Alex Radulov

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Breaking down Stars’ bumpy start after ‘winning another offseason’

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New head coach, new starting goalie, same old problems?

The Dallas Stars distinguished themselves by making waves during the offseason – again – yet they find themselves in a 1-3-0 hole after falling 4-1 to the Nashville Predators on Thursday.

When it comes to righting the ship, there’s good news and bad news.

While Jamie Benn provides the expected “not good enough” to Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, it’s not surprising that head coach Ken Hitchcock got to the heart of the matter: they’ve been making opposing goalies look like stars so far.

That could be read as “bad bounces” shorthand, and you know what? Hitchcock is correct.

Things that should change over time

With a 2.94 shooting percentage at 5-on-5, the Stars only have better shooting luck so far than the remarkably unlucky Montreal Canadiens.

It’s also worth noting that they haven’t really been able to fully deploy their new weapons. Ben Bishop dealt with a freak injury when his goalie mask didn’t provide enough protection, while Martin Hanzal‘s off to a rough start thanks to health and possibly supplemental discipline for that hit on Yannick Weber.

(Granted, if the Stars didn’t realize that Hanzal’s had a maddening history of injuries, that’s also on them.)

The Stars can’t blame a faulty power play for their troubles, however. They’ve converted on 33.3 percent of their opportunities (4 for 12), tying the Toronto Maple Leafs for the most efficient unit.

To some extent, that scoring issue is likely to work itself out.

Chance to mix things up

Still, one cannot help but wonder if Hitchcock might want to spread the wealth as far as linemates go.

So far, Alex Radulov is spending almost every minute on a top-heavy line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. That’s fun for fantasy hockey nerds, but if the Stars are struggling to score at even-strength, maybe they need to move one or more of those big names around?

These are the Stars’ lines if Hanzal plays, via Left Wing Lock:

Benn – Seguin – Radulov

Remi ElieJason SpezzaBrett Ritchie

Mattias Janmark – Hanzal – Devin Shore

Antoine RousselRadek FaksaTyler Pitlick

One option that stands out is that the Stars have some room to maneuver with as far as centers go. Faksa could conceivably be an option on the third line, possibly allowing Spezza to go to a wing. Failing that, Ritchie might be an option on the top trio if Hitchcock wanted to experiment with pairings in Spezza – Radulov and Benn – Seguin.

None of this needs to happen ASAP, and perhaps the current alignments are the best ones.

The positive side of early-season uncertainty is getting the opportunity to experiment, though.

The road ahead

“Inconsistent” might be a word that gets thrown around in part because of a schedule with some ups and downs.

The Stars play three of four and four of their next six games at home, so that’s an opportunity to get things on track (so far they’ve played two games at home and two on the road).

They’ll need to brace themselves, as they’ll begin a five-game road trip on Oct. 24.

***

The Stars have tied their opponents in shots on goal once and won the shots battle three times this season. On two occasions, they generated a significant differential. There are plenty of signs that this team is experiencing bad luck and should start to see things go their way.

(Tyler Seguin leads the NHL with 29 SOG, but only has two goals so far. As just one example.)

There’s a fine line between things working out over time and “making your own bounces,” so Hitchcock should use these early challenges as learning opportunities.

Even for himself.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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PHT’s Central Division preview: Blackhawks, Wild, Predators, and more

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For ages, it felt like the Central Division was the reigning champion as the toughest division in the NHL.

The Metropolitan Division seemed to knock the Central off its perch, right down to the Pittsburgh Penguins beating the Nashville Predators in the 2017 Stanley Cup Final. Still, much of those stumbles seemed self-imposed, as the Dallas Stars struggled, the Winnipeg Jets disappointed, and the Colorado Avalanche were jaw-droppingly bad.

Let’s take a look at PHT’s material on the Central Division with the 2017-18 season set to begin.

Click here for the Atlantic Division preview.

Click here for PHT’s staff predictions.

Chicago Blackhawks

Poll/looking to make the leap

Colorado Avalanche

Poll/looking to make the leap

Dallas Stars

Poll/looking to make the leap

Minnesota Wild

Poll/looking to make the leap

Speaking of signings, the Wild inked a deal with Daniel Winnik today:

Nashville Predators

Poll/Looking to make the leap

St. Louis Blues

Poll/looking to make the leap

One other Blues note:

Winnipeg Jets

Poll/looking to make the leap

Catch up on Bruins, Sabres, Red Wings, more (PHT’s Atlantic Division preview)

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Between August’s “Team of the Day” series and all the other articles that gets published, Pro Hockey Talk generates a ton of material to get you hyped for the 2017-18 season.

With that in mind, it’s understandable if you missed some great stuff. While these collections aren’t comprehensive, consider these divisional previews to be a good way to get hyped for the rapidly approaching season.

For the PHT’s staff picks, click here.

Boston Bruins

Poll/looking to make the leap/

In more immediate Bruins news, Bergeron and Backes seem a little banged-up.

Buffalo Sabres

Poll/looking to make the leap

Detroit Red Wings

Poll/looking to make the leap/

Florida Panthers

Poll/looking to make the leap

Montreal Canadiens

Poll/looking to make the leap

In more immediate news, the Habs made a minor trade.

… And another one:

Ottawa Senators

Poll/looking to make the leap

Tampa Bay Lightning

Poll/looking to make the leap

Toronto Maple Leafs

Poll/looking to make the leap

PHT predictions for 2017-18: Stanley Cup picks, McDavid love, and more

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Expert take: Connor McDavid is really something.

OK, such a thought is evident to virtually every sentient hockey fan/person even vaguely interested in the NHL. The PHT staff covers that base in the predictions and picks below, but there are also spicier topics at hand. You be the judge if anything warms up to the level of a hot take.

So, rejoice, and bookmark this page in case you want to vengefully point out how your team was totally robbed of the things people grow up dreaming about: approval from hockey writers.

Of course, if these predictions end up looking good in hindsight, never mention them again. That’s how it works, right?

Also, NHL.com provides this handy guide to opening-night rosters.

Anyway, here are our picks, with staff members listed in alphabetical order:

Joey Alfieri

Art Ross: Connor McDavid. It’s the “boring” answer, but this kid is too good and too fast. I can’t go against him after what I saw last year.

Rocket Richard: Steven Stamkos. I’m not going out on a limb with my Art Ross pick, but I think this one will surprise some people. Obviously, we all know that Stamkos can put the puck in the net. The question with him is whether or not he can stay healthy. I think he’ll play enough games to score a lot of goals in 2017-18.

Hart: I think it’s McDavid again.

Vezina: Braden Holtby. A lot of people seem to think that the Capitals will take a step back this year (maybe they will), but I think they’ll be able to lean on Holtby.

Norris: Victor Hedman. He didn’t get as much spotlight as Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns last year, but he somehow managed to quietly put up over 70 points.

Calder trophy: Nico Hischier. He really impressed me during the preseason. I didn’t know if he’d be NHL-ready right out of the gate, but he answered all those questions for me. We’ll see if he can translate his preseason success into regular season success.

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Washington
Atlantic: Tampa Bay
Central: Minnesota
Pacific: Edmonton

SCF matchup: The Eastern Conference is still very wide open in my mind, so I’m not ruling out the Pittsburgh Penguins going back to the final for a third straight year. I’ll make it a Sidney Crosby vs. McDavid final, as I think the Oilers will make it out of the West.

Champ: Give me the Edmonton Oilers.

Worst team: The Vancouver Canucks will be worse than Vegas. Book it.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): Winnipeg Jets. They’re loaded with talent up front (see Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Bryan Little, Nikolaj Ehlers) and on defense (Dustin Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Josh Morrissey), but the goaltending duo of Steve Mason and Connor Hellebuyck might hold them back.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: The New York Rangers. I don’t like their situation down the middle. Also, if Henrik Lundqvist struggles during the regular season, Antti Raanta is no longer there to hold down the fort.

Team that missed last year that will make it in 2017-18: The Tampa Bay Lightning. They dealt with a lot of injuries last year and barely missed the postseason. I think they’ll get there in 2017-18.

Adam Gretz

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Nikita Kucherov

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Carey Price

Norris: Erik Karlsson

Calder Trophy: Nico Hischier

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Columbus
Atlantic: Tampa Bay
Central: Nashville
Pacific: Anaheim

SFC Matchup: Columbus vs. Nashville
Champ: Nashville

Worst team: Colorado
Wild card: Carolina
Playoff team that won’t make it: St. Louis
Team that missed that will make it: Tampa Bay

James O’Brien

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Alex Ovechkin. Don’t underestimate all the goals he’ll get from “his office.” Also, the Capitals need more from him this season. Maybe that will goose his shot attempts and numbers?

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Braden Holtby. He’s quietly wrestling the “most consistently great” torch from Henrik Lundqvist.

Norris: Victor Hedman. Erik Karlsson is a treasure, but his health is very worrisome.

Calder trophy: Nico Hischier

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Pittsburgh Penguins
Atlantic: Montreal Canadiens
Central: Minnesota Wild
Pacific: Edmonton Oilers

SCF matchup: Nashville Predators vs. Pittsburgh Penguins. Ryan Ellis‘ injury situation leads me to believe that Nashville will, once again, struggle a bit in the regular season. (Even at 100 percent, they might just be better suited for the playoffs.)

Champ: The Predators get revenge. It’s not foolish to assume that they get Matt Duchene, right? (Gulp.)

Worst team: The Vegas Golden Knights. Don’t despair, though, budding fans: this franchise is off to a strong start.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): The Dallas Stars. They’ve once again “won the offseason,” yet with every great move like adding Alex Radulov, there are troubling signs that this franchise is still behind the curve. What if Ben Bishop is another goaltending blunder? Did the game finally pass Ken Hitchcock by? Many sins will be forgiven if the Jamie BennTyler Seguin show rebounds after a rough 2016-17.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: Ottawa Senators. The Boston Bruins also worry me.

One 2017 team that did not make the playoffs, but will in 2018: I’ll give you one for each conference: the Tampa Bay Lightning and Winnipeg Jets.

Cam Tucker

Art Ross: Connor McDavid

Rocket Richard: Nikita Kucherov

Hart: Connor McDavid

Vezina: Carey Price

Norris: Victor Hedman

Calder trophy: Charlie McAvoy. Off the board, perhaps?

Division winners:
Metropolitan: Columbus Blue Jackets
Atlantic: Toronto Maple Leafs
Central: Nashville Predators
Pacific: Edmonton Oilers

SCF matchup: Edmonton Oilers versus Toronto Maple Leafs. All of Canada can rejoice!

Champ: Well, I guess I have to pick one of those two teams, so I’m going to say…….the Edmonton Oilers. Sorry, Toronto.

Worst team: Colorado Avalanche. Again.

Wild card (team that could go very wrong or very right): The L.A. Kings. Fascinated to see the difference in style after an offseason coaching change. Still believe they’re a playoff team but last year was a massive disappointment.

One 2017 playoff team that won’t make it in 2018: Ottawa Senators.

One 2017 team that did not make the playoffs, but will in 2018: Tampa Bay Lightning. If Steven Stamkos can stay healthy, this offence — and by extension this entire team — should be a force. The Carolina Hurricanes are, to me, an honorable mention in this category.

Hanzal out with ankle injury as Stars open training camp

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The Dallas Stars began training camp on Thursday, however, forward Martin Hanzal will not be taking to the ice — at least not right away.

Signed by Dallas to a three-year, $14.25 million contract on the first day of free agency, Hanzal is dealing with an ankle sprain, per Mark Stepneski of the Stars’ website.

So far, there doesn’t seem to be a specific timeline for when the 6-foot-6 center could return to the ice.

The Stars made a number of big moves this offseason. It started with the hiring of Ken Hitchcock behind the bench, and continued with the acquisition of goalie Ben Bishop and defenseman Marc Methot, and the additions of Hanzal and Alex Radulov in free agency.

Dallas had a disappointing 2016-17 campaign, missing the playoffs after finishing as the top Western Conference team during the 2015-16 regular season.

Signing Hanzal provides the Stars with a versatile center, capable of playing in a shutdown role or perhaps moving into a top-six spot if Hitchcock decides that’s an option.