The Dallas Stars caught themselves within a breath of the Western Conference Final last year. After missing the playoffs for two consecutive seasons, getting back in the swing of things was a decidedly more favourable outcome. And more favourable still would be making that Final and challenging for the Stanley Cup.
To that end, the Stars acquired some compelling veteran scoring. Joe Pavelski was signed to a three-year deal, while Corey Perry was inked to a one-year contract. With Dallas plunging offensively last season, the hope is that these two can come up with some goals to push the differential.
“What those guys mean is more gritty goals in dirty areas,” head coach Jim Montgomery said. “Part of our team process is to win the net-front battle, and we should be able to do it at a higher success rate this year than we did last year. That’s on the ice. But off the ice, it’s how to be a pro; it’s the details, the work ethic that it takes to be a high-level player in this league in the regular season.”
Montgomery already knows what he has to work with, with the top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov coming up with just under half of the team’s scoring. Even if ownership is of the belief that the trio can do more, the acquisitions of Pavelski and Perry should take some of the heat off. And that may restore stability to the franchise.
In Jim Lites’ defence, Tyler Seguin did have a slow start last season. He came out of the gate with just 32 points in his first 38 games, a bit of a leisurely stride by his standards. Seguin did kick it up a notch with 48 points in his final 44 games, which gave him 80 points in 82 games – including 33 goals. Those 33 goals were seven off his career-high 40 goals in 2017-2018.
Is that a regression? That depends on who you ask. The Stars still boast one of the most effective pure lines in hockey, with Radulov in the mix as another sure-fire fantasy bet. The 33-year-old with the mottled attendance record has been consistent and consistently good since joining the Stars, posting back-to-back 72-point campaigns. He pushed a career-high 29 goals last season from 209 shots on goal.
Benn did regress last season. By a fair margin. In fact, the Victoria native had his second-lowest career point totals ever with just 53. He did score 27 goals, eight of which were power play markers, but it’s safe to say he was a disappointment overall. This was largely due to an absence of shots, as Benn only registered 189.
Of course, Benn, Radulov and Seguin were the only Stars to score more than 15 goals last season and they still faced the music. So where is this team going to get more scoring? That’s where Pavelski and Perry come in. The new hires push the age bracket of this forward group to average out at nearly 30, but Pavelski is an effectual shooter (20.2 percent last year) and Perry can still go.
Defensively, the Stars shone. While the offence was underwhelmingly reliant on the top trio, Dallas got ahead by keeping the biscuit out of their own basket. Credit John Klingberg with leading the charge from his own end. He may have missed 18 games due to a hand injury, but he managed 45 points in 64 games. He was also a fixture on the top power play unit.
The Stars allowed the second fewest goals against in the entire league last season, finishing just behind the New York Islanders. That gives this team something to build on, with defenceman Miro Heiskanen set to break out in a big way. Heiskanen is so ingenious with and without the puck and he’s cool under pressure, which makes his movements clean and his puck-handling sublime.
Esa Lindell is the top-earning defenceman on the Stars with a juicy contract paying out $5.8 million a year. The 25-year-old had a career-high 11 goals last season to go with a career-high 32 points, including four power play goals and 132 shots on goal.
The best player on the Stars is goalie Ben Bishop. The 32-year-old had a goals against average of 1.98, a save percentage of .934, a total of seven shutouts, and 27 wins in 45 starts. If there’s an issue with Bishop, it’s injuries. In fact, he’s not played more than 53 games in a season since 2015-2016.
Anton Khudobin is the backup. In his first year in Dallas, the 33-year-old was tasked with 37 starts and posted 16 wins. He landed a goals against average of 2.57 and a .923 save percentage with a career-high two shutouts. The Ust-Kamenogorsk still has negligible playoff experience, but he should function well in support of Bishop.
The Stars shored up scoring depth and boast one of the most effective defensive units in the NHL, plus they perhaps have the best netminder in the entire league. Dallas also has the experience edge, with one of the older forward groups in the league. That should, by most accounts, be enough to secure a playoff berth and launch a significant post-season run.
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