The Hockey News’ 2018-19 Season Preview series dives into off-season transactions, best- and worst-case scenarios and one burning question for each team in reverse order of Stanley Cup odds.
Stanley Cup odds: 30-1
Key Additions: Blake Comeau, LW; Anton Khudobin, G; Roman Polak, D
Key Departures: Kari Lehtonen, G; Dan Hamhuis, D; Antoine Roussel, LW; Greg Pateryn, D; Curtis McKenzie, LW
Dallas dominated the 2017 off-season with several high-profile acquisitions, and while the Stars didn’t make the playoffs as a result, they climbed from 79 to 92 points. In theory, Dallas is on an upward trajectory. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov form a dynamite top line. Radek Faksa has emerged as one of the game’s better two-way centers. Ben Bishop is a competent if slightly brittle No. 1 goalie. And John Klingberg belongs on the short list of the NHL’s best pure scoring defensemen.
The Stars were relatively quiet this summer but are hoping for improvement from youngsters within the organization. Young D-man Esa Lindell matured significantly last year, Julius Honka still possesses potential and Miro Heiskanen has the makings of a franchise blueliner. Look for him to make the Stars and challenge for the Calder Trophy. Even at 19, he has the skill and smarts to elevate Dallas’ defense corps from average to very good. Valeri Nichushkin, a 2013 first-rounder, returns after a couple years in the KHL hoping to be better in his second try at the NHL. He’s still just 23 and has a big power-forward body. He’s a sleeper to make a difference in Dallas’ top-six.
Even with their elite top line, the Stars had the NHL’s 18th-ranked offense in 2017-18 and they didn’t add any scoring help over the summer. Blake Comeau gives Dallas more of what it already had: third-line types shoehorned into second-line duty. New coach Jim Montgomery vows to push a much quicker pace than retired Ken Hitchcock did, but does he have the horses to do so? The Stars have one of the NHL’s weaker groups on the wing after Benn and Radulov.
Center looked like a strength entering last season, and while Seguin and Faksa are excellent, big UFA signing Martin Hanzal was an immense bust. He required season-ending spinal-fusion surgery and may never be the same player he was before the injury. Jason Spezza, meanwhile, had his role reduced, and, at 35 and entering the final year of his contract, he’s not guaranteed to regain it.
The Stars’ defense, like its forward group, lacks veteran depth to back up the kids. Marc Methot and Roman Polak are stop-gap options who aren’t suited for significant minutes. Lindell, Honka and Heiskanen have zero career playoff games between them, while Klingberg and Stephen Johns have played in one post-season apiece.
Are we about to see a return to the run-and-gun Stars?
Throughout Lindy Ruff’s tenure in Dallas, one that spanned four campaigns and ended ahead of last season, the Stars ran the Greatest Show on Ice. The offense made Dallas one of the few must-watch teams. It also didn’t hurt that the defense and goaltending all but ensured that most nights would be high scoring when it came to the Stars. But Dallas, under the watch of veteran coach Ken Hitchcock, got away from that style last season. The Stars finished 18th in goals for while vastly improving defensively, allowing the seventh-fewest goals against.
Montgomery, however, wants Dallas to return to the up-tempo style of play. He wants them to get up and down the ice in a hurry. And that sounds like a blast when you have high-scoring options such as Seguin, Benn, Radulov and Klingberg. It also could mean we see a far better performance out of Spezza and real breakouts from the likes of Nichushkin, Janmark and Faksa. There should also be faith that this version of the Stars can handle the back-and-forth, high-pace style better than past iterations. Bishop and backup Anton Khudobin are far better goaltenders than Ruff’s tandom of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. The defense has more depth, albeit younger players. So, let’s see the Stars open it up again.
THE HOCKEY NEWS’ PREDICTION: 4th in the Central Division. The Stars would have been a playoff team last season if not for an awfully timed eight-game losing streak. Once they got back on track, it was too little, too late. Dallas has all the pieces in place for success, and this season they’ll take the first step towards it.
Want more Season Previews? The Hockey News has you covered. Click here.