The Hockey News is rolling out its 2017-18 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds, until the start of the season. Today, the Dallas Stars.
Stanley Cup odds: 15-1
Key additions: Ben Bishop, G; Brian Flynn, RW; Martin Hanzal, C; Marc Methot, D; Tyler Pitlick, RW; Alexander Radulov, RW
Key departures: Cody Eakin, C; Ales Hemsky, RW; Jiri Hudler, RW; Antti Niemi, G; Patrick Sharp, LW
Will the Stars get the defensive play and goaltending that has prevented them from becoming a playoff contender?
We know that not even a team that is offensively gifted as the Stars are can score their way out of trouble when the team is as bad defensively and in goal as it was last season. There’s nothing that deflates a bench more dramatically and more quickly than bad goaltending a defense. The Big Wheel of Goaltending™ has landed this time on Ben Bishop in Dallas and the Stars are counting on him to stay healthy and return to the form that made him a Vezina Trophy runner-up two years ago. Most of the improvements on defense are going to have to come from within. One area where they should be better defensively is down the middle with the acquisition of Martin Hanzal, who can play both ends of the ice and fills the need for a reliable third-line centerman. And you simply cannot dismiss the return of coach Ken Hitchcock, who has built what will be a Hall of Fame career on attention to the defensive game. And he has enough currency in the game to get everyone on board with the notion that the Stars are not going to go anywhere unless they tighten up their defensive game. That might mean less boffo numbers for the likes of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but they will be a better team in the long run.
The Stars have as high a ceiling as anybody. They’re just two years removed from leading the NHL in goals and winning the Central. They can blame last year’s shocking playoff miss on poor goaltending and a flurry of long-term injuries that swept their forward corps, and both issues appear rectified entering 2017-18. On top of being back to full health, the Stars’ forward group gains free agent signees Alexander Radulov and Hanzal. Radulov will get a shot with Benn and Seguin, forming one of the league’s truly elite lines, and Hanzal gives Dallas the luxury of playing Jason Spezza on the wing if they want both in the top-six.
As for the crease woes, newly acquired Bishop takes over as No. 1. Even if Bishop has occasional health concerns and is exiting his peak years at 30, he’s an upgrade in net. The Stars’ young defense corps is worth getting excited about, especially if Julius Honka makes the team, but the blueline looked almost too young last year. Marc Methot, acquired from Vegas, could help. The Stars “won” the off-season, look as improved as any team in the league and have the upside to win the Stanley Cup.
There’s a downside in Dallas, especially when it comes to Bishop. His .910 save percentage last season was his worst since he became a full-time starter in 2012-13, and his 6-foot-7, 216-pound frame puts him in harm’s way a lot. He’s as injury-prone as any No. 1 goalie in the league. The Stars look good down the middle, but they don’t have much scoring depth on the wings. If a young player such as Brett Ritchie can’t step up and provide some secondary support, the team’s production could wind up very top-heavy, dependent on the powerhouse first line.
Also, does Methot really add as much as advertised? He’s a physical force and respected leader known for his positive presence in the dressing room, but the advanced stats suggest Erik Karlsson carried him in Ottawa. Dallas’ young blueline still looks promising, especially with No. 3 overall draft pick Miro Heiskanen joining the fray someday, but the group was exposed last year and deserved a chunk of the blame for Dallas finishing 29th in goals against. With Methot the only new face, might we see a repeat of the 2016-17 debacle?
THN’s PREDICTION: 1st in the Central. If the Stars can grasp the notion of responsible play in their own end, and with Hitchcock at the helm we think they can, then this team becomes a serious contender.
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