Jim Nill

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

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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 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.

Our Line Starts podcast: All-Star reactions, handicapping the Pacific Divison

Liam McHugh, Anson Carter, and Keith Jones give their impressions of All-Star Weekend, including rave reviews on St. Louis as a host city. Pierre McGuire interviews Dallas GM Jim Nill, and Anson tells you what Rodney Dangerfield and Ben Bishop have in common. Plus, the guys handicap the uber-tight Pacific Division entering the stretch run.

Start-1:50 Intros
1:50-8:00 Reaction to All-Star Weekend
8:00-14:45 Battle of Alberta heats up again
14:45-26:30 Pierre interviews Jim Nill
26:30-32:35 How far can Stars go?
32:35-end Handicapping the Pacific Division

Our Line Starts is part of NBC Sports’ growing roster of podcasts spanning the NFL, Premier League, NASCAR, and much more. The new weekly podcast, which will publish Wednesdays, will highlight the top stories of the league, including behind-the-scenes content and interviews conducted by NBC Sports’ NHL commentators.

Where you can listen:

Apple: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/id1482681517

Stitcher: https://www.stitcher.com/podcast/nbc-sports/our-line-starts

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/show/7cDMHBg6NJkQDGe4KHu4iO?si=9BmcLtutTFmhRrNNcMqfgQ

NBC Sports on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/nbcsports

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.

Stars fire head coach Jim Montgomery ‘due to unprofessional conduct’

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The Dallas Stars made a stunning announcement on Tuesday by firing head coach Jim Montgomery “due to unprofessional conduct.”

Here’s the statement from Stars general manager Jim Nill:

“The Dallas Stars expect all of our employees to act with integrity and exhibit professional behavior while working for and representing our organization. This decision was made due to unprofessional conduct inconsistent with the core values and beliefs of the Dallas Stars and the National Hockey League.”

Nill said during a Tuesday morning press conference that the reason behind the firing was not related to the abuse allegations issues that have come up in hockey and was not in reaction to the four-point plan announced by the NHL during the Board of Governors meeting on Monday. He also added that no current or former Stars players or employees were involved in the “act of unprofessionalism.”

“We approve [of] the NHL in creating this four-point initiative, their plan, but this decision was made before that initiative came out,” said Nill, who noted he had been in contact with the league. “There’s no connection between the two.”

Nill, who said he found out Sunday after receiving a phone call from someone he would not name, wouldn’t divulge details as to what happened with Montgomery, but did say it was not a criminal act and there will be no criminal investigation; it was all done internally.

Montgomery, who has two more years left on his contract, was hired in May 2018 and compiled a 60-43-10 record in parts of two seasons.

Assistant coach Rick Bowness, who was a head coach for five NHL franchises between 1988 and 2003 and was hired as Montgomery’s assistant in June 2018, will take over the role of interim head coach for the rest of the season. Derek Laxdal, who has been serving as head coach of the Stars’ AHL affiliate, will be added to Bowness’ staff.

The Stars currently sit in the first wild card spot in the Western Conference and are only five points out of first place in the Central Division.

“[The players] were very surprised,” Nill said. “I spoke to the team today and they’re very surprised, but we’re very fortunate. We have a good team, we’ve got great leadership and they’re going to get over this. The coaching staff does a great job and they’re going to get over this. It’s a bump in the road and they’re going to digest this and we’ll more forward and go from there.”

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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.

Oilers’ Puljujarvi, Stars’ Honka won’t play in NHL this season

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With Sunday’s RFA deadline having passed, neither Dallas Stars defenseman Julius Honka nor Edmonton Oilers forward Jesse Puljujarvi will play for any NHL team during the 2019-20 season.

Both Finnish players are plying their trade in Finland’s Liiga this season. Puljujarvi’s play has been particularly tantalizing, as the big winger has 24 points in 25 games so far for Karpat. (Honka has six points in 15 games for JyP HT Jyvaskyla.)

Of course, things feel more fraught with Puljujarvi because of the stakes. The 21-year-old was the fourth pick of the 2016 NHL Draft, and it was a surprise to most that he didn’t go third overall. While Pierre-Luc Dubois has been a find for the Columbus Blue Jackets, Pulujuarvi’s development has been bumpy with the Oilers, skewing more toward the Nail Yakupov route than that of, say, Leon Draisaitl.

Time will tell if Puljujarvi can prove that he actually isn’t a bust, but either way, it at least feels like he won’t suit up with the Oilers again. That said, Ken Holland has pointed to instances during his time as GM of the Detroit Red Wings where players seemed like they wouldn’t suit up again for Detroit, only for them to return — at least sometimes. (Jiri Hudler’s a decent example.)

It’s difficult to tell what Puljujarvi’s ceiling or floor really is, but it feels like he should at least be able to help an NHL team, so it feels like a waste. There are certain signs that he could at least be someone who brings something to the table, such as his Hockey Viz heat chart via Micah Blake McCurdy:

Solid enough. One could picture Puljujarvi giving the Oilers a much-needed boost beyond Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, if only new Oilers management could find a way to earn a clean slate (or maybe Holland would’ve needed to pony up some more money?).

To a less dramatic extent, Honka has been one of those players whose underlying stats make you think that he should be helpful … if nothing else, at least as a bottom-pairing defenseman, as the bar isn’t especially high at that level:

Alas, neither one could really stick in lineups, whether they weren’t quite ready for the NHL, found their way into coaches’ doghouses, or some combination of factors.

Both situations seem wasteful, even if each player might only be capable of fairly average results. Oh well, maybe we’ll see them in the NHL next year — wherever they might play?

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.