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Where they stand: Pacific Division

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As summer rolls on, PHT will examine the four NHL divisions and see how each individual team stands.

Previously: Atlantic DivisionMetropolitan Division, Central Division

Anaheim Ducks

Summer summary: Big-picture, the Ducks are the same: a team with an excellent goalie who has had bad injury luck (John Gibson), mostly creaky top forwards, and a veritable war chest of quality young defensemen. They didn’t even make Gibson their first goalie under a long-term and expensive contract in … ages? (Since Jonas Hiller? J.S. Giguere?) Gibson remains without an extension, entering the last year of his dirt-cheap $2.5 million per year bridge deal.

The defense got a little younger in saying goodbye to the likes of Kevin Bieksa for veteran-yet-28-year-old Luke Schenn, even if it didn’t really get much better (Andrej Sustr‘s nickname might as well be “blah”).

They also gave Adam Henrique a somewhat-frightening extension.

After being swept by the hated Sharks in the first round, the Ducks waddled idly.

(Sorry, had to.)

More to do? Forwards Ondrej Kase and Nick Ritchie remain without contracts as RFAs, which will eat into the budget-conscious team’s $8.734M in cap space (via Cap Friendly, as usual).

Beyond that, the Ducks really should try to sign Gibson to a team-friendly deal (in my opinion), and maybe extend Jakob Silfverberg as well.

Longer term, Anaheim needs to do some soul-searching. Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler are all 33. Getzlaf and Perry both cost a ton for three more seasons, while Kesler’s contract runs one more year (through 2021-22). For a franchise that can be a little tight with cash, tough questions must be asked about whether this core can really contend.

If the answer is “No, we can’t compete with these guys,” then Murray would be wise to swallow a bitter pill and blow things up. Otherwise, the Ducks risk wasting money and being mediocre.

Where they stand? In the short term, there are some reasons to be optimistic.

This team dealt with some serious injury issues in 2017-18, yet Gibson and others kept them afloat, sometimes with ridiculously understaffed roster talent. If Murray’s going glass-half-full, he could picture a better season.

On the other hand, the speculation isn’t rosy for Kesler, and Perry looked pretty long in the tooth last season. If, say, the Oilers and Flames get their acts together, the Coyotes climb, and the Central remains deadly, the Ducks might get squeezed out.

This franchise has been able to find diamonds in the rough and work things out before, but right now, the outlook is a bit dreary.

Arizona Coyotes

Summer summary: Aside from maybe reaching for Barrett Hayton with the fifth pick, the Coyotes have enjoyed another pretty excellent off-season.

Maybe most importantly, they signed Oliver Ekman-Larsson to a contract that will essentially cover his prime, and it came cheaper than other stars like Drew Doughty. That could end up being a gem, but even if it was smack-dab in where he’s valued, it was huge not to lose a face-of-the-franchise.

The Coyotes also moved an up-and-down young player (Max Domi) for a more stable scorer who may thrive out of the Montreal malaise (Alex Galchenyuk). They then took on Marian Hossa‘s cap space to get a nice find in Vinnie Hinostroza, and also signed Niklas Hjalmarsson to what could be a nifty extension.

With Jordan Oesterle and Michael Grabner also injected in the mix, and maybe Dylan Strome possibly ready to finally help out, the Coyotes seem to be trending up.

More to do? Nothing too pressing. GM John Chayka should merely consider the cost-benefit analysis of possibly extending some players who will see their rookie contracts expire after 2018-19.

The biggest name, and maybe the guy with the biggest risk-reward question, is Jakob Chychrun. The 16th pick of the 2016 NHL Draft (who many expected to go higher) has experienced a stunted development so far, in part because of injuries. It’s tough to tell what the Coyotes really have here, although that’s the incentive to doing something early: if he ends up being a gem, Arizona might be able to land a bargain.

Where they stand? The Coyotes improved by pretty significant steps this summer. The questions are: how much better did they get, and how much farther do they need to go to really be a factor in the Pacific?

From here, the Coyotes boast modern-style pieces (and versatility) on defense, an interesting goalie duo (with Antti Raanta being the most promising, of course), and a very young offense that seems intriguing but maybe lacks the high-end weapons to really stand out.

The thing is, teams heavy with young players can sometimes make bigger leaps than expected. The Coyotes are being aggressive in trying to make that happen, sooner rather than later.

Calgary Flames

Summer summary: In 2017-18, the Flames ranked among the most puzzling NHL teams, boasting high-end talent that never really put it together. Management clearly saw reasons to make some pretty dramatic changes.

To start, Glen Gulutzan has been replaced by former Hurricanes head coach Bill Peters. It’s an open question if Peters – whose Hurricanes never made the playoffs – will rank as an upgrade, or a significant one in that.

Some of Peters’ guys replaced some prominent Flames, as Calgary stole some draft weekend headlines by swapping Dougie Hamilton, Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. (The Flames were twiddling their thumbs a bit during the draft itself, as 2017’s Travis Hamonic trade cost them their first-rounder. Oops.)

That wasn’t the only bold move for Calgary, as the Flames handed James Neal a five-year contract that carries a $5.75M cap hit.

Whether you’re hot or cold on the Flames’ off-season, you can’t accuse them of doing nothing.

More to do? The Flames already warped the postscript of the Hamilton trade by giving Lindholm a meaty extension. They figure to complicate the viewpoint again whenever they hammer out a contract with Noah Hanifin, a 21-year-old RFA.

Considering that Hanifin can say “I’m a high first-rounder and you traded Dougie Hamilton for me,” it wouldn’t be surprising if the speedy blueliner eats up much of the Flames’ estimated $5.39M in cap space.

GM Brad Treliving also must consider extending pugnacious forward Matthew Tkachuk, whose rookie contract only has one year left.

Where they stand? Even though many (raises hand) view the Hamilton trade as a downgrade for Calgary, the Flames still seem like a formidable team on paper.

Tkachuk’s line tends to hog the puck and befuddle defenses. The Johnny GaudreauSean Monahan duo is deadly, and could be even more dangerous if Neal and/or Lindholm really click with them. These off-season additions may finally help Calgary provide those lines with some supporting punch, Hanifin may very well break through, and Mark Giordano hopefully still has it as a Norris-level defenseman.

Still, there are reasons to worry. The Flames seem like they’re once again going to ask a lot of Mike Smith, who’s already 36. Giordano may hit the wall in a big way at 34. Hanifin might merely be solid instead of very good.

In this era of parity, it’s rare to see a team that could just as easily contend as miss the playoffs altogether … although maybe that’s the trademark of the Pacific Division as a whole?

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Edmonton Oilers

Summer summary: The Oilers could do worse than unveil a big banner that merely states “We didn’t make a bad trade!”

Edmonton’s moves were the definition of marginal, while they made a sensible-by-consensus pick by selecting Evan Bouchard with the 10th overall selection. A team with the best hockey player in the world shouldn’t get points for merely not shooting itself in the face – giving Connor McDavid more help would have been ideal – but you have to grade Peter Chiarelli & Co. on a curve at this point. So they didn’t fail, that’s nice.

More to do? Darnell Nurse, RFA defenseman and the seventh pick from 2013, still needs a contract. Getting that situation right (ideally with a cheap AAV and solid term, rather than a bridge deal) would brighten the outlook of a mostly tepid summer for Edmonton.

Again, the not-doing might be best for Chia. He didn’t stretch too far to exacerbate the Milan Lucic mistake. Despite rumors, affordable, solid defenseman Oscar Klefbom wasn’t recklessly moved, either. Not trading Ryan Nugent-Hopkins was probably the wiser choice (again, because Chiarelli), too.

Management needs to think long and hard about the future of their goaltending position. Cam Talbot had a rough season, and he’s entering a contract year. If he’s still the guy, he’d be a heck of a lot cheaper to sign today than if he bounces back. If not, why didn’t the Oilers take a flier on someone who might be a better answer?

Oh, because the Oilers actually decided to do the “potato vs. GM” bit? Not going to mash them up for that, honestly.

Where they stand? Do they have Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl? If so, pencil them in for “plausibly competent.”

It’s still a little disconcerting that management is asleep at the wheel, with Chiarelli and Todd McLellan possibly in place to make the wrong adjustments, or few adjustments at all.

Certain situations might improve just by default. A rebound season for Talbot is feasible. Lucic being OK isn’t that outrageous, even if the climb might be short.

That said, this team missed the postseason by a mile, and didn’t really get better. Not great, yet maybe not “#FreeConnor” territory just yet.

Los Angeles Kings

Summer summary: It happened about a decade later than they probably would have preferred, but the Kings finally landed Ilya Kovalchuk.

Kovalchuk, 35, ranks as one of the more intriguing wild cards of the off-season. How close is he to the world-class sniper who left the NHL with exactly as many points as games played (816)? If he has much left, we’ll probably see it, as Anze Kopitar essentially worked miracles with mediocre linemates last season.

The Kings also convinced Drew Doughty to sign an eight-year, $88M contract extension that begins in 2019-20. Los Angeles is clearly hoping that Father Time ends up being friendly.

More to do? Nope, not really. For better or worse, the Kings’ most significant players are pretty locked-in.

Where they stand? To a slight surprise, the Kings made a run to the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, though being summarily swept by Vegas is a bullet point for those who don’t expect them to rank as true contenders.

The Kovalchuk addition is intriguing, and possibly a real boon. Los Angeles is expected to put him in “Ovechkin’s office,” which is a more conducive place for production than what Kovalchuk often did: massive power-play minutes, but patrolling the point for the most part.

It’s also worth noting that Jeff Carter‘s 2017-18 was derailed by injuries, so if both of those situations go well, the scrappy Kings suddenly boast two of the better (albeit older) snipers you’ll find.

Personally, this seems like a bubble team, as long as the aging curve doesn’t equate to gravity pulling the Kings down in a more drastic way.

San Jose Sharks

Summer summary: 2018 will stand as “The Summer of What Could Have Been?” for San Jose. They missed out on Kovalchuk and John Tavares, instead settling for quite a few re-ups with current players such as Tomas Hertl and Logan Couture. They also convinced Joe Thornton to stick around for another year.

GM Doug Wilson wasn’t just snoozing in a tanning bed, though, as he essentially laundered the Mike Hoffman trade, getting rid of Mikkel Boedker‘s heinous contract and grabbing some assets for his trouble.

More to do? This summer’s to-do list is checked off (though they might need more time for “Be sad about Tavares”), but some future-focused questions remain. The biggest: what to do with Joe Pavelski?

Pavelski’s in the last year of his deal and is, somehow, already 34. Maybe the Sharks ride this out and sign him short-term, go with a long-term deal, or part ways sooner rather than later. It’s not necessarily an easy decision, but one way or another, a choice is looming.

Where they stand? The Sharks feel like they’re in a similar place as their California neighbors/rivals: there’s talent here, some of it frighteningly aging, and there are some sunny best-case scenarios.

On the other hand, this is a team that’s no longer dominating the regular season, and expectations are generally more muted. Could they go on another run, like when they fell to Pittsburgh in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final? Sure, but they could just as easily fizzle out early in the playoffs, or even really flame out and miss them altogether.

Vancouver Canucks

Summer summary: The Sedins are officially gone, the Canucks made the smart move in drafting college-bound defenseman Quinn Hughes, and the team decided to keep Jim Benning as GM for reasons. (Trevor Linden’s had enough, though.)

Benning continues to confound in free agency, handing matching four-year, $12M head-scratchers to Antoine Roussel and Jay Beagle. Such moves would already be questionable for a team expecting them to be “playoff warriors,” but as a team with a skill deficit that remains huge, that’s some bad stuff.

At least they’re starting to gather some nice prospects.

More to do? Not much, although well-coiffed sniper Brock Boeser‘s entering a contract year. Maybe sign him to an extension during an early low-note in the regular season to give fans a boost?

“Not trading Christopher Tanev” might be a worthy consideration, though.

Where they stand? They’re bad, and the ideal scenario is probably to be bad enough to try to pair Quinn Hughes with his brother Jack Hughes. Come on, admit that it would be really cool for the Canucks to quickly transition from the Sedin twins to the Hughes brothers. Philadelphia might need to re-brand to “The Other City of Brotherly Love” at that rate.

Vegas Golden Knights

Summer summary: Credit Vegas with showing restraint in not overreacting to an unlikely playoff run, although the counter-argument is that a risky extension for Marc-Andre Fleury counts exactly as not showing restraint.

GKGMGM (Golden Knights GM George McPhee) decided to allow James Neal and David Perron to walk in free agency. That’s mostly prudent considering the actual makeup of the team, although I wonder if McPhee realized how affordable (four years, $4M AAV) Perron would end up being.

The Golden Knights didn’t just rack up losses, though, as they convinced steady center Paul Stastny to sign a very fair three-year deal. Hockey fans also get to find out if Daniel Carr and Curtis McKenzie ended up being the next diamonds in the rough (er, aces up the sleeve?) in Vegas.

More to do? Vegas still faces some challenging negotiations in locking up RFAs William Karlsson and Shea Theodore. Karlsson’s arbitration hearing is set for Aug. 4, so we’ll see if they hammer out a deal between this moment and the deadline for a verdict.

The Golden Knights also may consider signing some extensions beyond the scary (if understandable?) one for MAF. Nate Schmidt, Alex Tuch, and Deryk Engelland all enter contract years in 2018-19.

Granted, with the maybe-unsustainable success Vegas enjoyed, they might be better off letting some of those guys settle down a bit first.

Where they stand? Uh oh, this is a trap, isn’t it?

You’d have to be a bold gambler to expect the Golden Knights to make another deep run, as they did in their infant season by falling in the 2018 Stanley Cup Final. Vegas rode some positive forces, most clearly Fleury playing at a level in both the playoffs and regular season that we’ve rarely seen since Tim Thomas was on good terms with his Boston Bruins teammates.

Fleury’s almost certain to stumble to at least human levels, and that could bring Vegas down with him. There are also plenty of players capable of regression following career years.

On the other hand, there is talent here. The Karlsson trio, particularly Jonathan Marchessault, sure seemed pretty legit, even if they might eventually be better cast as a very, very good second line. This remains as soundly built an expansion team as the NHL’s ever seen, and maybe the best in contemporary professional sports.

Will they once again contend? It’s fearful to doubt them yet another time, but probably not. Could they make the playoffs? That’s not outrageous, yet that may come down to a favorite/most-reviled factor in Vegas: luck.

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.

NHL injury roundup: Crawford getting closer; Johnson hurt in practice

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Let’s take a quick look around the NHL at some injury situations that are worth monitoring as training camps and the preseason roll on.

Yes, Corey Crawford is still getting closer … but he is not back yet

The biggest injury situation this preseason still remains in Chicago where starting goalie Corey Crawford has yet to return to practice with the team. He is still skating on his own, including 30 minutes before practice on Sunday. And while that is a step, it still does not seem that he is ready to return to game action. Coach Joel Quenneville said on Sunday that Crawford is getting closer and that he has not yet been ruled out for a return to practice with the team this week (via Scott Powers of The Athletic; subscription required).

Crawford missed the majority of the 2017-18 season due to an upper-body injury that he finally revealed earlier in training camp was a concussion. As recently as 10 days ago Crawford said he was still dealing with some symptoms and until they clear up he will not be able to return.

[Related: Crawford still dealing with concussion symptoms]

Given the Blackhawks’ goaltending situation behind him they desperately need him healthy this season if they are going to make a return to the playoffs.

Tyler Johnson “day-to-day” with upper body injury

Some potentially big news in Tampa Bay where forward Tyler Johnson missed practice on Sunday with what the team is calling an “upper-body injury.”

General manager Julian Brisebois said the injury happened during practice and is going to keep him out of the lineup on a day-to-day basis. While the team does not expect it to be a long-term injury, Brisebois said on Sunday there are no guarantees he will be ready for the season opener.

After missing at least 12 games in each of the past two seasons, Johnson managed to play in 81 games for the Lightning last season, finishing with 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) to help the team reach Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final. The Lightning were decimated by injuries during the 2016-17 season, a development that played a large role in them falling just short of the playoffs, but were remarkably lucky a year ago on the injury front. When healthy this is one of the best teams in the league and Johnson is a huge part of that.

Ryan Murray to miss some time after being kicked in the groin

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Ryan Murray was injured in the team’s exhibition game on Tuesday night, and after initially believing that it was just a day-to-day injury, the team revealed over the weekend that it might be a little bit longer.

General manager Jarmo Kekalainen said on Sunday (via Aaron Portzline) that Murray is dealing with a “soft-tissue groin injury” after he was kicked between the legs against the Chicago Blackhawks.

That sounds … awful.

Injuries have been a constant problem for Murray throughout his career and have limited him to just 198 out of a possible 328 games over the past four seasons.

Another injury for Loui Eriksson in Vancouver

With Henrik and Daniel Sedin retiring this summer, Loui Eriksson is now the elder statesman in the Canucks’ locker room.

After struggling through back-to-back injury plagued seasons in his first two years with the Canucks, his third season is not off to a much better start as it was revealed this past week that he is going to be out on a week-to-week basis with a lower-body injury.

After signing a six-year, $36 million contract with the Canucks in free agency prior to the 2016-17 season, Eriksson has managed just 21 goals and 47 total points in 115 games. He still has four years remaining on that contract.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Paul Byron gets four-year, $13.6 million contract from Canadiens

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It’s been a tough couple of years for Canadiens fans when it comes to the team’s roster movement, but they finally got some better news on Sunday morning when the team announced that it has signed speedy forward Paul Byron to a four-year contract extension worth a total of $13.6 million.

That comes out to a salary cap hit of $3.4 million per season.

The 29-year-old Byron would have been eligible for unrestricted free agency after this season had the Canadiens not signed him to a new deal.

He has been one of the better additions made by general manager Marc Bergevin during his tenure in Montreal, as Byron has completely turned his career around carved out a nice role for himself with the Canadiens.

The Canadiens snagged Byron on waivers from the Calgary Flames prior to the 2015-16 season, and in the three years since he has become one of their most consistent — and productive — forwards. He is the only player on the roster to have topped the 20-goal mark in each of the past two seasons, plays on the penalty kill, and has been a positive possession player on a team that tends to get outshot. He has also managed to top the 20-goal mark in each of the past two seasons while getting very little power play time.

He is not a player that is going to significantly alter the course of the Canadiens’ rebuild, or whatever it is they are calling this current phase, but he is a good, solid NHL forward whose contract isn’t going to break the team’s salary cap structure.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Fast-skating Avs center MacKinnon speeds toward success

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DENVER — Mention a topic, just about any topic, and sharp-shooting Colorado Avalanche center Nathan MacKinnon takes his elusiveness to a whole new level.

Not appearing on the cover of the NHL’s latest video game? ”Don’t care,” he responds. The pressure of becoming one of league’s top stars after a 97-point season? ”Feels normal,” the top pick in the 2013 draft quips. Taking another step in his evolution on the ice? ”Hopefully a few,” he offers.

It’s not like the speedy, 23-year-old shies away from the spotlight he has earned through his electrifying play. Rather, he’s just highly focused on helping Colorado return to the playoffs after a stirring run a year ago behind his hard-to-keep-up speed and hard-to-stop shot.

”He’s a legitimate, bona fide superstar in our league,” said defenseman Ian Cole, who joined the Avs after spending last season with Pittsburgh and Columbus. ”He’s one of the most dangerous players in the league.”

MacKinnon finished with 39 goals and 58 assists last season. He finished second to New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall in voting for the Hart Memorial Trophy, which is given to the player who means the most to their team. That didn’t exactly sit well with MacKinnon’s line mate, captain Gabriel Landeskog.

In Landeskog’s view, seeing is believing in MacKinnon’s skills.

”The hockey world is big in the East and they don’t see Nate as much, or us as much,” Landeskog said. ”We all know how good he is. It’s a matter of time. But he doesn’t need the recognition from anybody else – we just need him to keep doing what he’s doing as far as being a really good offensive player.”

MacKinnon turned in a breakout season in which he posted stats that hadn’t been seen in Colorado in a while, including:

– Most points by an Avalanche player since Joe Sakic had 100 in 2006-07

– Most shots (284) since Sakic during the Stanley Cup championship season in 2000-01

– 12 game-winning goals, matching the Avalanche record set by Sakic in ’00-01

– 13 three-point games, which was the most since Peter Forsberg had 14 in 2002-03.

Quite a list – and one he hopes to top this season. That’s why his summer consisted of working out every day and skating three times a week. Maybe an occasional round of golf , but his world revolved around the rink.

”I’m always thinking about hockey,” MacKinnon said . ”Not stressing over it, but definitely always thinking about it. I worked hard because another 100 points isn’t going to be handed to me. It’s tough to get that many. I don’t know if I will get that many this year. But I’ll try to and see what happens.”

MacKinnon’s prepared to embrace the pressure of being one of the game’s elite players. Then again, expectations have never weighed down MacKinnon, a native of Halifax, Nova Scotia.

”Growing up, I was always a top prospect, and I went first overall. So it just feels normal,” said MacKinnon, who signed a seven-year, $44.1 million deal in July 2016. ”It’s somewhere I expect to be. It’s not like I won the lottery here. I feel like I’ve earned that.”

He wasn’t one of the cover players for EA Sports’ NHL ’19 , which features Nashville defenseman P.K. Subban, Hall of Famer Wayne Gretzky, Winnipeg winger Patrik Laine, and Toronto center William Nylander on respective editions.

”I really don’t care,” MacKinnon said. ”I just don’t.”

More on his mind is getting the Avalanche back to the postseason. The team earned the No. 8 seed with a win in their last contest of the season before being eliminated in six games by Nashville.

”We’re trying to prove ourselves,” said MacKinnon, who missed eight games in February with a shoulder injury. ”I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing – keep getting better by doing the little things. Be very consistent every night and making sure I’m healthy and feeling good.”

That sort of mentality is music to the ears of Avalanche coach Jared Bednar.

”He’s one of the hungriest guys I’ve ever met. He’s one of the hardest working guys I’ve ever met,” Bednar said. ”He’s hungry to prove that (last season) wasn’t a one-off – that’s who he is. He expects to be even better this year.”

Maybe even the best in the league.

”I’d like to. I’m working for that,” MacKinnon said. ”I’m trying to be the best me, and hopefully that’s the best player in the NHL.”

For more AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NHL

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Spezza wants to be more than ‘good locker room guy’ for Stars

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Jason Spezza is unlikely to play like a $7.5 million guy for the Dallas Stars this season, but it’s tough to imagine things getting worse than they did last season.

Spezza mixed with Ken Hitchcock about as well as wolves get along with sheep in 2017-18, seeing his ice time plummet from 16:10 minutes per game in 2016-17 to a pitiful 13 minutes per night. To put things mildly, Spezza’s numbers suffered, with just 26 points in 78 games. Excluding the 2012-13 lockout (when he generated five points in as many contests), you’d need to go as far back as Spezza’s rookie season to see such a poor point total, and Spezza managed his 21 points in just 33 games all the way back in 2002-03.

Waning confidence could be seen in a number of areas, including a 5.8 shooting percentage, easily a career-low and just the second time Spezza’s endured a sub-10 shooting percentage over 15 seasons.

Brutal stuff, right?

The good news is that his shooting percentage is almost certain to level out, and the even better news – for Spezza, if not the Stars as a whole – is that Jim Montgomery replaced Hitchcock as head coach. That said, at 35, you wonder how much Spezza really has left in the tank.

If nothing else, Spezza told Mike Heika of the Stars website that he has a “fire in his belly” after that miserable 2017-18 campaign. A mixture of pride and the motivation of a contract year should make it certain that, if Spezza has anything left, he’ll show it this season.

“I’m here to play,” Spezza said. “I’ve produced my whole life and I want to do that again. I don’t want to just hang around for intangibles and being a good locker room guy. I’m here to produce — that’s what I expect of myself.”

Amid struggles that could prompt an existential crisis in a less confident athlete, Spezza continued to succeed in the faceoff circle last season, a sneaky-impressive area of his game. The former Senators center won 55.8-percent of his draws in 2017-18, while his career mark is a strong 53.5.

Such successes weren’t lost on Montgomery, who told Heika that he expects Spezza to take more faceoffs in the defensive zone this season. (Spezza began 43.4-percent of his shifts in the defensive zone last season.)

That’s an interesting idea beyond leveraging Spezza’s ability to win draws.

Most obviously, it could open the door for Radek Faksa to enjoy more favorable opportunities. The stealth Selke candidate began just 33.4-percent of his shifts in the attacking zone last season, and one cannot help but wonder if Faksa could enjoy a Sean Couturier-like leap if his workload was relaxed to a substantial degree. The Stars’ top centers (Faksa, Spezza, and Tyler Seguin) were all pretty effective at winning faceoffs last season, which would hopefully inspire Dallas to focus more on landing advantageous matchups, rather than obsessing over who might win or lose a draw.

Of course, Spezza wasn’t talking about faceoff wins when he was discussing production; he wants to put up points and land another NHL gig after this contract year.

The veteran center truly stands as a crucial make-or-break player for the Stars, especially if Dallas continues to load up with a top-heavy first line of Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov.

Through one preseason game, Spezza primarily lined up with Valeri Nichushkin (another Stars forward who could go either way, really) and Mattias Janmark. Via Natural Stat Trick, Janmark stood out as Spezza’s most common linemate last season, so we’ll see if that combination sticks even with coaching changes. You could do worse than Spezza with Janmark and Nichushkin, a trio that would have a lot to prove, even if Spezza’s in a very different phase of his career.

It’s important to remember that Spezza’s not that far removed from being the productive scorer he hopes to be. He generated 50 points in 2016-17, and that total came in 68 games. Before that, Spezza rattled off three consecutive seasons with at least 62 points.

Considering his age and the possibility that Faksa and others might push Spezza for power play reps and other opportunities, it might be too much to ask for Spezza to hit 60+ points in 2018-19. Despite that $7.5M clip, the Stars would probably be quite happy if the veteran landed in the 50 range, especially if he can juggle that with increased defensive duties.

That would make him “good in the room” and on the ice.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.