Klingberg return could be boost Stars need to make playoffs

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For some time now, the Dallas Stars have ranked among the NHL’s most frustrating teams because, while they boast some outstanding high-end talent, they’ve rarely put it all together.

You might chalk a portion of that irked feeling to unfair expectations created by the dazzling early days with Tyler Seguin injected into the lineup, but still.

It’s probably unfair to dismiss the first season under Jim Montgomery as “same old, same old” for a simple reason: injuries.

To be more precise, the Stars – for all of their stumbles – hadn’t really dealt with the absence of near-Norris-level defenseman John Klingberg very often until 2018-19. He played every game in 2017-18, missed only two in 2016-17, and suited up for 76 in 2015-16, so missing six weeks is not a normal experience for the slick Swedish defenseman.

With that in mind, it’s not surprising that Klingberg is pumped to play against the Blackhawks on Thursday, representing his first bit of action since Nov. 8.

While rust might be a factor, Klingberg indicates that his recovered hand should be just about good as new, as he noted to The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub required).

“It can’t get any worse or re-injured by playing,” Klingberg said. “As long as there isn’t a shot to the exact same place at the exact same angle.”

(Aside: did anyone else hear ominous music in their head when they read about Klingberg saying the “exact same place at the exact same angle?” Probably just me, after reading Bobby Ryan discuss why he was unhappy that Kyle Turris was slashing at his hand[s] before their unexpected fight.)

Beyond wins and losses, the Stars have been disappointing because they merely haven’t always been as exciting on the ice as they seem on paper, considering the fact that they’re ranked sixth-lowest at goals for and fifth-lowest at goals against.

It’s easy to forget how much of a difference Klingberg can make in altering the pace of Stars games.

Through 16 games this season, Klingberg had a whopping 13 points. Some of that was unsustainable (11.6 is a very high shooting percentage for a defenseman, well above Klingberg’s already-fairly-high 7.3 career average), but Klingberg is one of the NHL’s most explosive scoring defensemen, however you slice it.

He was also seeing an even bigger role under Montgomery, averaging a substantial 25:03 TOI per game, up from last season’s previous career-high of 24:04. Losing an elite defenseman who played almost half of every Stars game? Yeah, that will do a number on your transition game, not to mention overall play (as Klingberg is excellent from a possession standpoint at this stage of his career).

It’s also enticing to realize that the Stars could rapidly approach the sort of modern, puck-moving defense that thrives in the current NHL.

Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen have both been taking on significant minutes lately, and could each make sensible partners for Klingberg, what with Klingberg being a right-handed blueliner and those two being lefties. (At the moment, it looks like Lindell will go with Klingberg.)

Now, sure, it would be even more exciting if Julius Honka would also get in that space-age, top-six mix, but maybe that would be too greedy?

Speaking of lineups, these thoughts bring up another note: the Dallas Morning News’ Matthew DeFranks points out that the Stars have only had all of Klingberg, Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alex Radulov in the same lineup for seven of 34 games so far in 2018-19.

As of this writing, the Stars sit at ninth place in the West with a 17-14-3 record (37 points in 34 games). They’re two points behind second wild card Edmonton, who have 39 points in an extra game (18-14-3), so the Stars aren’t far off.

For all we know, Klingberg could stand as the difference between Dallas making the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, or once again coming up painfully short.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

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.

PHT Morning Skate: Blues interested in Howard; Karlsson’s return to Ottawa

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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.

• Faculty members at Oakland University are being trained to use hockey pucks during potential school shootings. (Associated Press)

• The Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames made a minor trade on Tuesday night. (NHL.com/MapleLeafs)

• TSN’s Darren Dreger is reporting that the St. Louis Blues are interested in acquiring Jimmy Howard from the Detroit Red Wings. (Wings Nation)

• How are NHL teams using their AHL affiliates? Some employ veterans, some employ youngsters and some have players that are in between. (Faceoffcircle.ca)

• Seattle mayor Jenny Durkin says Seattle Center arena will be ready for the 2020 NHL season. (King5.com)

• Sharks defenseman Erik Karlsson is getting ready for an emotional return to Ottawa this weekend. (NHL.com)

• The Hockey News breaks down the best and worst moves Ron Hextall made while he was GM of the Philadelphia Flyers. (The Hockey News)

• Putting Mathew Barzal on the second power play unit has hurt the Islanders more than they realize. (Light House Hockey)

• Golden Knights writer Steve Carp wrote about Hockey Fights Cancer and the battle he went through several years ago. (Sinbin.Vegas)

• Is Julius Honka on his way out of the Dallas Stars organization? (Defending Big D)

• In his “31 Thoughts” blog, Elliotte Friedman wrote about Eugene Melnyk’s attempt to save a potential deal that would see the Senators get their downtown arena. (Sportsnet)

• TSN Travis Yost explains why fighting has gone down so dramatically across the NHL this season. (TSN.ca)

• Former NHLer Daniel Carcillo is trying to bring the hazing problem in hockey to light. “I moved away from home at 17 to chase my dream of making it to the NHL and making something of myself. And what myself and 11 of us had to endure that year was daily abuse.” (CBC)

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

WATCH LIVE: Wild visit Stars on NBCSN

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Friday night’s matchup between the Minnesota Wild and the Dallas Stars at 8 p.m. ET. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app and by clicking here.

As the Stars look to get back to winning ways they likely will be without Alexander Radulov Friday night. A lower-body injury could keep him out against the Wild, which would see Roope Hintz bumped up to the top line, according to head coach Jim Montgomery. Connor Carrick remains out after not showing enough during his time in the lineup, opening the door for Roman Polak to state his case.

Making a return for the Wild will be captain Mikko Koivu after he missed Tuesday’s game for the birth of his son Oskar. Marcus Foligno will also be back.

Meanwhile, it was last April in Dallas where Wild defenseman Ryan Suter suffered a broken ankle. As he once again eats major minutes (26:12 per game) on a nightly basis, he still has some hesitatation when it comes to plays near the boards.

“At different points going back for pucks I try not to put myself in that situation quite yet,” Suter said via the Star Tribune. “That play probably happens five or 10 times [per game]. It’s hard to get around it. You’re a little more hesitant. You think about it a little bit more. Hopefully soon that won’t be on my mind.”

WHAT: Minnesota Wild at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Friday, October 19th, 8 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVESTREAM: You can watch the Wild-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

WILD
Jason ZuckerEric StaalMatt Read
Zach Parise – Mikko Koivu – Mikael Granlund
Nino NiederreiterCharlie CoyleJordan Greenway
Nate ProsserEric FehrJ.T. Brown

Ryan Suter – Matt Dumba
Jonas BrodinJared Spurgeon
Nick SeelerGreg Pateryn

Starting goalie: Devan Dubnyk

[WATCH LIVE – 8 P.M. ET – NBCSN]

STARS
Jamie BennTyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov/Roope Hintz
Devin ShoreJason SpezzaTyler Pitlick
Mattias JanmarkRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Jason Dickinson – Roope Hintz/Gemel SmithBrett Ritchie

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Marc MethotMiro Heiskanen
Julius Honka – Roman Polak

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop

Should Seguin re-sign with the Stars?

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Here’s a hypothetical hockey scenario you won’t encounter very often: “What if the Dallas Stars didn’t drop the ball when Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were dirt-cheap.”

Consider this. From 2013-14 (Seguin’s first season in Dallas) through 2016-17 (the final year of Jamie Benn’s second-most-recent contract), the Stars allocated just $5.25 million in cap space to Benn and a mere $5.75M to Seguin. You could very fairly argue that Benn and Seguin were worth $11M apiece during that span, yet for four seasons, the Stars essentially deployed them at a buy-one, get-one-free rate.

Despite those incredible bargains, the Stars missed the playoffs twice and only won one playoff series during those four seasons. They squandered another bargain Seguin season in 2017-18, too, as they missed the postseason once again.

The Stars now enter 2018-19 with Seguin in a contract year, and GM Jim Nill told Mark Stepneski of the team website that the Stars hope to hammer out an extension, and that there’s “continued dialogue” on that subject.

From here, Nill touched on what should be some good advice for Seguin: he’s probably better off waiting to see if this team will finally put things together. Nill provided that comment when asked if an extension might happen before the season begins.

“I hope so. But I think I have mentioned from Day 1 that I don’t want people to panic if he is not signed when the season starts,” Nill said. “I think the biggest thing is we need to have a good season — get off to a good start. I hope he is signed by then, but I know if he isn’t, we’ll get a good year out of him and go from there. But like I said, I am hopeful we can get it done. We’ll have to see.”

Look, few would credibly question Seguin if he just decided to ink an extension this summer.

The threat of injuries makes an early extension very appealing, and the 26-year-old starring Star should make a bundle of money even if he leaves a healthy chunk on the table, which has to be a concern for a player who’s been sorely underpaid for his entire NHL career.

Seguin is presented with some undeniably relevant peripheral reasons to ink an extension beyond “wanting to swim in gold coins like Scrooge McDuck.” While the Stars have been disappointing during his stay relative to the ceiling many would picture, they have some fantastic supporting cast members, particularly Jamie Benn and John Klingberg. It’s almost certainly not lost on Seguin that Dallas features tax-related perks associated with “non-traditional hockey markets,” and also boasts a more easy-going media atmosphere than one he’d experience in, well, a “traditional hockey market.”

So don’t be surprised if he shrugs his shoulders and votes for the certainty and security that would come from a long-term contract.

It would be far more interesting if he waited things out, though, especially if Seguin values a chance at the Stanley Cup more than anything else. Let’s ponder some of the thoughts that might go through the splendidly talented forward’s head if he was assessing the Stars’ efforts and chances.

This isn’t exactly a “budget” situation – As great as Dallas has been at landing splashy trades and free agent signings, they’ve also made some big blunders. They’ve moved away from more modern-style defensemen (Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers), instead pursuing old-school types (Marc Methot, Roman Polak) who clash with the style that left opponents gasping for air during Dallas’ best moments. The struggles seem to continue regarding finding answers in net; Ben Bishop seems more stable than Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen, yet would the Stars be as excited to sign his risky deal in 2018 as they were merely in 2017?

So, yes, there’ve been some mistakes, but as much as the strikeouts sting, it’s better to swing for the fences than to walk away from possible solutions. It’d be far more dire if Seguin was pondering, say, the Senators’ outlook.

Seguin can confidently state that the Stars tried to leverage bargains like his deal, despite the lack of success. Some of those moves do work out, too, like the signing of Alex Radulov, so that would have to be a pretty big plus.

Testing out the new coach – Hey, it probably helps the Stars’ chances to move on from Ken Hitchcock. As wise as Hitch is, and even if he’s mellowed a bit with old age, he’d probably fall short of “players’ coach” status.

Jim Montgomery could end up being a taskmaster, too, yet there’s a strong chance he will – at minimum – lean toward a faster style, which would almost certainly appeal to a superbly talented player such as Seguin.

Some reasons to be optimistic – The Stars have a few players who might nudge them toward the sort of supporting cast that can finally give them sorely missing depth.

That’s true if Miro Heiskanen can make good on his potential as the third pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. Valeri Nichushkin‘s been a big disappointment, yet with the goal posts moved to a different position during his next Stars tour, he’d be a great find if he can merely fit in nicely on a prominent line. Some other young players may flourish under Montgomery, with Julius Honka standing out as a plausible beneficiary.

(There’s also the Erik Karlsson possibility, though those rumblings have died down for not just the Stars, but everyone else. Then again, the notion that the Stars are willing to spend money to make money might come back into focus there.)

Joyless division – I’d venture a guess that, as tuned-in as NHL players are these days, Tyler Seguin probably doesn’t factor the toughness of the Central Division much – or at all – into his future decision. Such a thought would likely be silly when considering a long-term contract, as things change fast in sports.

(Plus, Seguin might not be as plugged-in as others, considering that he at least claimed to have never heard of a “Gordie Howe hat trick.” C’mon, Tyler.)

That said, the ruggedness of the Central Division might hurt his viewpoint of Dallas’ chances as a contender if Seguin decided to really wait things out. The Stars could conceivably make big gains in 2018-19 and still fizzle out in the postseason simply because just about everyone’s likely to struggle against the Nashville Predators and Winnipeg Jets. It’s conceivable that the Stars leap yet still end up with the third seed, fall in the first round despite a good effort, and still seem disappointing.

If that happens and Seguin hasn’t signed an extension, well, who knows? We could see a John Tavares-type situation, even in an arguably superior situation than the one the Islanders offered.

***

Ultimately, this could end up being a pretty simple situation for Seguin. Maybe he has a sweet spot in mind for term and/or AAV, or merely just some no-trade-type provisions. It would be silly to lampoon him for any of that, especially when he’s cashing checks, playing on what should be a competitive team, and not shivering during the winter.

On the other hand, the Stars haven’t enjoyed a ton of success since braining the Bruins in that Seguin trade, and the second pick of the 2010 NHL Draft might just want to explore the free agent market.

What would you do if you were in Seguin’s shoes?

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.

What would Erik Karlsson mean to Stars?

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As people set off fireworks* and grill untold tons of meats today, it’s possible that the NHL’s grand tradition of explosive Fourth of July blockbusters could continue with an Erik Karlsson trade.

In 2013, the Dallas Stars pulled off quite the Declaration of Competence by fleecing the Boston Bruins for Tyler Seguin, a move the Dallas Morning News and others can chronicle on a yearly basis. Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that the Stars have been tabbed as the latest frontrunners to land Karlsson’s services … for whatever that’s worth.

The Athletic’s CJ Stevenson and Sean Shapiro both report that the Stars made the best offers for Karlsson so far. Shapiro’s latest update came today, while Stevenson provided additional details about who could move, as young defensemen Miro Heiskanen and/or Julius Honka could be part of the asking price.

It’s difficult to gauge how likely Karlsson-to-Dallas really is. On the bright side, it’s opened the door for people to drop in some early analysis. One of the most interesting questions revolves around whether it would be worth it for the Stars to risk including Heiskanen (an intriguing Finnish defenseman who was the third pick in 2017) in the trade.

For the moment, let’s put the prospect discussion aside, and look big picture about how Karlsson might impact the Stars.

[MORE: Five other sensible potential destinations for Erik Karlsson]

* – Be careful!

A superstar right-handed Swede on defense almost every shift?

As much as the Stars have bumbled in drafting and development over the years, John Klingberg‘s an absolute gem they found in the fifth round (131st overall) in 2010. He drew some Norris buzz last season before cooling off, and his dirt-cheap $4.25 million cap hit runs through 2021-22.

Both Karlsson and Klingberg are right-handed defensemen, which might inspire the Stars to primarily rotate them rather than put them on the ice at the same time if Karlsson lands in Dallas.

Of course, there could be exceptions. Landing Karlsson would force some shifting as far as Dallas’ power play goes, and it would almost be silly not to have both of them on the ice when the Stars empty their net trying to score a late goal in a game.

Yet even under typical alignments, the Stars would enjoy the blissful luxury of rarely icing a defense that doesn’t include one of them.

Since 2012-13, Karlsson’s logged an average of 27:23 TOI per game, second only to Fourth of July Minnesota Wild signee Ryan Suter. John Klingberg’s 23:03 ties him for 30th during that span, and the 25-year-old averaged a career-high of 24:04 per night last season.

Over the years, it’s been frustrating to watch the Stars land big-time players like Tyler Seguin only to surround them with mediocre-to-bad supporting cast members. That’s been especially irritating on the blueline, as the Stars have seen more modern-style defensemen leave (examples: Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers) while adding sluggish types such as Marc Methot and Roman Polak.

It might not matter a whole lot if the Stars win the Karlsson sweepstakes.

While it would be better if Karlsson didn’t need to lug Methot around like he did in Ottawa, it’s not as if he isn’t experienced in carrying lesser defense partners. Consider the bewildering fact that, via Natural Stat Trick, Karlsson’s most frequent pairing was with Johnny Oduya. In 2017-18.

Simply put, few players can make the impact Karlsson can, as he isn’t just great … he can also log a ton of ice time, keeping less-great players on the bench more often.

Win now, and win later?

Here’s something that might sneak up on you: the core of the Stars is getting a little older.

Jamie Benn is 28, and there was at least mild concern that he was slowing down – by his standards – last season. Alex Radulov was great in his debut season with Dallas, yet he’s also 31. Ben Bishop is 31 too, and sometimes that’s a scary thought, as injuries have been an issue at times for the towering goalie. Recent Stars additions are largely at risk of suffering age-related decline (Methot is 33, Blake Comeau and Polak are both 32).

Karlsson, 28, remains in the meat of his prime and would push a strangely middling Stars roster to a higher level. Dallas can’t wait forever to climb the ranks.

One potentially brilliant impact could be that, in landing Karlsson, the Stars might entice Tyler Seguin to stick around.

Seguin, 26, sees his absurdly low $5.75M cap hit expire after 2018-19. He’d be a UFA if the Stars couldn’t convince him to sign an extension, and while Dallas has had its highs, it would be easy to see why he might want to leave for a clearer contender if the growing pains continue. After all, that would be his first chance to really choose his team after being drafted by Boston and traded to the Stars.

Putting Karlsson in the mix could really inspire Seguin to just sign an extension. Don’t forget that NHL players have a ton of incentive to extend deals compared to, say, NBA players, as the injury risk must be a greater concern.

Such a risk might be worth taking if the Stars remain as a “bubble team,” but a future with Karlsson and Ben along with the security of an extension might be too sweet a bargain to pass up.

(Now, naturally, it would be a tight squeeze to fit Seguin and Karlsson under the cap, yet such struggles are easily worth the mental gymnastics.)

***

Few people outside of the Stars and Senators organizations know how close a Karlsson deal might be.

Even so, it’s entertaining to ponder the potential of adding another, well, star to the Stars. We’ll find out if Karlsson’s destination is revealed during this American holiday or if the hockey world will be forced to speculate deeper into the summer.

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.