From first in the Western Conference in 2015-16 to 11th this season, the Dallas Stars have experienced quite a swing in the standings in a short time.
Such a disappointing fall this season, as the Stars missed the playoffs despite heightened expectations, ushered in significant changes with the firing of Lindy Ruff and the hiring of Ken Hitchcock, and the acquisition — and eventual signing — of Ben Bishop to shore up the goaltending situation in Dallas.
In 2015-16, the Stars took the NHL by storm, leading the league in goals-for with a talented roster before losing in Game 7 of the second round versus the Blues. This season, they were derailed right away by injuries to key players, their goaltending struggled once again, and eventually everything seemed to go wrong as Dallas finished 15 points out of a playoff spot.
Hired in April to coach the Stars, Hitchock laid out a plan to harness the Stars’ skill, speed and aggressiveness with more structure. On Tuesday, referencing his experience coaching against Dallas while behind the bench in St. Louis, he reiterated belief that this group can move back in a positive direction in the West next season.
“In two years, people have seen the ceiling and they’ve seen the bottom of the floor,” said Hitchcock, per the Stars. “I really have a lot of faith in this group and I think we’re a lot closer to the ceiling than we are to the floor. But there’s going to be a lot of people that … until we prove them wrong, they’re going to say, ‘Hey, one year was a fluke.'”
The Stars do still have a talented roster, led by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and offensive defenseman John Klingberg. Adding another blue liner to help bolster that part of their team may be an option for general manager Jim Nill, who has discussed moving the third overall pick in the upcoming NHL Draft in order to regain an “established player” in return.
The Stars still have more than $15 million committed to three goalies — recently signed Bishop, Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. That is a situation worth keeping an eye on in the coming weeks, with the suggestion Niemi may be bought out.
There are many pieces already in place for Dallas, which is only a year removed from a 50-win season. “Reckless energy” is a phrase Hitchcock has used a number of times to describe the 2015-16 Stars.
Now, it’s about re-discovering that mantra after the Stars fell to the floor this year.