Radek Faksa

Long-term outlook for Dallas Stars: Free agents, prospects, and more

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Dallas Stars.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn stand as the Stars’ highest-paid players (almost $10M per year for each), and management’s most sought-after scapegoats. If CEO Jim Lites & Co. had issues with Seguin (28, contract expires after 2026-27) and Benn (30, 2024-25) already, one can only imagine how nasty things might get as Father Time really rubs it in.

At least both remain effective if you keep expectations fair — especially Seguin. Even if the Stars’ staunch and stingy system does little to goose their counting stats.

By investing quite a bit of term in Esa Lindell, the Stars figure to lean on Lindell, Miro Heiskanen, and John Klingberg for the foreseeable future. Heiskanen’s rookie deal runs out after next season, while Klingberg will only be a bargain through 2021-22.

Ben Bishop continues to provide fantastic goaltending, easily exceeding his near-$5M AAV so far. At 33, it’s fair to wonder if a big slide is coming, so that might go from a bargain to a burden before Bishop’s contract expires after 2022-23.

It will be interesting to see who else joins the core. Looking at the list of pending free agents alone, the Stars face interesting contract challenges with Hintz, Faksa, and Gurianov. The hope is those forwards can pick up the slack for aging players like Alexander Radulov, Joe Pavelski, and Andrew Cogliano.

One would think that a goalie-needy team would drive Khudobin out of the backup goalie price range, but if not, Dallas would be wise to see how much longer their two-headed monster over 33-year-old goalies can keep this up.

Seeing Hanzal’s cursed contract ($4.75M AAV) come off the books must be a massive, Hanzal-sized relief.

Long-term needs for Stars

Khudobin and Bishop delivered shockingly strong results, even for those who favored the two, but again, they’re both 33. Getting younger in net needs to be an emphasis, whether that means a younger (cheaper) backup, or someone on the horizon. Maybe prospect Jake Oettinger could be the answer to a number of questions?

Finding a better balance between risk and rewards lingers as a more abstract key.

Does that mean finding a different coaching option other than interim bench boss Rick Bowness? Perhaps. Seeing Seguin languish with a modest team lead in points at 50 is already a bummer. No one else reaching 40 points in 2019-20 is downright alarming.

There are some nice supplementary pieces in guys like Hintz, but if Seguin and Benn continue to sink from superstars to stars, do the Stars have enough star power? If not, they’ll need to manufacture goals by committee.

Long-term strengths for Stars

A different chef might be able to put together a winning recipe with the ingredients on hand.

In particular, there are pieces to ice a modern, mobile defense. Heiskanen already hovers somewhere between star and full-fledged superstar. Klingberg suffered through a disappointing 2019-20, yet he still has a lot of talent, and could rebound in a more creative setup.

While Lindell is a bit more meat-and-potatoes, prospect Thomas Harley provides potential for more explosive offense from the Stars’ defense.

Speaking of prospects, Ty Dellandrea and Jason Robertson might eventually help the Stars improve their depth on offense. If those two work out, they could help Dallas patch up slippage for Benn and Seguin alongside the likes of Hintz.

The Athletic’s Scott Wheeler ranked the Stars’ farm system 18th overall in January (sub required), while his Athletic colleague placed Dallas’ sub-23 group at 15th. That’s not world-beating stuff, but it’s also pretty solid for a team that’s becoming a fairly consistent playoff squad.

Goaltending might remain a strength if Bishop ends up being one of those goalies who ages well. We’ll see.

Overall, Heiskanen stands out as the player Stars fans should be most excited about. There are a decent number of others, especially if Seguin gets better puck luck than the 6.9 shooting percentage that made his 2019-20 season far from nice.

MORE STARS:
• 2019-20 season summary
• Surprises and disappointments

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 Buzzer: Elvis rolls on for Blue Jackets; Matthews hits 40

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THREE STARS

1. Elvis Merzlikins, Blue Jackets

The Blue Jackets rookie needed only 16 saves to record his second straight shutout in a 2-0 win over the Red Wings. He’s now undefeated in his last eight appearances, the longest win streak by a Blue Jackets rookie goaltender ever. Merzlikins also took over the NHL lead in shutouts with five. According to the NHL, only nine different rookie goaltenders in league history have picked up a win in nine-plus consecutive regular season appearances.

2. Auston Matthews, Maple Leafs

The Maple Leafs forward reached 40 goals for the second time in his career during a 5-4 overtime win over the Ducks. He also added three helpers, including one on John Tavares‘ winner. In tying his career high in goals, Matthews became the fifth player in franchise history to record multiple 40-goal seasons, joining the likes of Darryl Sittler, Lanny McDonald, Rick Vaive, and Mats Sundin.

3. Joel Eriksson Ek, Wild

Down 2-0, the Wild staged a comeback and Eriksson Ek played hero by snapping a 2-2 tie with 25.7 seconds to go with his second of the game.

Devan Dubnyk was tremendous with 31 saves, including this late blocker stop on Radek Faksa:

PASSING PLAYS OF THE NIGHT

• Facing his former team, Jimmy Vesey made an impact during a 3-2 Sabres win over the Rangers. He scored what ended up as the game-winning goal and assisted on another. That assist kicked off a lovely sequence that was finished by Sam Reinhart:

Zach Werenski broke the franchise single-season record for goals by a defenseman with his 17th following this excellent set up:

STATS OF THE NIGHT

Zemgus Girgensons has five goals in eight games at Madison Square Garden since the start of the 2015-16 season. (Jourdon LaBarber)

SCORES
Sabres 3, Rangers 2
Maple Leafs 5, Ducks 4 (OT)
Blue Jackets 2, Red Wings 0
Wild 3, Stars 2

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

WATCH LIVE: Stars host Lightning on NBCSN

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Monday’s matchup between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Dallas Stars. Coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Lightning and Stars meet for the second and final time this season as each club is coming off an extended break. Both Tampa Bay and Dallas enjoyed their bye weeks last week leading into All-Star Weekend. Tampa last played on Jan. 17 (a 7-1 at WPG), while Dallas last played on Jan. 18 (a 7-0 at MIN).

Both the Lightning and Stars enter the second half of the reg. season locked in tight division races. In the Atlantic, Tampa is second with 62 points, eight points behind the Bruins but with three games in hand. Behind the Lightning though are the Panthers (61 pts) and Maple Leafs (57 pts) – each within striking distance of Tampa’s spot. In the Central, Dallas is thirrd with 58 points, four points behind Avalanche in second and 10 points behind the Blues in 1sr . Below the Stars though, the Central is tight. Just seven points separate Dallas in third and Nashville in seventh. Fortunately for the Stars, they have games in hand on the three teams immediately behind them in the division.

Lightning goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy was one of the two Lightning players in the All-Star Game this past weekend. The honor was well deserved as he leads the NHL with 24 wins to go along with a 2.54 GAA and .917 SV%. While he’s been great all year, the 25-year-old comes into Monday’s game as hot as any goalie in the NHL.

Dallas’ lone All-Star representative Tyler Seguin tallied a goal and assist in the Central Division’s loss in the All-Star Game. The Stars are hoping their top centerman will bring the scoring back home when they take the ice Monday. Seguin has zero goals in the last nine games. With 11 goals through 48 games, he is on pace to score just 18 goals this season, which would be his fewest in a non-shortened season since 2010-11, his rookie year.

The Stars average just 2.56 goals/game, which is tied for the fourth-fewest in the NHL. But they also allow just 2.46 goals/game, which is best in the league. Seguin maintains his lack of offensive output has to do with the team’s defensive frame of mind rather than a lack of production.

[COVERAGE BEGINS AT 7 P.M. ET ON NBCSN]

WHAT: Tampa Bay Lightning at Dallas Stars
WHERE: American Airlines Center
WHEN: Monday, Jan. 27, 7 p.m. ET
TV: NBCSN
LIVE STREAM: You can watch the Lightning-Stars stream on NBC Sports’ live stream page and the NBC Sports app.

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING
Steven StamkosBrayden PointNikita Kucherov
Ondrej PalatAnthony CirelliTyler Johnson
Alex KillornCedric PaquettePatrick Maroon
Yanni GourdeMitchell StephensCarter Verhaeghe

Ryan McDonaghErik Cernak
Mikhail SergachevKevin Shattenkirk
Braydon CoburnJan Rutta

Starting goalie: Andrei Vasilevskiy

STARS
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov
Denis GurianovJoe PavelskiRoope Hintz
Andrew CoglianoRadek FaksaBlake Comeau
Mattias JanmarkJason DickinsonCorey Perry

Esa LindellJohn Klingberg
Miro HeiskanenRoman Polak
Jamie Oleksiak – Stephen Johns

Starting goalie: Ben Bishop

Brendan Burke will handle play-by-play duties alongside analyst Pierre McGuire at American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. Tonight’s studio coverage will be hosted by Liam McHugh with Anson Carter and Keith Jones.

Stars’ Stephen Johns activated after missing almost 22 months

ST. PAUL, Minn. — Stephen Johns played in his first game in almost 22 months when the Dallas Stars visited Minnesota on Saturday night.

Forward Radek Faksa was placed on injured reserve to make room for Johns on the active roster.

Johns has been out since late in the 2017-18 season because of post-traumatic headaches. The Stars have said the condition isn’t related to concussions.

The 27-year-old defenseman hasn’t played since March 29, 2018, at the Wild. It was the last of a career-high 75 games in his third NHL season. Johns missed the last five games that year before sitting out all of last season as headaches persisted.

He played two games on a conditioning assignment with the Texas Stars of the AHL before rejoining Dallas on Thursday.

The return of Johns could coincide with the Stars’ first game without defenseman Miro Heiskanen. The 20-year-old standout left Thursday’s loss to Buffalo with an upper-body injury.

Johns made his debut for Dallas late in the 2014-15 season and played in all 13 of the team’s playoff games as a rookie. He has 13 goals, 15 assists and 306 blocked shots in 150 career regular-season games.

Stars rally to win 2020 Winter Classic, leave Predators in peril

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The Dallas Stars refused to let a terrible 1-7-1 start ruin their season, and didn’t allow a big early mistake to derail them against the Nashville Predators. After falling behind 2-0 thanks largely to Corey Perry’s ejection, the Stars rallied to beat the Predators 4-2 to win the 2020 Winter Classic.

Plenty of bad blood between Stars and Predators

Perry played a big part in the Dallas Stars falling into a 2-0 hole to begin the game. Mere minutes into the contest, Perry picked Ryan Ellis‘ head with an elbow, getting thrown from the contest.

The Stars made the situation worse by adding a delay of game penalty, and the Predators eventually took advantage with those two goals. That start left most of the crowd of 85,630 — the second largest audience for any NHL game behind only the 2014 Winter Classic at Michigan Stadium — muttering, if not booing. The Stars made sure that the non-Predators contingent ended up going home happy.

Happy is not the right way to describe the mood on the ice, though.

Perry elbowing Ellis was far from the only violent moment during this outdoor game. Few were safe during the first NHL game of 2020. Notice that even aggressors were wounded, as Radek Faksa showed when he was shaken up following a questionable hit on Mattias Ekholm:

Stars win third in a row

The Stars fired Jim Montgomery not that long ago, throwing Rick Bowness right into the deep end. Bowness inspired early critics, and probably will absorb more gripes as the season goes along. But maybe this Stars team will be able to rally around their unexpected veteran coach more often than not?

Dallas improved to 23-14-4, winning their third game in a row. The Stars put themselves in a decent position to possibly get the Central Division’s third or even second seed with this run.

Instead of caving after Perry put the Stars in a bad position, they rallied. Starting with a Blake Comeau goal with a little bit more than a minute remaining in the second, Dallas rattled off four unanswered goals. After that Comeau goal, the Stars scored their three third-period goals in a 6:14 burst. One cannot help but wonder if the Stars should be more aggressive, more often.

This marks the Stars’ league-leading seventh win after trailing following a second period.

Predators in peril

When the Predators were nursing a 2-0 lead, it seemed like the headlines would be about this being a costly win. Then the Stars erased even that silver lining.

Ryan Ellis left Wednesday’s game and did not return. For a team that needs to make every game count, losing a key defenseman ranks as a brutal blow, especially if Ellis misses extended time.

The Predators saw their losing streak fatten to three games, and now stare down the barrel of a stretch where five of their next six games are on the road. For a team that’s wobbling, could that stretch push them off of a cliff?

Both teams, especially the Predators, really wanted these two points. The Stars, too, face a tough stretch soon (five of six on the road, beginning on Jan. 8). While the Predators have wilted under pressure — including this afternoon — the Stars keep showing they can roll with all sorts of punches.

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.