Jim Montgomery

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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.

It’s Dallas Stars Day at PHT

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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.

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.

Q&A: Stars’ Tyler Seguin on Stanley Cup window, offseason motivation

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Tyler Seguin met Joe Pavelski for the first time this week as the two are in Lake Tahoe for the annual American Century Championship golf tournament. In a group together with T.J. Oshie of the Washington Capitals, the Dallas Stars forward will have plenty of time to get to know his newest teammate a little better nearly two weeks after Pavelski signed a three-year deal to leave the San Jose Sharks.

As Pavelski went through the free agency interview period at the end of June, Seguin, along with Jamie Benn, reached out via text on behalf of the Stars to answer any questions about the organization and the Dallas area.

“You try to not make it too much recruiting,” Seguin told NBC Sports on Thursday. “It’s not always been my style, but I just touched base with him about this tournament and obviously said I heard you’re in Dallas, if you have any questions [let me know]. We talked a little bit. We’re ecstatic that he joined our team, he’s a huge addition for us. Looking forward to the season and getting things started.”

Pavelski was one of three big additions by Stars general manager this offseason. Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera were also been brought in to add to depth up front and on the blue line.

Seguin said he is happy to have career shift-disturber Perry, who was bought out by the Anaheim Ducks in June, on his side. He’s also eager to have these additions help the Stars build off a strong year that saw them an overtime goal away from reaching the Western Conference Final.

“I think our team’s a competitor,” Seguin said. “I want people saying we’re a competitor. I want our expectations to be very high. I think we’ve always had excuses when it’s come to new coaches or a new staff. But there should be no more excuses. We had a good team last year and I think the Twitterverse said that we needed a couple more guys that could score goals, so we answered the Twitter bell as far as our acquisitions this year. You know, let’s go. We’re all-in, I’m all-in and looking forward to a great year.”

We caught up with Seguin this week to talk about his golf game, this past season in Dallas, the secret being out on Miro Heiskanen and more.

Enjoy.

PHT: How is your golf game these days?

SEGUIN: “Very average. I can play but I usually play around a 13, 14 handicap. I’m just out here for a good time, get to see people. It’s been exciting.”

PHT: How often do you get to go out during the season?

SEGUIN: “Actually more than you’d think. Living in Dallas, we’re members at a course out there, Dallas National. We see Tony Romo out there a bunch, played with him a couple of times. When we’re on the road we’ll probably play five, six times. But we’re only playing for fun, not too seriously.”

PHT: Your new teammate Joe Pavelski finished third in this tournament last year and 10th a few years ago. Is there someone on the Stars roster who could challenge him on the course?

SEGUIN: “Maybe Taylor Fedun could challenge him. Stephen Johns can hit a deep ball. Myself and Jamie Benn, we’ll go on a golf round and we might shoot an 80 or we might shoot a 92.”

PHT: Building off of this past season, what does it mean to you that Jim Nill goes out and adds someone like Joe Pavelski coming off a 38-goal year?

SEGUIN: “The thing is, especially with GMs, with teams you’re either going all-in and going for it or you’re kind of re-stocking. When you see a GM make moves like going to get a guy like Joe Pavelski he’s telling the whole team ‘Our window’s open, we’re going to win the Stanley Cup.’ That’s our objective. That’s our goal. That’s the expectation. As a player on the team you get even more excited when you see these moves happening in the summer. You’re always working hard in the gym, but you’re even more dialed in now because you know they’re all-in so you want to be all-in and make sure you don’t let your teammates down.”

PHT: With the way last season went, the stuff with Jim Lites, the second half push, the heartbreaking end in Game 7, are you a player who turns the page and looks forward or do you keep pieces with you to serve as motivation going?

SEGUIN: “I think it changes based on the player. For me personally, it’s changed every year. A couple years ago it was not making the playoffs and I was thinking about games in November when we lost to a team like Carolina at the time that we should have won that game. There’s things throughout the year that stay in your mind. Obviously this year there was being in Game 7 double overtime and losing to St. Louis and being one shot away. You know, me being the guy that’s usually supposed to get that shot in and then seeing St. Louis go all the way and win it, those are motivation tactics in my head that I use all summer. 

“As far as the noise outside, whether it’s the stuff that happened to me earlier in the year, I kind of let that stuff go, kind of sticks and stones sort of thing. I play for my teammates.”

PHT: Jim Montgomery had a strong first year behind the bench. What about Jim and his style is different from other coaches you’ve had?

SEGUIN: “The way he’s approachable, his personality, the way he knows when to be buddy-buddy and knows when to be a bit more of a drill sergeant. He had some growing times during this year with all of us like we did, but I’m comfortable with not having any more coaches in Dallas, I’ve had three already. I’m hoping Jim’s going to stick around for at least the rest of my deal, which is eight more years. I’m looking forward to making some noise.”

PHT: Finally, Miro Heiskanen had a tremendous rookie season. How impressed were you with the way he was able to play at such a young age?

SEGUIN: “Honestly, he got to a point this year that’s never really happened with me and that was I stopped being surprised. I was continuously being surprised by him and at the end of the season you’d see something happen and you’d just say that’s Miro. Me personally, I would have liked to have hid him in Dallas a couple more years and not have everyone know how good of a player he is, but he’s so good that everyone knew. He’s going to be a heck of a player for many years with the Dallas Stars.”

You can watch Seguin, Pavelski, Oshie, and NBC’s Jeremy Roenick and Kathryn Tappen, along other celebrities from the sports and entertainment world participate in the American Century Championship golf tournament this weekend from Lake Tahoe. Coverage begins Friday at 10 a.m. ET on NBCSN and continues Saturday and Sunday on NBC at 3 p.m. ET. You can watch a live stream here.

MORE: Joe Pavelski on free agency process, January return to San Jose

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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.

Stars splitting up top trio to jumpstart offense vs. Blues

Jim Montgomery admitted on Tuesday that breaking up his top line of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov is something he contemplates every game.

It appears as if the Dallas Stars head coach is going to go through with that thought for Game 4 (9:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN; Live stream) against the St. Louis Blues. During Wednesday’s morning skate, Seguin was centering Jason Dickinson and Mats Zuccarello, while Benn and Radulov were together with Roope Hintz in the middle.

With the Stars facing the prospect of a 3-1 deficit should they lose Game 4, Montgomery is trying to inject some life into an offense that has mustered five even strength goals through three games. Only one of those 5-on-5 goals have come from a member of that No. 1 line (Seguin). Benn and Radulov each have a power play goal in the series.

“Both lines haven’t been possessing the puck enough,” Montgomery said after Wednesday. “Let’s change up the lineup and see if we can generate more offense and more possession time.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

The Stars’ top trio have combined for 18 shots at even strength in the series, but they haven’t all been good chances, according to Montgomery, and it’s definitely not been enough in his eyes. According to Natural Stat Trick, in a little over 33 minutes of 5-on-5 play together, they’ve done well possession-wise (53.52% Corsi) but have yet to combine for a goal. Montgomery is hoping the split will lead to improved results across his lines.

Dallas has been down this road before having fallen behind 2-1 to the Nashville Predators in Round 1 before reeling off three consecutive wins to advance. The games don’t get any easier at this points, and Montgomery is hoping the situation his players find themselves in leads to a better showing and result.

“We need to be more desperate,” Montgomery said. “That’s the one area where, it’s two games and both games that we’ve lost, we’ve played good hockey but haven’t played desperate hockey. I thought the Blues were significantly more desperate than us [Monday].”

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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.

Stars, Blues find way with new coaches, go into Game 3 even

Jim Montgomery is a rookie NHL coach with a championship background.

With Montgomery, their third coach in three seasons after grizzled and somewhat different veterans Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff, the Dallas Stars have gained home-ice advantage in the second round of their Western Conference playoff series against the St. Louis Blues.

”Monty’s been awesome this year. He’s really put everything together,” Stars top-line center Tyler Seguin said. ”We kind of had an offensive coach (Ruff), then we had a really defensive coach (Hitch). It took us a while to figure out what our identity was.”

The Stars and Blues certainly both found their way with new coaches this season, with St. Louis surging under interim coach Craig Berube since he took over in the 20th game of the season.

After the Stars won 4-2 in Game 2 to earn a split of the first two games played in St. Louis, Game 3 of the second-round series is Monday in Dallas (8 p.m. EDT, NBCSN). It is the only game on the NHL playoff schedule that night.

Things are getting a bit chippy between the familiar rivals – Hitchcock coached both teams, Blues general manager Doug Armstrong used to have that same role in Dallas and Stars goalie Ben Bishop grew up in the St. Louis area before being drafted by the Blues and making his NHL debut for them.

”Playoffs tend to get chippy. It’s about holding your composure and finding the right times to do what you want to do,” Blues goalie Jordan Binnington said. ”Yeah, it’s heating up here in round two.”

There was a 72-second span in the first period of Game 2 on Saturday with three goals scored (two for Dallas) while skating 4-on-4 during concurrent roughing penalties against both teams.

St. Louis was 0-for-5 on power plays, including twice with two-skater advantages. The Blues had a 5-on-3 for 24 seconds in the first period, and had a 6-on-4 for nearly a minute late after pulling Binnington off the ice for an extra skater while on the power play.

”We ended up with the puck on the faceoff with the power play, we made a bad play and gave it back to them. Get the puck, get set up, we can get our goalie out a lot quicker there, and we’ll get the 6-on-4 with more time,” Blues coach Craig Berube said. ”It’s going to be tight (series). We’re both teams that play good defensive hockey, goalies are playing well. Our power play could have helped us … that might have made the difference in the game.”

Montgomery made the jump from college to the NHL last offseason after five seasons at the University of Denver, including a national title two years ago. He was part of a national championship as a college player at Maine in 1993. Before Denver, he was head coach and general manager for Dubuque of the United States Hockey League in a three-year season run that included two USHL titles.

Berube became interim coach for the Blues on Nov. 19, replacing fired coach Mike Yeo after a 7-9-3 start. They finished the regular season 38-19-6, including a franchise-record 11-game winning streak snapped by Dallas in February, and beat the Winnipeg Jets in six games to open the playoffs.

This is the second time Berube has led a team to the playoffs after taking over as interim coach. But the 2013-14 Philadelphia Flyers didn’t make it past the first round.

While not quite as drastic as the in-season turnaround by St. Louis, the Stars had a five-game winning streak that bridged the All-Star break and avoided a late-season collapse like last year that kept them out of the playoffs. In a four-game stretch through Canada late this season, they picked up seven of a possible eight points.

”We trusted the process. It took awhile,” Benn said. ”We figured out what our identity was kind of around the All-Star break … we haven’t looked back and been playing some good hockey.”

SOLO SHIFT

For only the second day since the NHL playoffs started April 10, there is only one game to watch Monday.

The only previous day without multiple games was last Wednesday, when Carolina beat Washington in double-overtime Game 7 to advance in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

After Monday, there is the chance for multiple games every day through at least May 8, depending on how many games are needed for each second-round series.

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