Anton Khudobin

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Stars have cap space to make big moves

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After years of being on a bargain contract, Tyler Seguin‘s finally going to get paid – to the tune of $9.85 million per year – starting next season.

With Jamie Benn already at $9.5M per pop, and the two once being called bleeping horsebleep by a high-ranking executive, you’d think that the Dallas Stars would be headed for a painful cap crunch this offseason.

As it turns out … nope, not really. The Stars actually stare down a Texas-sized opportunity to surround Benn and Seguin with some premier talent, whether they use a surprisingly robust amount of cap space to land free agents or if the Stars target yet another splashy trade. (They went the trade route to brain the Bruins out of Seguin, after all.)

Let’s take a look at the Stars’ larger situation to see how promising it could be, with copious help from Cap Friendly’s listings.

[For another breakdown of a Central team with promise, consider the Avalanche’s situation.]

A ton of bad money clearing away, or soon to clear

Jason Spezza isn’t as washed up as his lowest moments would make you think but … $7.5M was an agonizing cap number to hang on him, nonetheless. When you look at Spezza’s $7.5M basically being forwarded to Seguin’s bank account, it makes that raise more palatable, and also is a first step in understanding how the Stars are in a pretty solid salary situation.

The Stars will also see Marc Methot‘s $4.9M evaporate, along with the $1.5M buyout to Antti Niemi. After 2019-20, they can say goodbye to the mistake that was the Martin Hanzal deal ($4.75M), assuming they don’t do something sooner.

Heading into the offseason, Cap Friendly estimates the Stars allocating a bit less than $60.8M to 15 players. If the cap ceiling reaches $83M, that gives the Stars approximately $22.2M to work with, and some decisions to make.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

To Zucc or not to Zucc?

There’s another salary expiring in the form of Mats Zuccarello‘s post-retention $3.1M, and the Stars face a riddle in deciding what to do with the near-instant cult hero.

On one hand, Zuccarello is rad, and easy to like. His creativity clearly opened things up for his linemates, at least once Zuccarello is healthy. There won’t be a ton of comparable options on the free agent market, and he seems interested in sticking around.

On the other hand, Zuccarello is 31, will turn 32 in September, and has dealt with some lousy injury luck. Allow me to jog your memory about Zuccarello suffering a skull fracture in 2015, an injury that briefly impaired his ability to speak. It’s pretty stunning that Zuccarello ever played professional hockey again after that injury, let alone playing such a high level.

So, again, Zucc is rad … but there are red flags. And then, of course, there are the conditions of that trade from the Rangers. If the Stars re-sign Zuccarello, they’d cough up a first-round pick to the Rangers, instead of a third-rounder.

Maybe the Stars should look at it as a win-win situation: you either bring back Zuccarello, or keep that first-rounder and reduce your risks? One thing seems clear: Stars fans already love him … and can you blame them?

[More on the Zuccarello dilemma.]

Old and new

Like the Avalanche, I’d argue that the Stars have incentive to be aggressive while they still have some bargain contracts. Dallas diverges a bit from Colorado in that the situation screams even more for additions sooner, rather than later.

While Benn and Seguin total close to $20M in cap space, other key Stars rank as bargains.

  • John Klingberg provides Norris-caliber defensive play for just $4.25M, and that cap hit runs through 2021-22.
  • Ben Bishop was otherworldly, and even if slippage is basically unavoidable, the 32-year-old clocks in at less than $5M per season through 2022-23. That may eventually be a problem (big goalies only tend to get hurt more as they age, not less), but he was probably worth $9M in 2018-19 alone.
  • Anton Khudobin was almost as impressive as Bishop, and with $2.5M for one more season, he buys the Stars some time to find a younger future goalie option, and also provides insulation from potential Bishop injuries.
  • Miro Heiskanen jumped almost instantly into heavy-usage as a rookie defenseman, and the Stars get the 19-year-old on his dirt-cheap rookie contract for two more seasons.
  • Roope Hintz looked like a budding star during the playoffs, and the power forward’s entry-level contract runs through 2019-20. That gives the Stars time to try to hash out an extension, and also time to figure out what he’s truly capable of.
  • Alexander Radulov has been fantastic for the Stars, and the 32-year-old’s $6.25M cap hit looks more than fair today. Maybe it will start to get dicey (it expires after 2021-22), but so far, so good.

That’s a fabulous foundation, and the Stars don’t have too many pressing contracts to deal with this summer, aside from finding the right price for RFA Esa Lindell. (Let me pause for embellishment jokes. Go ahead, get them out of your system.)

The Stars have a pretty nice mix of veterans and young guns, but they should make haste, because those veterans could hit the wall. Again, Bishop and Radulov are both 32, while Jamie Benn’s a rugged player who will turn 30 in July.

Age would linger as a question, in particular, if they bring back Zuccarello (31), Ben Lovejoy (35), and/or Roman Polak (33), considering that they already have Blake Comeau (33) and Andrew Cogliano (31) as veteran supporting cast members.

To me, this all points to an “add now” strategy. Maybe Phil Kessel would look good in green. It couldn’t hurt to see if Dallas is a big enough city for Artemi Panarin. And so on.

***

The Stars booted the Predators and gave the Blues all they could handle as constituted during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, so there’s an argument for allowing that roster to simply try to build on 2018-19.

Still, when I look at the structure of this team, I don’t necessarily see the system that, at times, leaned far too heavily on scoring just enough while Ben Bishop saved the day. Heiskanen and Klingberg give the Stars two outstanding (and cheap) defensemen who can play a modern game, and there were times when Seguin – Benn – Radulov looked like one of the league’s most dominant trios. As Hintz and others improve, this roster could also take some of the pressure off of Benn and Seguin.

In sports, you don’t always know how wide your window is going to be open, and I’d argue the Stars should go bold, rather than waiting. A Kessel, Panarin, Matt Duchene, P.K. Subban or perhaps a returning Zuccarello could give Dallas the extra push they need, to say, win those big, double-OT Game 7s.

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.

Stars count on another great Game 7 from Ben Bishop

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With goals being very tough to come by during this Round 2 series, it’s only natural that the goalie matchup of Ben Bishop vs. Jordan Binnington looms large over Game 7 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) between the Dallas Stars and St. Louis Blues.

There are some fun narratives to wrap around the situation, too. Bishop, 32, is no stranger to big games, with 48 career playoff games to his name, and a sparkling .927 save percentage to combine quality with that quantity. Jordan Binnington, 25, only has 45 NHL games combined (33 regular season, 12 playoffs) in his career so far, yet he’s been a revelation for the Blues. It’s a shame that Bishop never seemed to provide Binnington tutelage during his growth as a goalie (as far as I know?), as this situation just begs for a “master vs. pupil” storyline.

If that wasn’t enough, there’s also the elephant/Bishop-sized goalie in the room: is Bishop even truly healthy enough to play in Game 7 after being shaken up by that scary Colton Parayko shot that preceded a controversial goal in the Blues’ Game 6 win over Bishop’s Stars?

As with just about any prominent injury during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, those of us outside of a team’s inner circle can only speculate about a player’s health. We can only read what we can from Game 7 itself on Tuesday, and skeptically take the Stars’ word for it about Bishop being OK.

So, let’s play along and believe that Bishop is good enough to go for Game 7.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Stars think Bishop could be Game 7 difference-maker

With that in mind, Bishop’s experience comes to play in the very specific, very pressure-packed setting of Game 7s. He’s experienced two such contests during his NHL career, winning both and earning a shutout (and even an assist) in each Game 7 back during the Lightning’s charge to a defeat in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final.

As Matthew DeFranks reports for the Dallas Morning News, Stars coach Jim Montgomery does indeed believe that Bishop’s experience will come in handy.

“Yeah, for sure it is a big advantage when your goaltender has been in these games before,” Montgomery said. “He’s been to the Stanley Cup finals, and he’s had success in these kinds of games. … He’s very even-keel. The way he approaches his games, whether it is a regular season or a Game 7, Bish is always dialed into the right mind-set to give him success.”

Again, the Stars are opening themselves up to criticism if Bishop isn’t truly healthy. In years past (see: Martin Brodeur against the Avalanche; Pekka Rinne versus the Predators), a few early Game 7 goals allowed can be lethal in a tightly matched series. The Stars have a highly qualified backup in Anton Khudobin, so if Bishop gives up a regrettable goal or two — maybe top shelf stuff that he, erm, can’t reach right now? — then people will question the decision not just to go with Khudobin.

Yet, when you look at Bishop’s big-game performances, and his dominant work this season (especially lately), it’s easy to see why the Stars would lean on him.

Bishop’s two Game 7 shutouts

Actually, with that in mind, it might be fun to take a trip down memory lane. Here’s a deeper look at Bishop’s two Game 7 experiences from that Lightning run. It gives some insight on how alert and impressive Bishop was, and is also a reminder of how quickly things can change in the NHL. Admit it: this makes 2015 seem like ages ago, although maybe global politics also make those memories seem ancient, too.

April 29, 2015: Lightning beat Red Wings 2-0 in Game 7 in Round 1.

If you remember this game, you might recall it as Tampa Bay being pretty fortunate to get out of that series … and by a lot of indications, that Game 7 looks that way in retrospect.

There was an ice-in-the-veins moment for Bishop, as he went way out of his net, Hasek-style, to try to thwart a Drew Miller chance. It almost backfired, as Miller flipped the puck over Bishop, but it didn’t result in a goal.

Braydon Coburn‘s goal was the only moment where either goalie allowed one, as the second tally was an empty-netter, which Bishop earned an assist on. Bishop pitched a 31-save shutout against the Red Wings, while the Lightning’s goal came on just 16 shots against Petr Mrazek. Natural Stat Trick lists some interesting numbers that back up the Red Wings carrying the play, sometimes glaringly.

Tampa Bay did keep most of the Red Wings’ chances to the outside, as Detroit only enjoyed a more modest 5-4 advantage in high-danger scoring chances at even-strength. That could be a key element to Game 7 between the Stars and Blues; Jim Montgomery’s system (and defenders like John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen) has done a great job of mostly keeping chances to the perimeter, which can make Bishop feel that much more unbeatable when he’s “on.”

May 29, 2015: Lightning beat Rangers 2-0 in Round 3

The storylines were pretty rich with this one.

Heading into this Game 7, much was made about the “mystique” of playing such a big contest at Madison Square Garden, particularly against a very sharp Henrik Lundqvist. That wasn’t just media-friendly hyperbole, either; the Rangers had been undefeated in Game 7s at MSG at the time, and the Rangers won the Presidents Trophy for the 2014-15 season. As impressive as the Lightning were even then, it’s fair to place them as the underdogs in that one, after being the favorites against the stalwart Red Wings in that Round 1 matchup.

The Lightning did a much better job of controlling play against the Rangers in that Game 7 than they did against the Red Wings two rounds earlier. Via Natural Stat Trick, the Bolts generated a 10-4 high-danger chance advantage at even-strength, and Bishop needed only a fairly modest 22 saves to earn a shutout.

Interestingly, in both Game 7s, the score was tied 0-0 through the first two periods. A more “nervy” goalie might have been rattled by the low margin of error, but Bishop seemingly kept his emotions in check.

***

The Stars are a different team than the Lightning were, and Bishop’s an older goalie, but it’s still interesting to ponder the past. If Bishop’s anywhere near full-strength, then the Blues might just have to cross their fingers for a goal or two in Game 7.

At least if the right kind of history repeats for Bishop and the Stars.

Game 7 of Stars – Blues takes place at 8 p.m. ET on Tuesday; You can watch it on NBCSN and stream it here.

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.

The Wraparound: Stars, Blues meet in Game 7 with turnaround seasons on the line

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The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down each day’s matchups with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

Adversity has never been too far from the St. Louis Blues or the Dallas Stars.

Neither team was all that good as the current year was ushered in. At no point then did anyone believe both teams would be squaring off in a Game 7 (8 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) with a trip to the Western Conference Final on the line.

But here we are.

The Blues have overcome a lot this season. They were dead last in the NHL in the first week of January only to finish third in the conference and outlast the two teams ahead of them in the standings — including knocking the second-place Winnipeg Jets out in Round 1.

St. Louis silenced the doubters against the Jets and have continued to do so in Round 2 against Dallas, with Sunday’s 4-1 win in Game 6 alleviating any concern that the Blues couldn’t perform with the chips stacked against them.

The Blues will face elimination a second time, but perhaps with a dash of momentum on their side knowing they were able to get to Ben Bishop (both through a nasty clap bomb that rattled off his collarbone) and on the score sheet as they chased the Vezina finalist.

Bishop has been Dallas’ best player on numerous nights this season, but the prospect of heading into Game 7 without him is a real worry. Depending on who you believe, Bishop is either 100 percent ready to go, or there’s a real worry Anton Khudobin may have to start in his place.

Both Bishop and Stars coach Jim Montgomery seemed at ease with his status, but coaches are hardly truthful in the postseason.

The Stars dropped four straight games in the middle of December and then again in the middle of January. Some tough comments were made from the higher-ups in Dallas and from there the Stars seemed to refocus, working their way into a comfortable spot in the first wildcard.

Bishop has been a huge part of that turnaround and late-season injuries have come with disastrous consequences for playoff teams he’s been a part of it.

What is certain is that the Stars need the type of bounce-back that the Blues showed in Game 6. Regardless of how the third period went on Sunday, the Stars have to focus on the task at hand.

The Blues were booed off the ice at Enterprise Center after the second period in Game 5 and have won just two of their six home games this postseason.

That’s just more doubt for the Blues to put in its place. Or, it’s crack that the Stars can exploit.

We’ll know soon enough.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

MONDAY’S SCORES
Bruins 3, Blues Jackets 0 (Boston wins 4-2)
Avalanche 4, Sharks 3 (Series tied 3-3)

The Buzzer has more on Monday’s action

PHT’s Round 2 previews
• Round 2 schedule, TV info
• Questions for the final eight teams
• PHT Roundtable
• Blues vs. Stars
• Avalanche vs. Sharks


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Blues force Game 7 vs. Stars after another road win

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Just call them the road warriors.

Coming into Sunday’s Game 6, the St. Louis Blues held a 5-1 road record in these Stanley Cup Playoffs. They also came into the game knowing that if they fell to 5-2, they’d crash out of hockey’s hallowed tournament.

Adversity is something the Blues eat for breakfast these days. Ebbs had been so apparent in the first half of the regular season for St. Louis that they’ve been able to lean on those experiences during their Cinderella-esque second half.

If the Blues were nervous one iota at American Airlines Center in Dallas, it was undetectable. And it’s because of that composure that us mere mortals will get to experience another Game 7 in these wild and wacky playoffs after St. Louis’ 4-1 win against the Stars in Game 6.

The Blue Notes managed the pressure like that of a grizzled veteran team, steeped in repeated deep playoff runs.

Right out of the gate, the Blues pushed the pace. Alex Pietrangelo scored 1:03 into the game to provide an early spark and put at ease any jitters that may have crept onto the visitor’s bench at American Airlines Center

Dallas’ power play got things going later in the period as the Stars shook off an uneasy first 10 minutes. Tyler Seguin found his fourth of the post-season to tie the game.

Goaltending at both ends of the rink has defined this series, and it certainly played a part in Game 6.

Jordan Binnington, who’s been an iceman of sorts, was stellar once again, stopping 22-of-23 in the win.

Two-hundred feet away, Ben Bishop‘s stat line won’t look great.

The Vezina finalist (and the main reason why the Stars won Game 5) allowed four goals on 20 shots before being pulled in favor of Anton Khudobin in the third period.

Getting yanked would suggest Bishop had an off night and that wouldn’t be totally fair in this situation. He allowed two goals in 33 seconds, but the first came after Colton Parayko wired a point shot right off Bishop’s collarbone.

Bishop fell to the ice but the play was allowed to carry on because St. Louis maintained possession on the play. A quick-thinking Alex Steen fired the puck toward the goal and Jaden Schwartz got it into the back of the net for a good — but perhaps controversial — goal to make it 3-1.

Bishop remained in the game but still seemed shell-shocked when Sammy Blais was afforded a 2-on-0 rush. Blais unleased a cannon that beat Bishop clean and that was that for Bishop, who was replaced by Khudobin and headed immediately to the dressing room. UPDATE: Bishop is fine.

Dallas has shown its own resiliency in these playoffs so it would be unwise to count them out. They need more from their big three, with Seguin’s goal the only thing they could muster in this one. A better start will help, and they’ll need Bishop back on top of his game.

Game 7 will go on Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET from Enterprise Center on NBCSN


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Stars’ Bishop has injury scare in Game 3

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Dallas Stars (star) goalie Ben Bishop had trouble getting up after falling awkwardly making a save during the second period of Game 3 against the St. Louis Blues.

[Airing on NBCSN — stream here]

The good news is that Bishop didn’t leave Game 3 at all. In fact, during that same frame, Bishop made one of his trademark tremendous passes to set up an Andrew Cogliano semi-breakaway, and stopped Ryan O'Reilly on a similar opportunity. Performance-wise, it’s difficult to really tell that Bishop might be dealing something, although maybe you’d make a mild argument that it had some impact on the 2-1 goal?

Maybe Bishop and the Stars dodged a bullet, and we’re merely worried about a close call.

Still, there are a few reasons to at least monitor Bishop:

  • Bishop’s injury history is undeniable.
  • As one of the largest goalies in the NHL, he’s more likely to aggravate injuries new and old. That’s the disadvantage to boasting the sort of towering frame that teams covet. He’s also 32, so Bishop’s dealt with quite a bit of wear and tear, even if you ignore his size.
  • The situation could get worse once adrenaline wears off, whether that may mean during an intermission, or possibly after Game 3 altogether.
  • In the foreseeable situation where Bishop plays hurt, it’s possible he could be less mobile. Would he be less able to move post-to-post? Might he struggle to get to loose pucks and rebounds?

On the bright side, if Bishop needs to miss time, Anton Khudobin was almost as lights-out this season as Bishop was, aside from when Bishop somehow found yet another gear toward the end of the regular season. Khudobin’s a veteran, although rust would be a consideration, as he hasn’t played since April 5.

Again, this could be concern over nothing, but it certainly looked painful. Then again, goalies can bend their bodies like Gumby, in ways that almost seem inhuman, so it might not be as bad as it looked.

Game 3 is on NBC; stream it here.

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.