp. The dynamic center impressed during a short AHL stint last season and can give the club a different look. Other young guns to watch include Gurianov and power forward Joel L’Esperance.
The Stars are desperate for secondary scoring. They are banking on the addition of Pavelski to a second line that already includes Hintz down the middle to provide that extra offense. Their success will tell the story of the season.
GM Jim Nill secured his position with a successful post-season run and went further by grabbing Pavelski on a reasonable deal. Now that Nill has a coach he gels with in Montgomery, owner Tom Gaglardi has to feel that the organization is in good hands.
– Stephen Meserve
Stanley Cup Odds: 24/1
Projection: 3rd in Central
The Stars’ defensive future got even better with the selection of Thomas Harley in the first round of 2019. He took on a lot of responsibility on an OHL Mississauga team that traded away important players. A big two-way talent with poise, Harley moves the puck well. Elsewhere in the pipeline, 2015 first-rounder Denis Gurianov needs to make his presence felt now, while Jason Robertson, Jake Oettinger and Riley Tufte will be challenged in their first pro seasons.
1. Jason Robertson, LW
Age 20 Team Niagara (OHL)
Production exploded in junior thanks to his propensity to crash net. Skating a work in progress.
Acquired 39th overall, 2017 NHL ’20-21
2. Ty Dellandrea, C
Age 19 Team Flint (OHL)
Became a complete player in draft-plus-one year. Used in every game situation, but production flat.
Acquired 13th overall, 2018 NHL ’21-22
3. Thomas Harley, D
Age 18 Team Mississauga (OHL)
Solid two-way defender does almost everything well. Became a No. 1 D-man as year went on.
Acquired 18th overall, 2019 NHL ’22-23
4. Denis Gurianov, RW
Age 22 Team Texas (AHL)
Uses blinding speed to score highlight-reel goals. Honing defensive skills on the PK. NHL-ready.
Acquired 12th overall, 2015 NHL ’19-20
5. Jake Oettinger, G
Age 20 Team Boston University (HE)
Big goalie dominant in second half of season. Turned pro after junior year. Ready for AHL test.
Acquired 26th overall, 2017 NHL ’21-22
6. Albin Eriksson, RW
Age 19 Team Skelleftea (Swe.)
Skates well for a towering figure. Possesses big shot but needs to refine all areas of his game.
Acquired 44th overall, 2018 NHL ’22-23
7. Riley Tufte, LW
Age 21 Team Minn-Duluth (NCHC)
Large body has improved his skating. Scoring fell off a cliff in junior year, but his board work is solid.
Acquired 25th overall, 2016 NHL ’21-22
8. Joseph Cecconi, D
Age 22 Team Michigan (Big Ten)
Steady progression in four NCAA seasons. Shutdown rearguard plays a safe not flashy game.
Acquired 133rd overall, 2015 NHL ’21-22
9. Nicholas Caamano, RW
Age 21 Team Texas (AHL)
Defensive winger had solid first pro year from a consistency standpoint. Offense could use boost.
Acquired 146th overall, 2016 NHL ’22-23
10. Rhett Gardner, C
Age 23 Team North Dakota (NCHC)
Physical center with a big body and uses it. Got pro trial after wrapping up NCAA career.
Acquired 116th overall, 2016 NHL ’20-21