Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.
For even more on the Stars, read today’s posts:
[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough | Under Pressure]
1. Can Jim Montgomery get the most out of them? Or at least maximize the fun?
Virtually every coach in sports history says all the right things when they first get hired. In landing his first NHL job in a pretty nice gig in the Stars, Montgomery’s doing his part.
“Doing his part” means using some optimistic language, even when concrete details are scarce. You can see a lot of that in his Aug. 8 interview with NHL.com’s Dan Rosen.
“I want to be the same coach I’ve been,” Montgomery said. “I want to be a coach whose teams are known for being relentless and the culture we create is selfless. It doesn’t matter who gets the credit as long as we’re going toward the right direction. It’s all about being team-first. That’s the biggest challenge for any coach at any level.”
No, you are yawning.
During his time at the University of Denver, Montgomery laid out his “process” at “The Coaches’ Site,” and it’s … kind of adorable. It includes these seven goals:
So, what is the process? It’s made up of seven things.
1. 50 hits in a game
2. Win 60 percent of our face offs
3. Give up three or less odd man rushes
4. Commit to blocking shots
5. Win the special teams battle
6. Win the net front battle
7. Take zero undisciplined penalties
Really, the only concerning part is that he wants to keep things “boring and simple,” yet hopefully he just means that tactically, in a K.I.S.S. way.
Because, honestly, it borders on criminal to ice a hockey team featuring Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and John Klingberg yet be “boring.” The Stars leaned in that direction far more than they should have, particularly under Ken Hitchcock, after briefly lighting up the NHL as one of the most entertaining squads in recent memory.
Before you say that exciting hockey isn’t winning hockey, consider the recent successes of the Pittsburgh Penguins, not to mention overachievers like the 2017-18 New Jersey Devils.
In many cases, it comes down to getting the most out of your roster. Does anyone really think that the Stars are better off trying to play old-fashioned, slow-down hockey when you consider the strengths of this roster? If you think the answer is no, please consult the dour pile of drool that was last season.
Allow me to dream up a best-case scenario for NHL teams: when in doubt, let talent, speed, and skill take over.
2. Is the Central Division simply too stacked?
It’s important to realize that, even if things go well, the Stars simply might not boast the same ceiling as the cream of the crop in the Central.
The Jets and Predators both hold an edge in depth, and each could match the Stars’ high-end when things went their way. The Blues got a lot better this summer, possibly passing Dallas “on paper.” The Wild and Avalanche can’t be totally disregarded after landing in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, and it’s a little early to write off the Blackhawks.
If you were to run the 2018-19 season hundreds of times, how often would the Stars end up coming out on top?
Don’t get it twisted; they certainly could go on a great run. There’s some exquisite talent on this roster, and it’s perfectly plausible that Montgomery will optimize where other coaches minimized. Plenty of teams would trade their core for Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg.
Still, they’re far from the favorites, and it won’t be easy.
3. Will they finally get their money’s worth in net?
Ben Bishop was solid in 2017-18 (26-17-5, .916 save percentage), which by recent Stars’ standards probably felt like re-living the best years of Marty Turco or putting that FUBU sweater back on Ed Belfour. That’s not necessarily the work they were hoping for from the big goalie, particularly since they halted their more attacking style in bringing him (and Hitchcock) in.
This was a quieter than usual off-season for the Stars (so far?), yet one of the bigger moves came in net, as they brought in a – hopefully – more reliable backup in Anton Khudobin, mercifully ending the Kari Lehtonen era.
Between Bishop (31) and Khudobin (32), the Stars are allocating $7.417 million in cap space to two veteran goalies.
After years of throwing money at a problem that persisted nonetheless, will Dallas feel good about its goalie expenditures for the first time in ages?
No doubt, the play in front of Bishop and Khudobin matters. Montgomery’s system (50 hits!) could provide a protective cocoon for those netminders, or perhaps a more modern approach would give them more margin of error on the scoreboard to win games?
Each goalie’s succeeded more than a few times in the NHL, so there’s hope that they can at least patch up this weakness, if not make it a strength. Of course, the Stars would likely tell you (through gritted teeth) that goalies aren’t very easy to predict.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.