The Dallas Stars made a lot of progress in 2013-14 and we’re expecting them to take another step forward this year. Stuck in a very tough division, we’re predicting them to end up in the playoffs with the fourth seed in the Central.
2013-14 record: 40-31-11
Acquisitions: Patrick Eaves, Ludwig Karlsson, Jason Spezza, Anders Lindback, Ales Hemsky
Departures: Dustin Jeffrey, Alex Chiasson, Alexander Guptill, Nicholas Paul, Chris Mueller, Toby Peterson
Top five fantasy players: Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Alex Goligoski
Boom, Bust and Bottom Line: The best, worst and most likely scenario
Boom: Dallas had a good thing going and got even better this off-season. The 2013-14 campaign was a resounding success, as new GM Jim Nill, new coach Lindy Ruff and newly acquired sniper Tyler Seguin helped the Stars end a five-season playoff absence.
Seguin and captain Jamie Benn formed one of the league’s best one-two punches, and checkers Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt emerged to make Dallas annoying as heck to play against. The missing piece was a true second scoring line. Trading for Jason Spezza and signing his Ottawa linemate Ales Hemsky solves that problem. With sophomore Valeri Nichushkin also destined for improvement, this team will score plenty.
The Stars also have a bruising D-corps and solid goaltending in Kari Lehtonen. The franchise’s arrow points up. If Spezza thrives now that he’s left a hockey-mad market, the Stars will challenge the other Western Conference juggernauts.
Bust: The Stars rely on wild cards up front. Seguin hasn’t put two excellent seasons together in his career. Thus far, he’s shown a good-year, bad-year pattern reminiscent of Alexei Kovalev’s. Spezza’s bad back makes him a threat to miss significant time, and Hemsky had been a disappointment for several seasons before reviving his career after a March trade to Ottawa. Both Seguin and Spezza are tremendous talents, but neither is known for his defensive compete-level, which could hurt in the playoffs.
After Alex Goligoski, the Stars blueline lacks puck-moving prowess, especially with Sergei Gonchar now a shadow of his former dynamic self at 40. The Stars won’t score as much as expected if the defensemen can’t get the puck to their forwards.
Lehtonen was steady enough in 2013-14, but he has a checkered health history. Dallas squeaked into the No. 8 seed and is still depth-challenged, so a significant injury to one of its big guns could push the Stars back out of the post-season picture.
Bottom Line: We’re more bullish than bearish on Dallas. Jim Nill has quickly molded this team into a prototypical Western Conference beast, built on the backs of bankable young stars. The consistency will arrive this year for Seguin, who’s still just 22. The Stars aren’t ready to compete for the Cup yet, but they can improve on last season’s effort. Ranking them fourth in the Central isn’t an indictment. They’d compete for a top-two spot in every other division.
Prospect To Watch: There may be an opening on defense for one of two rookies to take. Patrik Nemeth, a second-rounder from 2010, joined the team late last year and even saw five games of playoff action, so he perhaps has the inside track to earn an opening night spot. Jamie Oleksiak, the 14th overall pick from 2011, will also get a long look here. Forward Brett Ritchie injured his finger at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament and couldn’t finish the event. He scored 48 points in 68 games for the AHL Texas Stars last season and will make a push in camp, but there may not be a full-time roster spot for him. Look for him to get a call-up at least.
THN’s Prediction: Fourth in the Central Division
Contributors: Matt Larkin, Rory Boylen