Getty

Three questions facing Dallas Stars

3 Comments

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

Heh.

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 phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Under Pressure: Tyler Seguin

Getty

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.

It’s Aug. 10, and the NHL season doesn’t begin until Oct. 3. So there’s still time for Tyler Seguin to strike a deal with the Dallas Stars regarding a contract extension.

That said, as of this writing, Seguin’s entering the 2018-19 campaign with an expiring contract, and it’s easy to see why he might want to ride this out. You can simplify his reasoning in two ways:

1. Seguin probably wants to see if the Stars are capable of contending.

So far, Dallas hasn’t been able to accomplish a whole lot despite enjoying five seasons of Seguin’s services at a ludicrous bargain rate of $5.75 million per season. (Seguin’s cheap contract also intersected with the last years of Jamie Benn‘s own bargain, and is also joined by John Klingberg‘s dirt-cheap deal.)

The Stars have only won one playoff series since swindling the Boston Bruins in the Seguin deal, while they’ve missed out on the postseason altogether three of those five years.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off breakthrough]

Before you come up with a convoluted explanation for why Seguin is to blame for Dallas’ disappointments, consider the outstanding work he’s put in for the Stars. In 387 games with the Stars since joining their ranks in 2013-14, Seguin ranks sixth in points with 384 (tied with Nicklas Backstrom, who played in 402 games) and second in goals (tied with Sidney Crosby, who played in 394) with 173.

That’s pretty incredible work, even if you ignore how underpaid Seguin has been. At 26, Seguin’s never received a chance to choose where he plays NHL hockey. Maybe he wants to at least explore his options?

[MORE: Should Seguin re-sign with the Stars?]

2. Seguin might roll the dice to see if he can get a bigger contract.

Here’s where the pressure starts to really build.

If Seguin signed a deal this summer, or sometime during the 2018-19 season, it’s plausible that he’d leave some money on the table. You can certainly make that argument, with, say Nikita Kucherov.

(Imagine what a 100-point, prime-age forward like Kucherov could have made as a UFA?)

Before you paint Kucherov and other extension-signers as fools, there’s the obvious drawback of playing out your contract without a new deal: a career-altering injury could mean a massive loss in money, and the security that goes with it. Such worries can’t be totally disregarded in a violent, dangerous sport like hockey.

Still, Seguin’s about to close off his sixth year of carrying that $5.75M cap hit, which can’t feel great considering the fact that he’s essentially been a $10M player. (And probably worth more than that, if the Sidney Crosby’s and Connor McDavid‘s of the world didn’t sign deals that are relatively team-friendly.)

Seguin could really rake it in, particularly if the market falls the right way. If Auston Matthews, Erik Karlsson, Artemi Panarin, and other high-level free agents (UFA or RFA, really) end up cashing in, it could set a new high bar for someone like Seguin.

***

On one hand, it probably seems a little zany not to get millions when they’re guaranteed. Such thoughts surely inspired Viktor Arvidsson to accept a longer deal despite an honestly laughable $4.25M AAV.

It’s understandable if Seguin wants to follow in the footsteps of John Tavares, another star center who was grotesquely underpaid (the Islanders squandered Tavares’ Seguin-like six years at $5.5M), hit free agency, and called his shot for a nice deal.

Like Tavares, it might not be about every cent for Seguin. Instead, it could be about getting the closest answer to the best of both worlds: receiving a contract in the ballpark of what he deserves, with the team he wants to play for.

With that in mind, there’s just about as much pressure on the Stars to convince Seguin to stay, as there is pressure on Seguin to earn his next deal.

Still, it’s Seguin who will feel the heat if his gamble doesn’t pay off.

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.

Building off a breakthrough: Radek Faksa

Getty
3 Comments

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.

In the case of Radek Faksa, you can probably argue this as a bit of a cheat, as there’s a case to be made that his breakthrough happened in 2016-17. His numbers, both in the simplest terms and if you get into the woods with analytics, are quite comparable. In some cases, he took a step back last season.

[Looking back at 2017-18]

That’s actually the point the Stars should consider, though: there’s a chance that Faksa could have taken yet another step in 2017-18. If Faksa and the Stars want to go further, they might both benefit from taking a long, hard look at how they’re using the 13th pick of the 2012 NHL Draft.

To put things mildly, Faksa was used in a heavy defensive role these past two seasons, but that went to an extreme during Ken Hitchcock’s lone season (version 2.0) with Dallas. Faksa began a whopping 66.6 percent of his shifts in the defensive zone, up from an already hearty 59.3 percent the previous year. The 24-year-old also topped all Stars forwards by averaging 1:59 in penalty kill time per game.

It’s no surprise, then, that Faksa received more underground Selke hype than ever.

Back in February, Defending Big D’s Derek Neumeier made a compelling case for Faksa to at least receive more attention:

To summarize what all of these numbers mean: Despite constantly starting shifts in his own zone against tough competition, Faksa is astonishingly good at stopping the other team from producing shots and scoring goals. Opposing teams simply don’t generate offense when they have to go through Faksa’s line to make it happen.

That’s good stuff, and if you tend to fall down rabbit holes in Hockey Twitter (meekly raises hand), you’ve probably heard some praise – maybe couched in “give my guy attention” – for Faksa during the past year or so.

The tantalizing question, however, is: will Jim Montgomery do a better job getting the most out of Faksa?

It’s understandable that Ken Hitchcock would want to lean so heavily on Faksa. As progressive as Hitch is, he’s probably a bit more rooted in players specializing with certain roles, hence Faksa experiencing an even more extreme defensive burden.

Still, for a Stars team that’s desperately needed help outside of an all-world top line, it’s baffling that Faksa wasn’t given more opportunities.

Most directly, it’s head-scratching stuff that Faksa went from averaging 16:10 TOI per game in 2016-17 to just 15:16 in 2017-18. It’s impressive that Faksa has been able to score 30+ points these past seasons, considering context, but especially so as he scored 17 goals last season.

It’s pretty much impossible – for me, anyway – to avoid a best-case scenario comparison, then: what if the Stars make Radek Faksa their answer to Sean Couturier?

Now, it’s true that Couturier still carried a considerable defensive workload in 2017-18, yet the Flyers frequently surrounded him with better teammates and also gave him way, way more ice time. For three seasons, Couturier had averaged about 18-and-a-half minutes per contest; last season, his ice time skyrocketed to 21:36 per game.

The Stars should absolutely experiment with different ways to get Faksa on the ice more often, ideally rewarding him for doing all of that dirty work by giving him better chances to score. While Faksa would probably struggle to land on Dallas’ top power play unit, it’s probably not outrageous to give him more than last season’s paltry average of 14 seconds of PP time per game.

For years, the Stars have failed to convert “winning the off-season” into regular-season and playoff successes.

Part of those failings can be chalked up to roster issues – they’ve rarely provided Benn, Seguin, and John Klingberg with strong supporting cast members – but you can also argue that the cooks on hand haven’t made the best use of the ingredients on hand.

It’s quite plausible that Faksa could be even better than the already-quite-effective defensive player he is. He’s managed to score in tough circumstances. Why not give him a chance to take off in 2018-19?

The Stars could very well break through with him.

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.

It’s Dallas Stars day at PHT

Getty Images
4 Comments

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.

2017-18

42-32-8, 92 pts. (6th in Central Division, 10th in Western Conference)
Missed playoffs.

IN:

Blake Comeau
Valeri Nichushkin
Roman Polak
Anton Khudobin

OUT:

Antoine Roussel
Dan Hamuis
Greg Pateryn
Mike McKenna
Curtis McKenzie

RE-SIGNED:

Mattias Janmark
Remi Elie
Devin Shore
Stephen Johns
Gemel Smith

It’s been two years since the Dallas Stars topped the Central Division with their 50-win, 109-point regular season, good for second-best in the NHL in 2015-16.

Since then, it’s been a little bit of free fallin’ in Texas.

Last season was better than the year previous, so there’s a bonus. Of course, it had to be because the Stars were atrocious in 2016-17. The addition of Ben Bishop in the crease last offseason helped, but the Stars had a single line that was able to score with regularity. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov (also added last offseason), one of the best lines in hockey, each accounted for nearly a point-per-game. Of Dallas’ 231 goals last season, the lined combined for 103 of them and 229 of the Stars’ 609 combined points.

It’s a great line, but no one outside that trio had more than 20 goals or over 35 points. In fact, it was a defenseman — John Klingberg — who nestled in behind them as the team’s fourth-leading scorer. It was a hell of a season for Klingberg, take nothing away from that. But the gap between scoring is substantial and a big reason why the Stars couldn’t cobble together more wins. If their first line had an off night, the team lost. It was a simple formula for opposing team’s to key in on.

The Stars will have a new bench boss this coming season after Ken Hitchcock retired. Jim Montgomery and his puck-possession mindset take over the reins and one of his first tasks will be trying to find Jason Spezza‘s game. Spezza had an awful year, so much so he was made a healthy scratch in the wake of its terribleness. Father time hasn’t been kind to the 35-year-old over the past two seasons. He has one year left on a four-year deal that’s paying him $7.5 million per season.

The Stars do get a bit of a boost with the return of Valeri Nichushkin, who makes his return after two years spent back home playing in the KHL. Thus far, the Russian is the Stars’ biggest addition of the summer. Nichushkin seems primed to move into a second-line role and could be a part of Spezza’s revitalization.

Two scoring lines are better than one, so if Nichushkin can shock Spezza back to life, then the Stars might work themselves back into the playoff conversation.

It’s not the same type of hype train as, say, the additions of Bishop and Radulov in years’ past. Perhaps the quiet summer will bode well for Dallas.

The good news is Klingberg seems to be skating into his prime. He made a case for the Norris this year and has seen his game on the incline for a couple years now, becoming a vital part of Dallas’ offense with 67 points last season. There’s no reason to think that will change. Klingberg rebounded from a down year in 2016-17 to put up career highs, and when he played on Dallas’ good team three years ago, he put up solid numbers in just his second year in the NHL. That sky is the limit for Klingberg.

A new system put forth by Montgomery might spell good things for the Stars, who played under Hitchcock’s aging coaching style. A turnaround by the club this season might just help the Stars keep hold of Seguin, who is set for unrestricted free agency after this year.

Prospect Pool

Miro Heiskanen, D, 19, HIFK Helsinki (SM-Liiga) – 2017 first-round pick

The third-overall pick a year ago enjoyed a solid campaign in his native Finland, posting 11 goals and 23 points in 30 games while averaging the most ice-time of any player in the league with 25:06 per game. That all added up to a league all-star team nod and an award for Liiga’s best defenseman. Heiskanen looked the part at the Olympic Games in South Korea as well with one goal in five games and played in the world hockey championships and the world juniors to boot. A trifecta of sorts:

Jim Nill said he’s coming to North America this season. Some say he’s NHL ready. That could be a big boost for the Stars if he is.

Roope Hintz, LW, 21, Texas Stars (AHL) – 2015 second-round pick

The Stars like themselves some Finns. Hintz is another prospect from Finland who could make his NHL debut this season. He had 35 points in 70 regular-season games in his first pro season in the American Hockey League. In the playoffs, where the Stars were Calder Cup runners-up, Hintz had a further 12 points in 22 games.

“Roope has taken some huge strides,” Stars coach Derek Laxdal told NHL.com. “One of his assets is his speed. He is a big body (6-foot-3, 205 pounds) who can skate at a high speed, make plays at high speed. His biggest challenge throughout the year has just been playing with that consistency and playing a little heavier.”

Ty Dellandrea, C, 18, Flint Firebirds (OHL) – 2018 first-round pick

Dellandrea is the newest addition to Dallas’ prospect pool after being taken 13th overall in June’s draft. A center, Dellandrea stood out in Flint of the Ontario Hockey League despite his team’s rough season. He led the team with 27 goals and had 59 points in 67 games and models his game after Jonathan Toews, both on and off the ice. What’s not to like?

“Ty is an extremely talented two-way centerman with explosive speed, hockey intelligence and willingness to do whatever it takes to help his team succeed on the ice,” Stars director of amateur scouting Joe McDonnell said. “Over his two seasons with Flint, he has continued to improve every facet of his game and exhibits the character and work ethic that it takes to succeed in the National Hockey League.”


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

PHT Morning Skate: Salary cap allocation; restricted free agency improvements

Getty Images
1 Comment

Welcome to the PHT Morning Skate, a collection of links from around the hockey world. Have a link you want to submit? Email us at phtblog@nbcsports.com.

• The salary cap is serious business. Here’s a deeper look at how teams allocated it. (TSN.ca)

• Sticking with cap things, restricted free agency has its issues. How can it be improved? (ESPN)

• Does the Jeff Skinner trade have implications for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Artemi Panarin? (1st Ohio Battery)

John Gibson’s goaltending was the only thing that put the Anaheim Ducks into the playoffs this year. His deal is a major win in Orange County. (Anaheim Calling)

• A University of Buffalo study of ex-Bills and ex-Sabres players finds that CTE is ‘much more rare than we thought’ (Buffalo News)

• George McPhee didn’t seem to like his second line enough — despite all of its scoring — so he threw the dynamite at it. (Sin Bin Vegas)

• Will Ray Shero Pull Off a Late Offseason Trade? (All About the Jersey)

• Where will Daniel Sprong fall in the battle between coach and creativity? (Pensburgh)

• Can John Klingberg put together another Norris-worthy season? (Dallas Stars)

• A look at measuring the sustained success of an expansion team brought to you from the city that would like one. (NHL to Seattle)

• The Hlinka-Gretzky tournament has been a great showcase for prospects. Here’s some who stood out. (The Hockey News)

• Here are ten of the wackiest Wayne Gretzky hockey cards. (Puck Junk)

• A former Air Force hockey player helped in the Thai cave rescue. (Air Force)


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