The Stars are the league’s best offensive team but have the worst goaltending. How far can they go with that combination?
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 1st in Central, Stanley Cup runner up
Stanley Cup odds: 9-1
Key additions: Jiri Hudler, LW; Dan Hamhuis, D
Key departures: Alex Goligoski, D; Jason Demers, D; Kris Russell, D; Vernon Fiddler, C
-Can Tyler Seguin play a full season? Seguin missed 11 games in 2014-15 and, including the playoffs, 22 last season. He played one playoff game before aggravating his Achilles injury. He also dropped out of the World Cup with a heel injury. He has dominated the past three seasons, but is it time to label him an injury risk?
Seguin deserves a mulligan. He’s just 24 and his major injuries came from freak contact. His 2014-15 knee sprain occurred on an illegal hit for which Dmitry Kulikov was suspended, and last year’s Achilles injury came when Seguin got sliced by Anton Stralman’s skate. Seguin merely needs a bit of luck in 2016-17 to avoid the infirmary. He’s expected to be ready to start the season.
-Is a younger blueline a better blueline? Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and Kris Russell are gone, leaving a hole in the starting lineup, though Dan Hamhuis comes in as a free agent. The plan: give more responsibility to the young ‘D,’ including Stephen Johns, Patrik Nemeth, Esa Lindell and Julius Honka. Dallas’ future looks promising. The question is whether the kids are ready for big minutes. Look for hulking Johns and skilled Lindell to emerge as the best of the lot in 2016-17.
-Is Dallas’ goaltending good enough? Dallas won the Central Division in spite of, not because of, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. They ranked 38th and 40th among the 44 qualified leaders in save percentage. Each stopper had his moments in the playoffs but, ultimately, their spotty play sunk them in Game 7 of the Central Division final versus St. Louis.
The Stars, led by superstar Jamie Benn, look close to a championship team, but their goaltending isn’t good enough. GM Jim Nill told THN in August he plans to stick with the status quo for now. If the tandem doesn’t bounce back, though, expect Nill to pursue a big-name goalie by the trade deadline.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Dallas Stars were a surprise powerhouse team last season to a lot of people, but not to the numbers crowd. After a season where they missed the playoffs, last season’s WAR based projections shockingly had the Stars winning the Central division and they did just that.
The team had one of the best forward groups in the league led by two of the game’s best players and their oft-maligned defense core wasn’t as bad as many suggested it would be. The question now is whether they can build off that success and win the division again, and while it’s certainly possible, it’s looking a lot less likely this season.
For starters, their biggest issue is in net, and that completely ignored during the off-season. Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi are the league’s worst goaltending duo – for a combined cap hit of $10.4 million – and it isn’t really all that close. The tandem is a dark mark on a team that would be the third best squad in the league with simply replacement-level goaltending.
Their job doesn’t get much easier this season either as the Stars defense was gutted by free agency. Gone are Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers, two very good D-men. In their place is Dan Hamhuis and a lot of uncertainty. Hamhuis is a solid enough second pairing D-man who brings defensive stability (something that is underrated by this model), but he’s no Goligoski or Demers. Then there’s Esa Lindell and Stephen Johns who are very promising, but very unproven. The backend hinges on their ability to step in and become immediate contributors which is easier said than done for two rookies.
The Stars will have some trouble keeping pucks out of their own net this season, but a 5-4 win counts just as much as a 2-1 win and there’s no team that embodies that philosophy more than Dallas. The team’s top nine has eight players that would be in any other team’s top six. The addition of Jiri Hudler almost feels like overkill, but he should fit well into the mix.
The Stars will score a lot of goals this season and win a lot of games as a result. It just likely won’t be as many as last season.
Up next: Washington Capitals
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