The narrative is becoming almost as much of a trope as the Capitals suffering playoff heartbreak or the Hurricanes not even getting to the postseason. Year after year, the Dallas Stars “win” the off-season, yet they frustrate as much as they titillate when the pucks drop.
For years, mediocre-to-putrid goaltending has been tabbed as the culprit. There’s no denying that there have been disappointments in that area, especially since they keep spending big bucks hoping to cure those ills.
[Once again, Stars’ hope hinge on Kari Lehtonen.]
Checking all the boxes
The thing with success in the NHL is that there is no “magic bullet.”
Sure, the Penguins lucked out in being putrid at the right times to land Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and other key players with lottery picks. Even so, they’ve also unearthed some gems later in drafts (Kris Letang, Jake Guentzel) and made shrewd trades (Phil Kessel is the gift that keeps giving). They’ve also had a keen eye when it comes to who to keep or not keep in free agency, generally speaking.
In other words, the best teams may stumble here or there, but they’re generally good-to-great in just about every area.
The Stars hit a grand slam in the Tyler Seguin trade, made a shrewd signing in Alex Radulov, and enjoyed some nice wins in other moves. You can nitpick the style elements of bringing back Ken Hitchcock, but there are pluses to adding the Hall of Famer’s beautiful hockey mind.
Beyond goaltending, the Stars’ struggles in drafting and/or developing players really seems to be holding them back.
Not feeling the draft
Now, that’s not to say that they never find nice players on draft weekend. After all, they unearthed Jamie Benn in the fifth round (129th overall) in 2007 and poached John Klingberg with a fifth-rounder, too (131st pick in 2010).
Still, first-round picks have not been friendly to this franchise. When they’ve managed to make contact, they’ve managed some base hits, but no real homers. (Sorry, Radek Faksa.)
The Athletic’s James Gordon (sub required) ranked the Stars at 28th of 30 NHL teams who’ve drafted from 2011-15, furthering the point:
Imagine how great the Stars would be — what with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov — had they managed to get another core piece or two with one of their many mid-first and second-round picks. Instead, they’ve nabbed mostly role players who don’t move the needle much.
Actually, it’s quite staggering just how far back the Stars’ struggles with first-rounders really goes. Ignoring 2017 first-rounder Miro Heiskanen (third overall) and 2016 first-rounder Riley Tufte (25th) as they’re particularly early in their development curves, take a look at the Stars’ run of first-rounders:
2015: Denis Gurianov, 12th overall, 1 NHL game
2014: Julius Honka, 14th, 53 GP
2013: Valeri Nichushkin, 10th, 166 GP; Jason Dickinson, 29th, 35 GP
2012: Radek Faksa, 13th, 196 GP
2011: Jamie Oleksiak, 14th, 179 GP
2010: Jack Campbell, 11th, 6 GP
2009: Scott Glennie, 8th, 1 GP
2008: No first
2007: No first
2006: Ivan Vishnevskiy, 27th, 5 GP
2005: Matt Niskanen, 28th, 792 GP
Yikes. Even if Gurianov and Honka come along, that group leaves … a lot to be desired. (And those struggles go back past 2014 and beyond, honestly.)
Blame scouting, development, or both, but the Stars aren’t supplementing high-end talent with the depth that often separates great from merely good.
This isn’t a call for perfection, either. Even a team with some high-profile whiffs can also get big breaks. Sure, the Boston Bruins passed on Mathew Barzal three times, but they also got steals in Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak.
If the Stars want to break through as more than a fringe playoff team, “winning the off-season” will need to start in late June instead of early July.
And, hey, what better time to do that than when they’re hosting the next draft?
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.