Alex Radulov

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Will the Stars open things up next season?

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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.

The Stars had plenty of reasons to play a … “low-event” style of hockey last season.

While Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn absorbed ridiculous (and profane) criticism from management, the bottom line was that they were generating most of the team’s offense, most of the time. Relying on Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin to keep the Stars in games made a lot of sense, especially when John Klingberg was injured, and Miro Heiskanen was thrown right into the deep end with big minutes and responsibilities.

You could picture Stars coach Jim Montgomery with a devil on one shoulder, and an angel on the other: do we keep going with what “worked” in 2018-19, or should the Stars try to score more goals in this next go-around?

Ultimately, the Stars’ style of play is an intriguing x-factor for 2019-20.

[MORE: 2018-19 review | Under Pressure | Three questions]

After all, the team made big investments in improving their scoring depth for 2019-20, as the Stars made a big splash with Joe Pavelski, and an interesting low-risk gamble with Corey Perry. With Roope Hintz showing potential for a breakout, it’s plausible that the Stars could go from a team that scored the third-fewest goals in the NHL (209) to a team that’s far more dynamic.

There are pros and cons to opening things up a bit more.

For one thing, it’s tough to imagine Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin replicating their fantastic work from last season.

Their team save percentage was a resounding .923 in 2018-19, versus a league average of .905, and the Stars enjoyed similar advantages at even-strength. Bishop was particularly brilliant with a .934 save percentage in the regular season and .933 in the playoffs, both marks that few goalies can pull off regularly, and 32-year-old Bishop often faces challenges even staying on the ice after years of wear and tear.

It’s not outrageous for head coach Jim Montgomery to take a “if it ain’t broke” mentality, though.

While the Stars weren’t the most exciting team to watch, they were often pretty effective once you consider certain analytics. Yes, they actually allowed more shots on goal per game (31.6) than they generated (30.7), yet the Stars look better when you drill down to other stats, as they were able to get a better share of high-danger chances than they allowed.

A boost from Pavelski and/or Perry doesn’t necessarily guarantee that the Stars should get into old-west shootouts with teams that have high-end arsenals. You could argue that Dallas may still be closer to mid-range when it comes to firepower, especially if Perry’s as done as he seemed during his darkest Ducks days.

But it’s tough to ignore that the Stars walked a difficult tightrope overall last season, only scoring nine more goals (209) than they allowed (200).

Maybe more than anything else, it’s crucial for Montgomery to avoid going on autopilot.

Injuries, and streaks both hot and cold, can change how you approach given nights during an 82-game season. There might be times when it makes sense for the Stars to be bolder, and also dog days of 2019-20 when they’re better off nursing leads and reducing the burden on veteran players. Montgomery also may want to experiment here and there, particularly if he believes that the top line could transform into two strong scoring lines now that Dallas has Pavelski in the mix.

With Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen providing the Stars with some modern weapons on defense, this team could conceivably succeed if they decide to pursue a frantic pace.

It should be intriguing to see how Montgomery approaches the way this team plays — and hopefully, it will also be fun to watch.

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.

Farewell to Andrei: Kostitsyn off to KHL

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Andrei Kostitsyn is on the move again.

According to a report from Russian news website Sports.ru, Kostitsyn has agreed to a one-year deal with Traktor Chelyabinsk of the KHL — the same team that employs Washington prospect Evgeni Kuznetsov and longtime NHLer Jan Bulis.

The move will be Kostisyn’s third of the calendar year. He started out the season in Montreal, scoring 12G-12A-24PTS in 53 games, before being shipped to Nashville at the trade deadline.

His time with the Predators was tumultuous. Flashes of strong play (he scored 12 points in 19 regular season game and tied for the team in postseason goals, with three) were largely overshadowed by the broken curfew incident in the Western Conference semifinals, an incident that also involved Alexander Radulov — who has since returned to the KHL, signing with CSKA Moscow.

By signing in Russia, Kostitsyn also ends the brief family reunion he and brother Sergei had in Nashville. The younger Kostitsyn re-upped with the Preds this offseason, signing a two-year, $6 million deal.

Tim Stapleton leaves Jets for KHL

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For the most part, Russian-born (and other European) stars tend to bolt for more lucrative contracts with the KHL. (Alex Radulov is the most convenient example.) Yet there is a smaller trend forming in the background: depth players – some even from North America – are beginning to view the KHL as viable option as well.

Ken Wiebe reports that (former) Winnipeg Jet Tim Stapleton has agreed in principle to a deal with the KHL’s Dinamo-Minsk. Stapleton had easily the best season of his young career in 2011-12, setting career-highs for goals (11), assists (16), points (27) and games played (63).

As mentioned earlier this off-season, Stapleton joins a lower-level exodus that also includes Mats Zuccarello, Erik Christensen, Sami Lepisto and Curtis Sanford. Even former Carolina Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice decided to give the upstart professional league a shot.

It’s not exactly the sort of raid that will leave NHL teams trembling, but it’s interesting to see marginal players get more bargaining power than they’ve likely ever enjoyed.

Since he’s on his way out of the league for at least a little while, I thought I’d leave you with this random AP photo where it looks like Jeff Skinner is giving him a “DDT.”

source: AP

Gaustad’s agent: “Nashville is interested in keeping Paul and Paul definitely enjoyed his time in Nashville”

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Given how much they spent to acquire him, it’s no surprise the Nashville Predators want to keep Paul Gaustad.

And according to The Tennessean, Gaustad would like to stay.

That’s the word on Friday as Josh Cooper spoke to Gaustad’s agent, Michael Gorman, about what the future has in store for the soon-to-be-UFA.

“We have spoken with the team. Both parties are interested and looking at options for the future,” Gorman said. “I know that Nashville is interested in keeping Paul and Paul definitely enjoyed his time in Nashville, so it’s our intention to see if we can get something done, and there’s still plenty of time for that.”

Gaustad, 30, was acquired from Buffalo at the deadline for a 2012 first-round pick and, while effective, didn’t exactly play a huge role with the Preds. He only averaged 13:31 of ice time (down from 15:05 in Buffalo) and was often centering the fourth line. That said, Gaustad did win 58 percent of his faceoffs with the Predators in the regular season (60 percent in the playoffs) and scored two points in 10 playoff games.

Looking ahead, it appears Gaustad has the opportunity to play a more prominent role in Nashville. The Preds have already severed ties with Alex Radulov and could lose a number of other players up front. While Gaustad’s unlikely to surpass top two centers Mike Fisher and David Legwand on the depth chart, he could slot in nicely as a third line guy.

Gaustad’s in the final season of a four-year, $9.2 million deal signed with the Sabres in 2008.

Report: Russian league giant CSKA acquires Radulov’s rights

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According to Puck Daddy’s Dmitry Chesnokov, KHL powerhouse CSKA Moscow has acquired the negotiating rights of Alexander Radulov from his former KHL team, Salavat Yulaev.

The move doesn’t come as much of a surprise given CSKA has publicly stated — for weeks — that they intended to pursue the ex-Predator.

On June 4, a report surfaced from Sport-Express that CSKA was prepared to pay a league-record amount for Radulov’s services for the upcoming campaign (CSKA is also rumored to be interested in Washington Capitals sniper Alex Semin, also for big bucks.)

Here’s what the Edmonton Journal wrote earlier about the club’s recent financial windfall:

Now that Rosneft, one of Russia’s oil giants, has taken over full sponsorship of CSKA Moscow, it gave general manager Sergei Fedorov carte blanche to go after the best talent available.

The fun doesn’t stop there. Earlier this year, the KHL club inked Igor Radulov, the former Chicago Blackhawk…that also happens to be Alexander’s older brother.