Season 25, Report 2
After months of waiting, NHL hockey is finally back in Big D as the Dallas Stars welcome in the Arizona Coyotes in their season opener tonight. The excitement level is comparable to last year when new/old head coach Ken Hitchcock coached game 1 of his brief second act.
The elation quickly turned to deflation when the Vegas Golden Knights won the first NHL game their franchise ever played (hey, no one knew then that they were the best expansion team in sports history).
Today, however, we focus on how the Stars can return to the playoffs next spring.
Defense and Goaltending, Not Secondary Scoring, Will Determine Stars Success
Last season’s failures were blamed primarily on a lack of secondary scoring after the Stars saw a Jamie Benn-Tyler Seguin-Alexander Radulov top line carry them all season only to fall short because no one else was capable of scoring goals in March and April.
Secondary scoring will not be an issue this year.
This team has too much talent up front, a mobile defensive group, and an offensive-minded head coach so I expect goal-scoring to be the least of the group’s concerns. Instead, defense and goaltending will be the deciding factor this season for the Stars.
The Stars believe they have upgraded both the back-up goalie position and the blueline with the additions of Anton Khudobin, Miro Heiskanen, Roman Polak, and newly acquired Connor Carrick. Dallas is also expecting more games from Marc Methot this year and the arrival of Julius Honka as a regular on the Stars blueline.
Goal-scoring and puck possession are the primary talking points in the NHL today, but defense and goaltending still dictate a team’s success. If your team was lucky enough to have one of the top goalies in the league last year then you were playing games late in April. Look at Nashville (Pekka Rinne), Winnipeg (Connor Hellebuyck), and Tampa Bay (Andrei Vasilevskiy). All three teams made the playoffs and advanced in the playoffs.
The offense should be fun to watch this season, but the Stars must remember some of the lessons learned a year ago under Ken Hitchock and Rick Wilson. Will the forwards commit to playing two-way hockey? Will Heiskanen and Honka be strong enough defensively over an 82-game schedule? Can Methot and Stephen Johns stay healthy?
These are the questions the Stars must answer beginning tonight.
If These Three Things Happen, the Stars Will Play Beyond 82 Games
Speaking of health, let’s talk about Ben Bishop. The Stars goalie got hurt yet again last season and the team couldn’t recover. Bishop played in 53 games last year. Bishop has played 60+ games three times in his career and each time his team made the playoffs. Sixty games might be pushing it, but if Bishop makes 57 starts this season then the Stars have a great chance to get back in the playoffs.
Thing #1 – Ben Bishop makes 57 starts
Secondary scoring has been talked about at length over the last six months. As I mentioned, I don’t think it’s going to be as much of an issue this season with this cast and the new coaching staff. That said, someone will have to actually score the goals. One of the goal-scorers needs to be a Jim Nill guy. This is his team, his draft picks, his hand-selected coach, his preferred style of play. Can one of Nill’s free agent signings (Blake Comeau or Tyler Pitlick), trade acquisitions (Mattias Janmark or Jason Spezza), or draft picks (Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson, Valeri Nichushkin) provide secondary scoring this season? The Stars need it to balance out their dynamic top line.
Thing #2 – A Jim Nill acquisition (not named Tyler Seguin) scores 20 goals
I mentioned defense being one of the keys this season. Fair or not, everyone expects John Klingberg to have another good offensive season and everyone expects Heiskanen to immediately make an impact. While those things may or may not happen, the team’s success this season may be tied to Methot and Johns. Can these two stay healthy? Both have battled various injuries over the last few seasons. The Stars do not have a ton of depth on the blueline. Playing Roman Polak for 50 games or seeing Gavin Bayreuther play half of his season at the NHL level is not a recipe for success.
Thing #3 – Marc Methot and Stephen Johns play a combined 120 games
The Dallas Stars will return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs next spring if these three things happen.
Brian Roe is the founder and head writer of The Roe Report. He spent five years working for the Dallas Stars and has been a contributor at Hockey’s Future, The Hockey Writers, NHL Intel, and more. Follow Brian on Twitter @brianproe.