Trying to make sense of the Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars
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By this point in the NHL season we usually have a pretty good idea as to which teams are contenders, which teams are going to the playoffs, and which teams are playing for the future and draft lottery odds.

Even with that, there are still a small handful of teams that just randomly sit somewhere in the middle that make us wonder: “Is this team actually any good?”

So let’s say hello to the Dallas Stars, one of the more confounding teams in the league this season. Depending on when you watch them they either look like a playoff team that could cause some damage for lengthy stretches, or a team that looks like a bitter disappointment for others.

They started the season winning just four of their first 12 games. Then they won nine out of their next 10 games. A stretch that was followed by a 5-9-0 stretch where they won just three games in regulation. Then they went on a 9-3-0 run that seemed to be building momentum, until they needed a shootout to win a 1-0 game in Chicago, and then followed that up by losing to one of the league’s worst teams in Arizona. Seasons are always full of peaks and valleys for teams, but the Stars seem to be taking it to the extreme this season.

All of that has them sitting on the playoff bubble as of Tuesday, three points behind the Los Angeles Kings for the second Wild Card spot in the Western Conference.

[Related: NHL Power Rankings: Flames becoming contenders; Predators struggling]

It still feels like they should be better than this. They narrowly missed the playoffs a year ago in the reformatted Central Division despite the fact they played almost the entire season without their two best offensive players in Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, and never actually having them in the lineup at the same time. Their returns this season, combined with a deep goaltending position and a defense led by John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, and Ryan Suter made it seem like they should be a lock for the playoffs, and maybe even an under-the-radar contender.

They have not quite been at that level yet, while Klingberg’s short-term and long-term future with the team remains in question and is a very distracting elephant in the room. He is an unrestricted free agent after this season, contract talks seem slow to non-existent, and he has expressed a desire to be moved if he is not going to be re-signed. That sort of trade is never easy to make when you are in a playoff race and it is going to be fascinating to watch and see where that goes.

But there are some other things playing a major role in their playoff push.

Why you should not count them out

Now that their four-headed goalie monster in the preseason has turned into a duo of Jake Oettinger and Braden Holtby they are getting mostly strong play at the position, with Oettinger really coming on strong since the start of February.

They also have a trio of scorers at the top of the lineup in Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, and Roope Hintz playing exceptionally well.

Robertson in particular is a huge development because he is rapidly becoming one of the league’s best players. He is an outstanding possession driver and one of the most efficient point producers in the league at even-strength (his 3.0 points per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play are 10th best in the league among players with at least 400 minutes).

Hintz is also having a breakout season, while Pavelski has performed as well as the Stars could have possibly hoped when they signed him to a three-year contract in free agency three years ago. They got incredible value out of that deal. Together, Hintz, Robertson, and Pavelski have been one of the league’s best lines this season, dominating across the board in pretty much every major category.

It has kept them in the playoff race, and could make them a tough matchup if they actually make it.

Seguin, Radulov have struggled at times

Prior to last season the Stars offense — and the team, for that matter — was mostly carried by the top-three forwards on the team — Seguin, Radulov, and Jamie Benn. If that trio was not producing the offense, there was not always much coming from anybody else. That is why the return of a healthy Seguin and Radulov this season seemed like such a big deal. Getting two top-line scorers back on a team that had found some strong complementary players (Robertson, Hintz, Pavelski, Denis Gurianov if they would ever play him) should have been significant.

But Seguin and Radulov have not really performed as expected.

Seguin is having a solid year in the goal scoring department (on pace for more than 25 goals over a full season) and has been much better over the past month, but his line has not produced a ton of offense overall for the season. With Seguin on the ice the Stars are scoring just 1.86 goals per 60 minutes on just 2.11 expected goals. Both numbers are among the lowest of his career.

Radulov, meanwhile, has not been able to buy a goal for himself. An appallingly low shooting percentage (3.5 percent) and a plummeting shot rate (just 1.5 per game) has resulted in a season where he has scored just two goals in 43 games, and like Seguin, the Stars have not scored a ton of goals or generated much in the way of chances this season when they have been on the ice.

When they have been together on a line they have been uncharacteristically unproductive.

It has been damaging to the Stars chances at times. Given the success of the Robertson-Pavelski-Hintz a second scoring line around Seguin and Radulov would have been a game-changer this season. That more than anything has contributed to the inconsistency of the team this season.

If you look at the Stars’ “valleys” this season, when they started losing games in bunches, they all came during the stretches where Robertson-Pavelski-Hintz were not carrying the offense. No matter how good your top players are or how productive they are over a season they will not score every game. Somebody else has to pick up the slack.

The good news for the Stars: Some of that is starting to change over the past month. Seguin’s scoring has picked up since mid-January, and the Stars are scoring more goals with Radulov on the ice. It is not a coincidence that since that happened the Stars have won seven out of the past 10 games. If they can build on that over the next two months, the Stars might start to have something.

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

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    Golden Knights take 2-0 lead in Stanley Cup Final with 7-2 win over Panthers

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Jonathan Marchessault scored twice and started an early blitz that chased the NHL’s hottest postseason goalie, and the Vegas Golden Knights seized control of the Stanley Cup Final with a 7-2 victory over the Florida Panthers in Game 2 on Monday night.

    Adin Hill continued his stellar play in net with 29 saves for the Golden Knights, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We finished some plays,” Vegas coach Bruce Cassidy said. “It’s a good performance for us. Our guys were ready to play.”

    Marchessault also had an assist to finish with three points. His 12 postseason goals set a Golden Knights record, with all coming after the first round.

    Brett Howden scored twice for the Knights, who also got goals from Alec Martinez, Nicolas Roy and Michael Amadio. Six players had at least two points for Vegas, all 18 Knights skaters were on the ice for even-strength goals and their nine goal scorers through the first two games are a Stanley Cup Final record. The Knights’ seven goals tied a franchise mark for a playoff game.

    It was too much for Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was removed 7:10 into the second period down 4-0. It was the fifth time in 12 games the Knights have chased the opposing goalie.

    “We can be a little better in front of our goaltender,” Panthers coach Paul Maurice said. “I got him out to keep him rested.”

    Matthew Tkachuk and Anton Lundell scored for Florida.

    Teams that take a 2-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final are 31-3 in the expansion era. The Panthers will try to buck history beginning with Game 3 on Thursday in Sunrise, Florida.

    Hill once again brought his feistiness as well as his A-game. He stopped Carter Verhaeghe on a breakaway in the first, and later that period hit Tkachuk, who was in his net, with his blocker and then slashed him with his stick.

    “He’s been unreal for us,” Vegas forward William Carrier said. “He’s been unbelievable.”

    The Knights were dominant early, taking a 2-0 lead in the first period on goals from Marchessault and Martinez. It was Vegas’ third game in a row with a power-play goal, its first such stretch since Christmas week.

    The Panthers lost their biggest, toughest defenseman early in the game when Radko Gudas was injured on a hit by Vegas forward Ivan Barbashev. Gudas left 6:39 in and did not return.

    That was one of several big hits by Barbashev, the Golden Knights’ biggest trade-deadline acquisition, a Stanley Cup champion with St. Louis in 2019. Barbashev broke the sternum of Colorado defenseman Samuel Girard during the playoffs last year, also on a clean hit.

    Vegas had its own scare late in the second period when Jack Eichel was nailed in the right shoulder by Tkachuk. Eichel returned in the third and set up Marchessault’s second goal for his second assist of the game.

    “We did a good job managing momentum tonight,” Eichel said. “And we got some timely goals.”

    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports

    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.