After falling to the Lightning in the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it seemed like Anton Khudobin would price himself out of the Dallas Stars’ comfort zone. If that happened, this could have been an offseason of change for the Stars. Instead, about two weeks in, the main theme has been about keeping the band together.
That’s not to say that everyone will be back from that surprising run to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final. But by keeping Khudobin, and retaining the likes of Denis Gurianov (and even Andrej Sekera), the Stars should look quite similar in 2019-20.
Granted, the door’s open to continue handing the torch to young players, especially Miro Heiskanen.
Stars offseason: Khudobin stays in free agency, Perry looks out
Again, it’s significant that the Stars signed Anton Khudobin. While Khudobin’s age (34) could make this deal eventually go sour, the Stars also avoided breaking the bank (Khudobin’s cap hit: $3.33 million).
Maybe you can chalk this up to an oversaturated goalie market, or tax breaks in Dallas. But it extends a feel-good story for the Stars.
Still, it must be mentioned again: the aging curve is a threat to the Stars’ run of rare-for-these-times elite goaltending. Khudobin isn’t the youngest, and Ben Bishop‘s banged up at 33. On paper, they could remain one of the NHL’s best tandems, keeping each other fresh during what could be a condensed schedule. Yet, if Bishop isn’t quite right after offseason surgery, and Khudobin slips, things could go sideways.
… But, by the erratic standards of goaltending in the NHL, the Stars made logical steps to maintain a competitive advantage.
Beyond that, the Stars made a minor tweak by adding Mark Pysyk to the mix, and also brought back Andrej Sekera. While Sekera was a subtle analytics gem during his healthier days, Pysyk fits that bill now. It’s not revolutionary, but adding cheap, quality defensive depth shouldn’t be underrated in today’s NHL.
Pysyk took a step back in 2019-20, but could be a nice snag if he regains recent form defensively. Consider his year-by-year even-strength impact, via Hockey Viz:
While much was made of a Corey Perry resurgence during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Stars are probably right in letting him walk. (Then again, he’s still on the market if they change their mind.)
Actually, by removing Perry, they might open up room for others to walk through the door …
Bonus for Bowness? And handing over the keys (Stars to-do list)
By removing Perry from the picture, the Stars give another push toward truly leaning into what they have in young talent.
Frankly, it’s been a bit maddening to see how reluctant they’ve been to embrace what Gurianov and Roope Hintz bring to the table. Perhaps they’ll finally pull the trigger after signing them to new deals (Gurianov for cheap, Hintz still lingers as an RFA)?
As “Out with the old” as the Stars’ larger movement seems to be, there’s also the business of hashing out a contract for Rick Bowness.
Rick Bowness is closing in a new contract with the Dallas Stars. That plus more on the six NHL head coaches entering the final year of their respective deals:https://t.co/G4hwvdrB8N
— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) October 23, 2020
While there’s an aesthetically pleasing alternate reality where the Stars embrace Heiskanen and John Klingberg‘s potential to lead an aggressive, breakout-happy offense, it seems clear that Dallas wants to stay stingy instead. Bowness seemed to carry over Jim Montgomery’s system quite well, and make some nice tweaks around the fringes. So bringing him back makes some sense.
(But, seriously, play your better players more often, Stars.)
Stars in a solid position to compete
Despite making it to the 2020 Stanley Cup Final, it’s probably not wise to pencil-in the Stars as, say, the absolute favorite to top the Western Conference. Having said that, their outlook is reasonably promising.
Broadly speaking, the Stars are in a decent position to nab the second or third seed in the Central Division (assuming the playoff format even falls that way in 2020-21). Whether it’s a small step back or a big one, the Blues aren’t as imposing without Alex Pietrangelo. The Predators bled depth, while the Blackhawks pushed the rebuild button. The Avalanche … well, they look like a superpower. But the landscape is reasonably friendly to the Stars grabbing a decent seed more comfortably.
Perhaps the true key to this offseason will be to eventually figure out an asking price for Heiskanen? The 21-year-old approaches the final year off his entry-level deal, and it may behoove the Stars to lock him down sooner, not later.
While Heiskanen’s turned many heads lately, especially after generating 26 points (!) in 27 playoff games, it’s not out of the question for 2020-21 to be the year where he truly barges into the Norris Trophy argument as a finalist, or even a winner. So, yeah: get on that, GM Jim Nill.
When it comes to older players, the Stars need to cross their fingers about more than just their goalies. Joe Pavelski is 36 and Alexander Radulov is 34. Much has been made of star Stars’ struggles, and Father Time may continue to hassle Jamie Benn (31) and even Tyler Seguin (28).
The hope is that the Stars can thread the needle. You know what might make that easier? Continuing to pass the torch to those younger players.
James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.