With less than a month before the start of hockey’s regular season, the Guardian Liberty Voice will be taking an in-depth look at the 30 organizations, one for each day. Today, 30 in 30 will look at the Dallas Stars. Dallas has been a team just on the cusp of real success for a few years now. In the past, it has been the minor things, such as their lack of success at the shootout, that has kept them from making the playoffs with any consistency. The league’s new divisional format brought a new challenge. The Dallas Stars are now in a division with the likes of Chicago, Colorado, and St. Louis, putting them smack dab in the middle of a Central Division arms race.
Last Season – Dallas made the playoffs by the skin of their teeth last year, which was a pleasant surprise for a team that always seemed to be just outside of a playoff berth. The issue with the Stars last year was a lack of consistency. Any run of success the team would have was offset by a string of poor play later or earlier in the year. For example, in November, Dallas earned points in nine out of the 12 games played that month. A decent month and one that could have been built on to propel the Dallas Stars up the standings. Instead, Dallas had an inconsistent December, and the team lost nine out of the first 10 matches in January.
The good news for the Stars was the play of their younger players. Tyler Seguin finished at over a point-per-game in his first year in a Dallas Stars uniform, and left winger Jamie Benn was not too far behind him. Former first round draft pick Valeri Nichushkin started off the season strong, but seemed to fade down the stretch, not a surprising event for a 19-year-old rookie. Much of the Stars success will revolve around these three players for the foreseeable future.
The Dallas Stars ended their season after losing in a six-game series against the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks. Dallas put up a good fight in each of the games, but often, Anaheim’s offensive talent was too much to overcome. The first two games in the series saw Anaheim build a big lead before a Stars comeback fell just short, while the final game in the series saw the opposite. Dallas held a 4-2 lead late in the third period of Game 6, but the Ducks scored twice in under two minutes to force overtime, then eventually scoring the game-winner.
The Offseason – Acquiring a Top 6 center in the NHL is one of the hardest moves a general manager can make. Yet Dallas Stars’ GM Jim Nill has accomplished that, not once, but twice since taking over the team. After acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins last year, he addressed the hole in the team’s second line center position by grabbing veteran Jason Spezza from the Ottawa Senators this offseason. Even more impressive, with the exception of Alexander Chiasson, Dallas was able to acquire Spezza without giving up a roster player. Though he is starting to reach the age where a lot of players see a decline in play, Spezza put up 66 points last year, which should be matched for the Stars in this upcoming season.
In addition to Spezza, Dallas signed free agent Ales Hemsky to play in a Top 6 role for the team. Hemsky started last year in Edmonton before being traded to Ottawa at the trade deadline. He finished the year with 17 points in 20 games in a Senators’ uniform, which may indicate his lack of production in recent years was the result of playing with the basement-occupying Edmonton Oilers. The Stars seem to think so, after giving him a three-year, $12 million contract on the first day of free agency.
An underrated signing by Dallas this summer was the long-term contract extension of Antoine Roussel. Though he plays the go-to enforcer role for the Stars, he can use his hands for more than just knocking teeth out. He put up a respectable 14 goals last year, which compliment his 200+ penalty minutes quite well. Any production from a team’s enforcer is just icing on the cake, but Roussel could provide a surprisingly solid production from the bottom lines.
What to Watch for This Season – The biggest thing to watch for this season for the Dallas Stars is how their new acquisitions match up against the rest of the Central Division. A Top 6 consisting of Seguin, Benn, Nichushkin, Spezza and Hemsky should provide plenty of offense for the team, possibly equal to the other Central Division offensive juggernauts like Chicago and Colorado. Theoretically, acquiring Spezza to play the second line center should mean more opportunities for Seguin, as teams now have to gameplan against both centers, rather than focusing all their efforts on just Seguin.
Kari Lehtonen has been the above-average goaltender for the Dallas Stars for years, with the occasional flash of greatness. However, what appears to keep him from being truly elite is his ability to stay healthy. He is good to miss a decent chunk of games every year, and the Stars know it. They signed Anders Lindback as a backup goaltender this offseason, but Lindback failed to inspire a lot of confidence after a poor performance with the Lightning in the playoffs. If Lehtonen misses portions of the season, can the Stars really trust Lindback to play 25-30 games?
Finally, keep an eye and an ear out for updates about Rich Peverley. Long-time fan favorite, for seemingly every team he played for, collapsed during a game last year after suffering a cardiac incident. He was resuscitated by the Dallas medical staff, but he missed the remainder of the season after the event, and his hockey career may be in jeopardy for it. He remains under contract with the Stars, but until he is cleared to play by his doctors, his trainers, and the Dallas organization, he will not be suiting up for a game anytime soon.
Dallas saw the changing climate of the Central Division. Five divisional teams made the playoffs last year, but the Stars and the Minnesota Wild just sneaked in on the final week of the season. To compete in the division, a team needs deep offensive talent up front, first and foremost. To compete with Chicago’s Toews and Kane, Colorado’s Duchene and MacKinnon, and St. Louis’ Steen and Backes, the team needed to acquire star players. This past two offseasons, the Dallas Stars appear to have done just that.
Join the Guardian Liberty Voice tomorrow, where 30 in 30 will take a look at the consistent Detroit Red Wings. Also check out yesterday’s team, the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Commentary by Jonathan Gardner