Our Dallas Stars 2019-20 Preview is a part of our series covering the entire NHL. Check them out here in the lead up to another exciting season.
The Dallas Stars are coming off an exciting playoff push. They upset the Nashville Predators in an exhilarating 6 game series in the first round. Then they ran into the St. Louis Blues in the second round and put up a great fight but eventually lost in game 7. Fans can rest easy knowing they lost to the eventual winner, although I know that doesn’t mean much. Before this season, the Stars’ last playoff berth was in the 2015-2016 season. Wednesday night rivalry alert! The Stars and Blues have a little bad blood growing as the Stars’ last two playoff hopes have been ended by the Blues in the second round.
By December of 2018 it was looking like the Stars would miss playoffs for the third straight season. Team CEO Jim Lites publicly called out franchise stars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. I won’t share the “colourful” language he used, but let’s just say it was a very unprofessional and bad look for the club, and hockey talking heads were having a field day with it. To be honest, so were we on our podcast, but… the Stars ended up making the playoffs in the number one wildcard berth. Now, it is not necessarily due to what Lites said of Seguin and Benn underperforming, but it’s entirely possible that a little heat from above shook the dressing room up a bit and reminded the locker room that nobody is safe in a club that is underperforming. What is more likely is that the Stars took advantage of a very weak mid/bottom western conference. Colorado had a massive losing skid and Dallas eventually surpassed them in point totals. The swing from missing playoffs to wild card is a huge public relations win, and the morale boost is sure to continue into next season.
One of the brightest stars (sorry for the pun) for Dallas last season was Miro Heiskanen, the Stars’ #3 overall pick in the 2017 draft. If you didn’t hear about him last season, you need to be watching more hockey, as this guy is an absolute stud. To get a sense of how good he is, take a look at his first ever shift in the NHL. At 19 years old he looked like a defender in his prime, with poise in both ends of the ice, and the confidence to skate the puck up the ice for his first time with the puck in the NHL and make moves in his own end. It’s no coincidence this clip is 4 on 4, as Miro’s game thrives with more space to skate the puck. Everyone knew Elias Petterson was going to win the Calder Trophy for best rookie last season, but Miro Heiskanen is looking like a franchise defenseman already, just two years out from his draft. Heiskanen was good for 12 goals and 21 assists for 33 points, and just 16 penalty minutes. He played all 82 games last season as a rookie and cemented his spot as a favourite in Dallas for a long time. The central division is now quickly becoming the elite defenseman division. Nashville, Colorado, and Dallas all have some very skilled dynamic defenders who are quick to lead the play up the ice or jump into the play 200 feet from their own goalie.
Another guy who made an impression last year was Roope Hintz who plays centre or left wing. He had an ok rookie season where he amassed 22 points in 58 games in the NHL with 22 points in 21 AHL games. He put some ok numbers up, but where he really shined and impressed was in playoffs. Hintz was EVERYWHERE. Watching the Stars playoff games, it sounded like Hintz was out there every shift. He showed real hustle and determination to go after pucks, helped defensively, and chipped in offensively. He earned 8 points in 13 games. The Dallas scouting staff should only draft Finnish players from now on, because Roope and Miro are seriously exciting to watch.
The Stars were pretty quiet at the deadline, but acquired Mats Zuccarello from the New York Rangers in exchange for a 2019 second round pick and a 2020 third round pick. Zuccarello looked like a natural fit and had a great start in a Dallas uniform as he got a goal and assist in his debut, before he left with an injury. Unfortunately Zucc missed five weeks with a broken arm. He played two regular season games with the club and got 3 points. He performed very well in playoffs, where he scored 11 points in 13 games.
The Dallas stars will need to see more scoring this season. They were tied for 28th in the league for goals for last season. While scoring was an issue, they were second in the league for goals against. Ben Bishop and the defense did some unreal work to keep pucks out of the net. Bishop was a Vezina runner up with some very impressive numbers. Bishop had a goals against average of 1.98, good for second in the league, and a save percentage of 0.934, which was the best in the league. Bishop kept the team in a lot of games with his performance last season. Next, let’s take a look at how their off season went.
Joe Pavelski (F)
Corey Perry (F)
Andrej Sekera (D)
Jason Spezza (F)
Mats Zuccarello (F)
Valeri Nichushkin (F)
Marc Methot (retired) (D)
Ben Lovejoy (retired) (D)
That’s a lot of veteran talent on the move…and Valeri Nichushkin.
I think it’s safe to say everyone knows what the Stars’ first line will be. Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are a force to be reckoned with out there. The top line will be relied upon to perform, but may actually have the best supporting cast they’ve ever had in terms of defense and secondary scoring. Ultimately thought the team’s success will be linked to the captain, Jamie Benn. He’s the archetypal hockey captain, the guy who does it all and someone that Don Cherry absolutely loves. He hits, fights, and scores. Last season he struggled a bit with scoring as he had a 26 point drop in production. It’ll be interesting to see if he can up his point totals to the norm. My money is on yes, and I bet Jim Lites will have something fun to say if he doesn’t.
With how good a fit Zucc was in the playoffs, its surprising that the team didn’t pursue him harder than they did. But the lizard Zuccarello himself, made quite an impression on Minnesota GM Paul Fenton and earned himself a $1.5 Million raise with a no movement clause. It’s hard to compete with a man desperate to keep his job and Fenton was fired soon after the signing. The Stars front office may have not valued an aging Zuccarello high enough to compete with the offer from the Wild. However, this off season the Stars have been willing to take some chances on older forwards, like Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.
It’ll be a strange sight to see Joe Pavelski in a non-Sharks jersey. Pavelski seemed to galvanize the San Jose squad at it’s time of need when he went down in Game 7 with the controversial call, yes, that game 7. Joe is an interesting pick up for the Stars. He is an undisputed great leader on the ice, and one of the best deflection artists in the game right up there with Crosby. All of that is true, but he’s also a 35 year old with a three year $7 million modified no trade clause contract on a team with an already older core. However, Pavelski also had 38 goals last year in 75 games. That is tough to argue against. Joe should play on the second line, and as a 35 year old, he may play more wing than centre. Even if he doesn’t reach 30 this year, it’s pretty easy to imagine Pavelski on the Dallas number one powerplay planted in front of the net tipping shots from Heiskanen or Klingberg. Mmmmm, sounds like a recipe for success.
The Stars also signed 34 year old, newly bought out Anaheim Ducks veteran Corey Perry to a one year $1.5 million no trade clause contract. Perry has had a lot of time off dealing with persistent injuries and had a down year after finally having surgery last summer to fix his knee. As he was a staple on the Ducks roster for so long, it seemed a little odd to hear about him being bought out, but to use an insensitive idiom: one man’s garbage is another man’s treasure. And Dallas was definitely collecting some garbage this off season. Ultimately this is pretty low risk. Perry is signed for one year and gets a second chance in a new environment to try to return to form. Even if he doesn’t put up points, he will add a pest factor that the Stars have been missing since losing the French phenom, Antoine Roussel. Honestly if he plays well I could see him being taken in by Dallas fans as a favourite.
And both of these older forwards can’t be any worse than how Valeri Nichushkin played on Dallas. Nichushkin is a 10th overall draft pick from 2013 that is now an almost dictionary definition of a bust. He did well in his first season in 2013-2014, but left for the KHL. He was on a $5.9 million 2 year deal, and after last season’s 10 points in 57 games, no hustle play, the club bought out the last year on his contract. Colorado seized the opportunity and signed him cheap, to try and turn him into a functional player, but it is yet to be seen if he is Nail Yakupov 2.0 or will put the work in to becoming a regular NHL player.
The Stars will have to utilize some home grown talent to fill the role of Jason Spezza after his departure. Roope Hintz showed some skill and hard work in the post-season. He plays wing and centre, so could slot in on the second line with Joe Pavelski. I’d wager that Hintz plays a full season with the NHL club this season. Another winger who could make the jump to more ice time this season is Denis Guranov. Gurianov is #12 overall Dallas pick from 2015 who is now a 22 year old big, fast winger. He put up 4 pts in 21 games last season with the Stars and 48 points in 57 AHL games. The opportunity is there for him or other young players to play their way into a roster spot but as Gurianov plays both wings he has a solid chance of making the team.
The Stars now have a defensive roster of:
Esa Lindell , John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, Julius Honka, Stephen Johns, Roman Polak, Jamie Oleksiak and Andrej Sekera.
If that seems a bit crowded, that’s because it is. Not a lot to worry about in the top 3, and even a bit of an increase in production is in store. However there have been rumours that the Stars are shopping Julius Honka. He remains unsigned as an RFA at this point and his future with the team is uncertain if he does sign.
Honka has been a bit of a question mark in Dallas as far as his development. Defenseman are always particularly tricky to gauge in the draft and Honka was selected 14th overall in the 2014 draft. The very next pick was Dylan Larkin, and Travis Sanheim went 16th overall. This is not a knock on the Stars though, as Honka was actually pegged to go 11th overall and was still available when the Stars were up to choose. Since that draft, the 23 year old has played in only 87 NHL matches and has amassed 2 goals and 11 assists. Honka has seen limited ice time in the NHL, and this may have been a case where additional time in the AHL may have been beneficial. With defenseman in the system aiming for a roster spot like Taylor Fedun, Gavin Bayreuther and Emil Djuse it may be inevitable for Honka to be moved.
Another defenseman with his own woes is Stephen Johns, who has had some serious trouble with injuries. He missed the entire 2018-2019 season with post-traumatic headaches, unrelated to concussions. Sounds scary, and missing an entire year is definitely not good for a 27 year old defenseman in his prime. Johns is a 2010 draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks who came to the Stars in deal sending Patrick Sharp back to Chi-town. Johns has only played in 150 NHL games, so he has definitely experienced some unfortunate set backs in his career. He has been skating this year, but even if he does return, who knows what kind of player he will be.
Stars fans will be seeing a lot of serviceable d-men Roman Polak, Andrej Sekera, and Jamie Oleksiak, who made his return to Dallas after a brief stint in Pittsburgh. These three will provide some great bench strength to the club. Lindell, Klingberg and Heiskanen will likely play the majority of the minutes night to night and these three will fill in as required. The Stars re-signed Polak to a 1 year, $1.75 million deal, and picked up free agent Sekera for a 1 year $1.5 contract. Pretty low risk for Polak, and Sekera is coming off a season where he came back from essentially two missing three quarters of the last two seasons in Edmonton. If he can bounce back and get back into playing a full schedule, he could provide some stability in the bottom pairing.
As I mentioned earlier, Ben Bishop was unreal this season. He was a Vezina candidate, and had a serious shot of winning it based upon his stats. While his stats might not be quite as stellar as they were this season, look for him to be hungry for more starts and another playoff berth.
Anton Khudobin had a very respectable 2.57 goals against average and a 0.923 Save percentage in 41 games. While he was not quite at the level of Bishop, he definitely proved to be a trustworthy backup for a Dallas team which struggled at times in the season.
As they both played well, expect no changes on the goaltending front for the Dallas Stars, and for another superb season ahead for Ben Bishop.
Dallas Stars 2019-20 Prediction
3-5 Central Division
The league is trending towards a fast transition game, but the 2019 Stanley Cup Champion St.Louis Blues show that is not the only way to be successful. Additionally, the Blues showed that a team can be in the gutter as late at January, and end up winning. The Dallas Stars had their own morale victory last season, by winning themselves a wild card spot, upsetting Nashville and going as far as the second round. This off-season, the club has surrounded their speedy young, dynamic players with proven veterans, who can get it done in playoffs. They need strong performances from young players like Heiskanen, Hintz and Gurianov. Newly acquired veterans Perry and Pavelski will have a large reponsibility to provide secondary scoring to win hockey games. Right now the Stars look like a playoff team. In a tough Central Division, they may just have the firepower to earn themselves a divisional playoff seed.