Roman Polak

Q&A: Ben Bishop on Stars’ summer, lessons from 2019 playoffs

Ben Bishop grew up in St. Louis and has a family filled with Blues fans. So imagine how awkward it was during the Dallas Stars’ Round 2 seven-game series defeat at the hands of the eventual Stanley Cup champions.

“I think it was a little different,” Bishop told NBC Sports. “My poor family, they’ve been Blues fans their whole lives. Obviously, when they win it they have to go through their brother or son, so I think it was a little bit different for the family, but I know they were happy for the Blues. Just a little different feeling having gone through the Stars to get there.”

The Stars took a big step last season and have reason for higher expectations in 2019-20. The rising Miro Heiskanen, the emergence of Roope Hintz, the addition of Joe Pavelski, and banking on another strong performance by Bishop should make Dallas a tough out in the NHL’s most difficult division.

We spoke with Bishop about lessons learned from last season, the Stars’ summer, and more.

Enjoy.

Q. The success the first year with Jim Montgomery, is that a product of what he brought or a product of what you guys brought?

BISHOP: “A little bit of both. I think you look at Jim’s resume, he’s won everywhere he’s been — in the USHL, in college he won as well at the University of Denver, he won a championship. So, he’s got that winning pedigree that comes with him, so, I think coming into this year everyone was excited and we have some talented players and the combination it equaled a pretty good year.”

Q. How did that feel being back in that situation where you’re “Ok now we are there?”

BISHOP: “It was great, I mean that is what you train all summer for, the preseason games the regular season games, to get a chance to you know give yourself that opportunity to win a Stanley Cup. You know you have to get into the playoffs first so, I think being in the playoffs there is not a better experience or feeling. A seven-game series, there really isn’t much better as you play the games, kind of get a little monotonous and then when you get into the postseason and every game is all or nothing. So, every game is a lot of fun to be a part of it.”

Q. What do you take from the first round victory? Is that something you guys can build on?

BISHOP: “Absolutely. I think we had a lot of young guys [last] year kind of getting their first taste of playoff hockey and when you get in the playoffs to win a round and to have that feeling what it is like to go onto the next one, it’s contagious and you want to strive for it, to get that feeling again, so when we get there guys know what it takes to get to the next round. I think also the hurt of losing will stick with you knowing you don’t want to go through that again.”

Q. What have you done to ensure that you’re available to play more games perhaps than you have in the past?

BISHOP: “I think as you get a little bit older you have to kind of learn your body and know what has made you successful and unsuccessful in the past. I think I did a pretty good job looking back and seeing what happened last year and where I can improve as far as the nutrition reset and working out and what not, so hopefully we have taken care of all of that and looking forward to a long healthy season.”

Q. Jim Nill went out and added some veteran leadership in Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry.

BISHOP: “Well, I think anytime those guys are available I am pretty sure all of the teams out there wanted those guys. I think it just speaks a lot of Jim Nill and then the organization to be able to go out and get these guys and giving us the best opportunity to win. It’s really exciting and I think anybody would love to have those guys on their team.”

Q. With the additions, and the playoff success last year, what are the expectations for Dallas this season?

BISHOP: “Well, I think there is going to be the high expectations, but at the same time I think for myself you always set the same goal it is to win the first game of the season. You can’t talk about the playoffs without going through the regular season and you can’t talk about where you want to finish in the regular season without going through the games, so it is a pretty easy goal. You have to win the first game and then after that win the second game and then you kind of go from there because when you start looking too far ahead you kind of forget about what is going on right in front of your face. I think you have to take care of business and on a day to day basis and get to that first goal, which is making the playoffs.”

(The Stars are 0-3-0 and face the Capitals Tuesday night.)

MORE:
Roman Polak suffered ‘small fracture’ of sternum
Stars seek playoff repeat after ouster by Cup champion Blues

————

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.

Stars’ Roman Polak suffered ‘small fracture’ of sternum

16 Comments

The Dallas Stars announced that defenseman Roman Polak suffered a “small fracture” of his sternum during Thursday’s 2-1 loss to the Boston Bruins. Polak, 33, will be evaluated again in about one week, according to the Stars’ release.

Considering that Polak was hospitalized after being taken off the ice on a stretcher, you could argue that the news could have been far worse.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t a serious situation, and it certainly sounds like Polak is likely dealing with serious pain.

Via a breakdown from Healthline, this injury is often associated with high-impact sports, but also “falling from a large height” and “vehicle-to-pedestrian collisions.” A normal timeline for a recovery could mean a few months, with one window being for 10-and-a-half weeks. That process can also take longer if surgery is required.

So, while it seems like a fairly optimistic update, it still seems like a pretty significant injury for Polak, especially since he’s the rugged type of player who would almost certainly be involved in high-impact collisions whenever he returns to action (assuming he does).

Thursday was a costly night for the Stars overall, as Blake Comeau and Jason Dickinson could also miss a week or more with injuries suffered during that game against the Bruins.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

Stars’ Roman Polak taken to hospital after scary fall

6 Comments

(UPDATE: Stars say Polak suffered a ‘small fracture’ of his sternum. He’ll be evaluated in a week.)

Dallas Stars defenseman Roman Polak was taken off the ice on a stretcher, and is currently being evaluated at a hospital, after a scary fall during Thursday’s season-opener against the Boston Bruins.

You can see that awkward fall in the video above this post’s headline.

It’s been a night full of injuries for the Stars so far, as Polak joins Blake Comeau (lower-body injury) and Jason Dickinson (upper-body) will also miss the remainder of that game, and possibly more. The Stars already began the 2019-20 season without Corey Perry, who suffered an odd foot issue.

***

After the Bruins’ 2-1 win, Stars coach Jim Montgomery provided good news for Polak, but bad news for Comeau and Dickinson:

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• Your 2019-20 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.

It’s Dallas Stars Day at PHT

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 identifying X-factors to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Dallas Stars.

2018-19
43-32-7, 93 points (4th in the Central Division, 6th in the Western Conference)
Playoffs: Lost in seven games to the St. Louis Blues in Round 2

IN
Joe Pavelski
Corey Perry
Andrej Sekera

OUT
Mats Zuccarello
Jason Spezza
Valeri Nichushkin
Tyler Pitlick
Ben Lovejoy
Brett Ritchie

RE-SIGNED 
Esa Lindell
Jason Dickinson
Mattias Janmark
Roman Polak

2018-19 Season Review

By almost any measure, Jim Montgomery’s debut season as Stars head coach was a big success.

In other words, it wasn’t blanking horse-blank.

After missing the playoffs for two straight years despite GM Jim Nill’s frequent tendency to “win” offseasons, and going through a failed experiment with bringing back Ken Hitchcock, it was Montgomery who finally righted the ship.

Of course, it didn’t hurt that his goalies performed at an elite level — although you could call that a symbiotic relationship, as Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin made the saves, while Montgomery’s system made life easier for both veteran goalies.

Either way, Bishop’s work was especially remarkable in 2018-19. Bishop generated a tremendous .934 save percentage during the regular season, then nearly matched it with a .933 mark in the postseason. While the Stars fell short against the Blues in a tight Game 7 that went beyond regulation, Bishop was stellar, making 52 saves to keep Dallas in the running.

Despite CEO Jim Lites’ comments, the Stars’ dynamic duo of Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were mostly dominant this season and into the playoffs, often with Alex Radulov. Yet, it was an injection of depth that took Dallas to another level during the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Mats Zuccarello was a dangerous playmaker once he was finally healthy, and Roope Hintz‘s bulldozer style portended good things for the future.

[MORE: X-Factor | Under Pressure | Three questions]

As much of a bummer as it must be to let Zuccarello go, the Stars seem poised to make up that difference (and more) by snagging Joe Pavelski from the Sharks. If Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera work out as reclamation projects, then even better.

It will be a lot to ask Bishop and Khudobin to match last season’s brilliance, but perhaps a rising defense will prop them up if they stumble? John Klingberg continues to be a dark horse Norris candidate, who will hopefully play more than 64 games in the 2019-20 regular season, while Miro Heiskanen aims to build off of a brilliant rookie season.

Expectations are only going to rise in Dallas, and Lites can only get away with admonishing his top players so many times, so there’s always the risk that things fall. Bishop and/or Khudobin could struggle mightily, and injuries are a frequent headache for Bishop especially. New players might not jell with the Stars, as both Pavelski and Perry are playing on new teams for the first time in their lengthy careers.

Overall, though, there’s a lot to be optimistic about, especially since we’re really not that far removed from Lites ruthlessly (and foolishly) roasting his best players.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

NHL teams seeking free agent bargains should shop for ‘antiques’

Getty Images
2 Comments

With Jake Gardiner needing a contract, RFAs like Mitch Marner not yet signed, and at least a vague possibility of Rasmus Ristolainen-type players potentially being traded, there are still plenty of things to watch for this summer. It just so happens that, beyond Gardiner and very few others, the UFA market looks about as well-stocked as the bread aisle right before a big storm.

Interestingly, some of the best items in the bargain bins are those dented cans nearing their expiration dates.

During July 1, you generally want to avoid messing with Father Time. Yet, as the dog days of summer go along, there’s actually some logic to considering potentially cheap players with long resumes.

Interestingly, one July 1 signing is an example of the sort of bargain I’d pursue between today and when PTOs start to flow close to training camps in September. The Toronto Maple Leafs signed veteran Jason Spezza on the first day of the frenzy, convincing the 36-year-old to go from $7.5 million in AAV in 2018-19 to $700K in 2019-20.

Spezza might not seem like the sexiest choice in his current form, but that’s almost the point. Now that he’s no longer making superstar money, his positives can shine most brightly, and I’d expect him to be a nice bargain for Toronto.

While Spezza might be the best of the types of bets I’d consider making if I were running a team, there are still some intriguing veterans to consider. To make things clear, here are a few key qualifiers before we roll into some names: this list assumes that the contracts would be short, the dollars would be low, and the players would understand that they might have to swallow some pride with a smaller role than in the past.

[ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker]

The lower level of commitment is important to remember. If a cheap, one-year deal doesn’t work out, it’s easier to walk away from a mistake. That’s certainly an easier pill to swallow than to stare at an awkward situation where, say, Milan Lucic is languishing on your roster at $6M, and stands to be an anchor for years.

With expectations sufficiently lowered and contextualized, let’s consider a few veterans.

Cream of the limited crop

Jason Pominville: Fittingly, the best comparison to Jason Spezza is another Jason with a right-handed shot, and some great memories related to the Senators. (In Pominville’s case, it was scoring against Ottawa, much to the confusion and dismay of Daniel Alfredsson.)

Like Spezza, Pominville’s sneaky-solid production was downplayed because of his bloated salary; in Pominville’s case, his 2018-19 cap hit was $5.6M. At a sub-$1M rate, Pominville could be an economical fit for a team that wants a veteran who can still bring some value to the table, and would probably be willing to move around the lineup to make things work.

Actually, I’d argue he’s probably more versatile than Spezza, and thus might fit into a wider array of situations.

Even with all of their improvements, I’d strongly consider bringing Pominville back at a huge discount if I were the Sabres (and if Pominville would accept it). It sure seemed like he was a decent passenger for Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner at times in 2018-19, as The Athletic’s Jonathan Willis also pointed out (sub required):

Pominville was lucky last year to spend a significant chunk of time with Jack Eichel and/or Jeff Skinner, but he was an upgrade on Buffalo’s other right wing options on that line, which only really caught fire when he joined it (climbing from 3.1 to 5.3 goals per hour, and from a 52 percent to 55 percent shot share).

Why not bring back Pominville to occasionally be a cheap addition to the $19M combo of Eichel – Skinner, so you can then use the Marcus Johanssons and Jimmy Veseys as scorers on lower lines, getting them easier matchups? Just a thought.

Similar scenarios could make sense for other cap-strapped teams, too.

Justin Williams: Every indication is that Williams’ choices seem to boil down to retirement or returning to the Carolina Hurricanes.

But just to throw it out there: even during his age 37 season (Williams turns 38 in October), “Mr. Game 7” was more than a guy who shows up in clutch moments. Williams looked almost ridiculous from an advanced stats perspective last season, and brings the sort of intangibles that makes someone a “Storm Surge” innovator.

If I’m another team with some cap space, I’d at least try to wave some one-year money around to see if it might entice Williams to consider branching out. At minimum, Carolina should keep a spot warm for the winger.

Veteran specialists

Brian Boyle: The Predators continued their tradition of paying big premiums for huge depth centers in trading a second-rounder to rent Boyle this past season, so it’s clear that at last some teams see value in Boyle as a large defensive presence who can use that size to screen goalies during the occasional power play stint.

If Boyle costs you big assets, then meh. If he’s cheap and doesn’t command much term, then he could be appealing as the center of an all-defense third or fourth line. (At this stage, fourth would be preferable, but different teams have different situations.)

Thomas Vanek: On the absolute other end of the spectrum, you have Vanek, who would need to be sheltered with limited five-on-five minutes, but might give you some offense in a pinch.

Basically, I’d envision Vanek in the Sam Gagner role during Gagner’s brief time as a power-play specialist for the Columbus Blue Jackets. The 35-year-old managed 36 points in 64 games last season, and scored 24 goals and 56 in 80 games in 2017-18.

Sure, his all-around game makes him less of a net positive overall, but a savvy coach could yield decent returns while limiting risks.

Dented cans

  • Chad Johnson: The 33-year-old’s save percentage was below 90 for the past two seasons, so maybe he’s as done as the former Bengals receiver who shares his name. But if he’d be willing to take on a role as a third goalie – one who could easily be moved between the AHL and NHL – then he could provide some injury insulation. From 2012-13 to 2016-17, Johnson generated a solid .915 save percentage, matching Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller during that span. Maybe he still has something to offer, even just marginally so?
  • Dan Girardi, Niklas Kronwall, Deryk Engelland: Here’s a theory: virtually all NHL coaches need that “toy.” Almost every coach has a player they love who … frankly, isn’t really worthy of those minutes and opportunities, yet the coach fawns over them nonetheless.

Consider Alain Vigneault when he searched for excuses to play Tanner Glass in New York, or Mike Babcock’s love of Roman Polak.

Personally, I’d try not to indulge such bad habits in a coach, yet what if the situation basically demands it?

If such affairs are unavoidable, maybe the key is to limit the damage by getting a cheaper option, one who hopefully wouldn’t get too much playing time, either. The hope would be that, if you give an old coach some old, beat-up player, they’d be more willing to also allow a younger player a longer leash.

Yeah … not the greatest situation, and I’d avoid the Girardis, but these GMs know their coaches better than anyone else.

***

Again, it’s crucial to realize that the above list is full of imperfect players, or ones who will only push you forward with baby steps, not giant leaps for hockey-kind. Even ones I like more (Pominville, Williams if he’d listen to offers from outside the Carolinas) aren’t going to save a GM’s job. And with that aforementioned group of veteran defensemen, some of these options would be less about improving and more about accepting lesser evils to appease the sometimes strange whims of NHL head coaches.

In some cases, veteran players might even sign PTOs, which would allow teams to see if they can find a spot in the lineup and chemistry with the team before even handing out a guaranteed contract.

This list isn’t necessarily comprehensive, either, so fire away if you have suggestions. In the case of this post, the veteran UFA options are 32 and older, if that helps.

MORE FREE AGENCY FUN:
Three signings that teams will regret
Five remaining UFAs who could bring value, the mostly young version
Looking at every team’s offseason in Power Rankings form
• The high-risk, high-reward contracts signed on July 1 frequently end in trades or buyouts.

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.