Jim Montgomery

Dallas Stars: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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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 surprises and disappointments for the Dallas Stars.

Stars firing Jim Montgomery among season’s biggest surprises

Amid a rash of surprising head coach firings, the Stars dismissed Jim Montgomery in December.

You could say there were surprises within surprises. In a media age where secrets are difficult to guard, the details of Montgomery’s “unprofessional conduct” still remain vague. Frankly, we still don’t know a whole lot beyond Montgomery announcing that he checked into rehab for alcohol issues.

To some extent, it continues the trends of the Stars presenting quite a few surprises off the ice. After all, Montgomery criticized Stars stars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn early this season, carrying on the f’ing horsebleep tradition from CEO Jim Lites in 2018-19.

On the ice, the Stars play a defensive style that aims to suffocate any semblance of mistakes. Off the ice, the Stars feel more like a soap opera.

Bishop and Khudobin keep chugging along

Whether it was Montgomery or Rick Bowness behind the bench, the Stars have maintained a steadfast commitment to defense.

It’s plausible that the Stars could find a more even balance between risk and reward, yet if nothing else, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin continue to thrive. Yes, Dallas does what it can to set the table for success, but Bishop and Khudobin remain an elite combo. Personally, any sustained run of great goaltending is a surprise, as goalies can be very unpredictable in the modern NHL.

Khudobin (16-8-4, .930 save percentage) has actually been even better than Bishop (21-16-4, .920) this season, but the cumulative result is goaltending that allows the Stars to successfully walk a tightrope of low-scoring games. Bishop and Khudobin both rank among the top 10 in Evolving Hockey’s goals saved above expectation stat, as Charting Hockey captures:

Stars surprises Khudobin Bishop dominant again

Being that both are 33, it’s fair to wonder if they can sustain this much longer. Either way, delivering such excellent goaltending again in 2019-20 served as one of the more pleasant surprises for the Stars.

(Granted, the Stars might expect that work at this point, whether that’s realistic or not.)

Klingberg and free agents rank as disappointments for Stars

Dallas aimed to take the next step by handing Joe Pavelski a three-year contract with a $7M AAV. They also hoped they were buying low on Corey Perry.

Rather than representing the next step, Pavelski’s been stumbling for the Stars, at least production-wise. Meanwhile, Perry started off on the wrong foot — a broken one — and basically face-planted from day one. His most memorable Stars moment will probably be his “walk of shame” after Perry was ejected from the 2020 Winter Classic.

While players like Roope Hintz made positive strides in 2019-20, John Klingberg seems to have taken a discouraging step back.

Klingberg is still useful, but it would be more appealing if he could maintain the Norris Trophy dark horse work from previous seasons as Miro Heiskanen comes into his own. Consider Klingberg’s strong multi-season RAPM chart (via Evolving Hockey) for 2016-17 through 2018-19:

Stars surprises Klingberg three year

Versus Klingberg’s less impressive RAPM chart for this season:

Stars surprises Klingberg struggles 2019-20

No, Klingberg has not been a disaster. Clearly, Klingberg still helps on offense, particularly on the power play. But this regression remains one of the disappointments for the Stars this season.

MORE ON STARS IN 2019-20:

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 season marked by coaching carousel, changes

Firing coaches during the season has been relatively common in the NHL for decades. The volume is nonetheless jaw-dropping in 2019-20 – and there is still half a season to go.

Seven coaches have been either fired or forced out. Gerard Gallant of the Golden Knights became the latest casualty Wednesday when he was fired less than two years after leading Vegas to the Stanley Cup Final and being named the NHL coach of the year.

Peter DeBeor, who was dismissed earlier this season by San Jose, was hired to replace him.

Five of the firings were related to team performance. Bill Peters resigned in Calgary after it was disclosed he directed racist slurs at a Nigerian-born player in the minors a decade ago and kicked and punched players behind the bench in Carolina. Jim Montgomery was fired in Dallas for unprofessional conduct and has since said he is undergoing alcohol rehabilitation.

While underachieving teams and poor records are the leading factors for the changes, owner impatience isn’t far behind. Brian Burke, a veteran former executive for several NHL teams and a current Sportsnet analyst, thinks most are far too impatient these days.

“It is a lot easier to turn around a business in some other area than it is in hockey and pro sports, and the Berube factor does not help,” Burke said.

Indeed, Craig Berube’s remarkable coaching job a year ago raised the expectation for fast results. He took over the St. Louis Blues in November 2018 and led them from dead last in the standings in January to their first Stanley Cup title.

Mike Sullivan led the Pittsburgh Penguins to consecutive Cup titles after taking over in December 2015. A few years before that, Darryl Sutter took over the Los Angeles Kings in December 2011 and led them to their first Cup that season. There was another parade in 2014 season.

Instant success in all cases. Like Gallant, who took an expansion team all the way to the Cup Final in its first year of existence.

It has all put more hockey coaches on notice in a field that already had very little security.

Of the 31 NHL current coaches, only three have been with the same team since the start of the 2015-16 season. Jon Cooper of the Tampa Bay Lightning has the longest tenure (March 2013). Paul Maurice was hired by Winnipeg the following January and Jeff Blashill joined the Detroit Red Wings in June 2015.

Including the seven firings this season (Gallant, DeBoer, Montgomery, Peters, Mike Babcock in Toronto, John Hynes in New Jersey and Peter Laviolette in Nashville), there are 14 coaches in their first season with their team this year. Berube, title in hand, has been on the job less than 14 months.

Many owners are tired of waiting for success, said Pierre McGuire, an NBC Sports NHL analyst.

“I think people look at history in the league and ownership in particular, and say: ‘What about us?’” McGuire said. “’You’ve told us about this five-year plan or four-year plan, and these guys are doing it in one year, and in some instances six months.’ That’s what leads to itchy trigger fingers.”

Change does bring some positives.

Through Tuesday, the Maple Leafs are 16-6-2 under Sheldon Keefe. The Flames are 13-6-1 under Geoff Ward. The Stars are 10-4-1 with Rick Bowness, and the Devils, Sharks and Predators are showing signs of improvement under Alain Nasreddine, Bob Boughner and Hynes, who only needed a month to find a job.

Still, only three are currently in playoff spots.

“I think (Hynes) got a rough shake with our start,” Devils defense Connor Carrick said. “Bad starts are hard enough to deal with in the NHL. I think bad starts with expectations are worse, and that’s what we were dealing with.”

In 1987, there were 21 NHL teams and 16 made the postseason. When Seattle begins play in 2021-22, there will be 32 teams – and still just 16 will make the playoffs. A postseason berth will be even more precious and frustration levels will likely grow.

“The industry has never been patient enough with coaches and it’s at an all-time low right now,” Burke said. “Casualty rates are at an all-time high, and we’re not done yet this year.”

Berube aside, history shows midseason changes rarely end with a championship.

Major League Baseball has had just two managers take over a team during the course of a season and win a World Series. Bob Lemon did it with the New York Yankees in 1978. Jack McKeon matched that in 2003 with the Florida Marlins.

The NBA has seen a midseason coaching change result in three titles. Paul Westhead replaced an injured Jack McKinney (bicycle accident) in 1980 and took the Lakers to a title. Pat Riley replaced Westhead in ‘81-82 and got LA another crown. Tyronn Lue replaced David Blatt in Cleveland in 2015-16 and led the Cavs to the championship.

Since 2000, no NFL interim coach has taken over a team in midseason and led it to the playoffs.

New York Islanders coach Barry Trotz was Predators coach for 15 seasons. He worked the entire time with general manager David Poile and the two had a plan they followed. They counted on each other.

“What happens when you’re winning, you’re the smartest guy on the planet,” said Trotz, who won a Cup with Washington in 2018. “When you’re losing, you don’t know a thing. You need people when things aren’t going well. In this business, when it’s not going well, you have the fan base on you, you have the media on you. You need someone that trusts what you’re doing and can say, ‘Hey, I believe in you and I don’t see that there’s a change needed.'”

Stars have extra motivation to grab at least one round of home-ice advantage

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Look, every sports team craves home-field (or in this case, ice) advantage. Even with that in mind, the Stars have plenty of incentive to wrestle away the Central Division’s second seed from the Colorado Avalanche.

The Kings don’t serve as much of a threat on paper, but let’s consider larger trends to see why the Stars should do what they can to take care of business on Wednesday.

Stars fighting through challenges while Avs hit a snag

Looking at the Stars’ and Avs’ recent records alone makes you realize that things could get tight.

Despite all of the turmoil that came from the surprise coaching change of Jim Montgomery being replaced by Rick Browess, the Stars settled down and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They’ve won four games in a row, with a nice chance to make that five tonight.

You’d think that the Avalanche would climb, not stumble, with several key players returning from injuries. Instead, the Avalanche lost their last game and are a mediocre 4-5-1 in their past 10.

Colorado is still ahead of Dallas for the second seed, but not by much.

Avalanche: 25-14-4 for 54 points in 43 games played
Stars: 24-14-4 for 52 points in 42 GP

Indeed, if the Stars beat the Kings on Wednesday, then it would merely come down to tiebreakers. Kind of hard to believe, right?

[Five players the Kings might trade]

Stars rely on home games

Again, the Stars have serious incentive to try to hop over at least the Avalanche. (The Stars have some chance of leaping the Blues [59 points, 43 GP], but it’s unlikely.)

So far in 2019-20, the Stars boast a 15-6-2 home record, while they’re only 9-8-2 on the road. A stark home/road disparity extends beyond this season, too.

  • The Stars own an 87-45-14 record in 146 home games since 2016-17, the seventh-best mark in the NHL.
  • The Stars rank seventh-worst on the road during that same span (56-70-16 in 142 road games since 2016-17).
  • Overall, they landed very much middle-of-the-pack since 2016-17 began (143-115-30 in 288 GP).
  • This home/road split carries over noticeably from year to year. Things were most extreme in 2016-17; the Stars went 22-13-6 at home and just 12-24-5 on the road.

Those stats provide reasonably compelling evidence that the Stars really are a far more dangerous team in Dallas.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly why the Stars have been that much better at home. Maybe opponents feel sluggish after eating all of that brisket and delicious Tex-Mex food? Perhaps a physical player like Jamie Benn takes it up a notch in front of a partisan crowd? The Stars morphed into a team that sometimes survives on a fairly slim margin of error lately, so maybe the sometimes-subtle home-ice advantages tip the scales?

Either way, with the door open a bit, the Stars should burst through it. Playing key home playoff games could end up making an, erp, Texas-sized difference.

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: Capitals withstand late surge from Hurricanes; Stars extend winning streak

The Washington Capitals celebrate a second period goal
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Three Stars

1)Ilya Samsonov, Washington Capitals

The rookie goaltender made 38 saves and became the second NHL goaltender to win his first eight road starts in the League. Braden Holtby has been the undisputed starter for a number of years in Washington and is a pending unrestricted free agent this summer. The Capitals’ front office will have a difficult decision to make with Samsonov proving that he can handle the responsibilities of a starting NHL goalie.

2) John Carlson, Washington Capitals

Carlson has established himself as the front-runner for the Norris Trophy this season and added to his prolific scoring totals with a beautiful assist in the Capitals’ 4-3 win against the Carolina Hurricanes Friday evening. Petr Mrazek skated to the top of the crease and Carlson feathered a pass from the point to Evgeny Kuznetsov at the side of the net for the easy tap-in goal. It was Carlson’s 14th power-play assist and 51st point of the season, which leads all NHL defensemen.

3) Joe Pavelski, Dallas Stars

Bigger things were expected when Pavelski inked a three-year contract with the Stars this past summer. However, the veteran forward displayed his two-way ability when he intercepted a puck in neutral ice, then wired a wrist shot off the post and into the back of the net in the Stars’ 4-1 victory against the Red Wings. It was his eighth of the season as Dallas extended its winning streak to four games which included a 4-2 win against the Predators in the 2020 Winter Classic.

Highlight of the Night

Roope Hintz scored the first of two shorthanded goals for the Stars on a 2-on-0 opportunity.

Stat of the Night

News from around the NHL

NHL Scores

Washington Capitals 4, Carolina Hurricanes 3

Dallas Stars 4, Detroit Red Wings 1

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Jim Montgomery checks into rehab for alcohol abuse, backs up firing from Stars

Montgomery statement Stars firing rehab
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Jim Montgomery released a statement on Friday, his first comments since being fired by the Dallas Stars on Dec. 10. Montgomery announced that he admitted himself “into an inpatient residential program” and described the Stars’ decision to fire him as “the appropriate call.”

It’s still unclear what precise incident — or incidents — actually prompted Montgomery’s firing. This statement provides the closest thing to an explanation, even if Montgomery only vaguely references “alcohol abuse.” The Stars merely stated that Montgomery was guilty of “unprofessional conduct” when they fired him weeks ago.

While announcing the firing, Stars GM Jim Nill said that no current or former Stars players or employees were involved in the “act of unprofessionalism.” He also stated that Montgomery’s firing was not related to abuse allegations issues that prompted firings of the likes of Bill Peters, and was not in reaction to the four-point plan announced by the NHL.

Montgomery enters rehab for alcohol abuse

Here are the opening sentences of Montgomery’s statement, shared by Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman.

“Losing my job as head coach of the Dallas Stars last month was a wake-up call. It was also the appropriate call,” Montgomery said in his statement. “I let the team’s front office, staff and players down. More importantly, I let my wife and my family down.”

“The team’s decision to end my role forced me to look into the mirror and decide whether I wanted to continue living a damaging lifestyle or get help. I decided to get help …”

Friedman’s tweet includes the full statement, which you can also read in text form at the bottom of this post.

Nill provided a brief statement to Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News.

“We are supportive of this decision by Jim and we hope that by pursuing this help, he and his family will be stronger for it,” Nill said. “Out of respect for him and his family, we will not be commenting on this situation further.”

State of the Stars

Veteran coach Rick Bowness stepped up from an assistant role to replace Montgomery in December. Since then, the Stars managed a 6-3-1 record, including a comeback win against the Predators in the 2020 Winter Classic.

The Stars currently rank third in the Central Division (23-14-4, 50 points in 41 games played). Montgomery managed a 43-32-7 record as Stars coach in 2018-19, overseeing a playoff run that ended in Game 7 of Round 2 against the Blues. The Stars were 18-11-3 when Montgomery was fired.

Full text of Montgomery’s statement

Losing my job as head coach of the Dallas Stars last month was a wake-up call. It was also the appropriate call. I let the team’s front office, staff and players down. More importantly, I let my wife and my family down.

The team’s decision to end my role forced me to look into the mirror and decide whether I wanted to continue living a damaging lifestyle or get help. I decided to get help. I turned to professionals in the field of alcohol abuse for their guidance and counseling. It has been an overwhelming and a very humbling experience knowing that I am not alone.

Today, with the unconditional support of my wife and family, and many close friends, I took another step forward by admitting myself into an inpatient residential program, where I intend to take the steps to be a better husband, father, friend, coach and mentor – one day at a time. It’s a process I am committed to. As I do this, I ask that my family’s privacy be respected.

Thanks, Monty.

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.