While strange things could always happen, the most likely question won’t be if the Stars can clinch a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but rather if they wrestle the Central’s third seed back from the Blues, or settle for a wild-card spot.
This brings up inevitable questions, then: should the Stars be buyers at the trade deadline, and if so, to what extent?
Stars GM Jim Nill told NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger that he’s interesting in adding offense, yet Nill also admits that other teams are going after the same thing, and that the market is pretty unpredictable right now.
“We’re very open to anything,” Nill said. “I think there are a lot of teams, because of how tight things are in the standings, they’re waiting to see where it all goes. So over the next two weeks that’s something we’re going to watch. We’re very open to making a hockey trade if it’s going to make us better. If we stay in the hunt the way we are, we’re open to adding to our team.”
The Stars are in an interesting situation as it comes to the 2018-19 season, but the future could be even brighter if they make the right moves. Let’s analyze the situation.
Is that the sort of thing that’s sustainable, though? There are a few arguments in favor of that continuing, and some points against it, too.
While the Stars tend to lose certain possession battles according to measures such as Corsi/Fenwick, they’ve been the seventh-best team at preventing high-danger chances against at even-strength, according to Natural Stat Trick.
The track records of Bishop and Khudobin are a mix, too. On one hand, Bishop’s had some great seasons, even if you ding him a bit for playing behind strong Lightning teams; meanwhile, Khudobin’s had quite a few strong years where he arguably should have been a starter or at least a 1B goalie on certain teams. The negative side is that injury concerns hover over Bishop, who’s a big goalie and is currently dealing with an ailment. Both goalies are 32. That’s not ancient, but as the league gets faster and more skillful, that number is more concerning.
The Stars have enjoyed goaltending success with Norris-level defenseman John Klingberg out for a chunk of the season, and with Miro Heiskanen needing to gradually earn more and more trust from his coach. It stands to reason that those young defensemen might provide even greater value as time goes on.
Goalies are unpredictable, and it’s tough for any group to play at the Stars’ level. There’s a decent chance they’ll be above league-average down the stretch, though — just maybe not to such an extreme.
You’d think that the Stars would be doomed starting in 2019-20 with Benn currently on a long-term deal at $9.5M and Seguin about to begin an extension that carries a $9.85M cap hit, but this team could be in a shockingly strong position if they play their cards right. And get a little luck.
When you consider the Stars’ -1 goal differential and other telling stats, it’s probably not the wisest idea to go all-in this trade deadline. Instead, Dallas could be in a very interesting situation if they decide to let the chips fall, although they could be excused if they went after a cheaper rental.
We’ve seen Matt Duchene with an acoustic guitar, so maybe he’d get on cowboy boots and settle in Dallas? Does Artemi Panarin consider Dallas the sort of city he craves? What’s Mark Stone‘s opinion about BBQ?
Maybe the Stars could be proactive and creative in doing a sign-and-trade to land a Panarin or Stone now, using Spezza’s big contract or something else to make the money work now. But the point is that the Stars shouldn’t settle for short-term gains when they could swing for the fences mere months later.
Yes, there are some worries. The aging curve seems to be hitting Jamie Benn hard already at 29. Bishop’s deal might not age well, since it runs through 2022-23. Despite some concerns, there are scenarios where things work really well for Dallas.
With Seguin settled, Klingberg on a bargain $4.25M deal through 2021-22, and Heiskanen’s entry-level contract running through 2020-21, Dallas has space opening up soon, without having too many big-ticket players to retain for some time.
Nill might feel like he’s on the hot seat, but for the sake of this franchise, hopefully the Stars don’t mess things up with panic trades, because some Texas-sized opportunities could open up very soon.
Things sound awfully rotten deep in the heart of Texas.
With the Dallas Stars stumbling along to yet another mediocre and completely pointless season, tensions are running high and fingers are being pointed.
Those fingers are going squarely in the direction of the team’s best and highest paid players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn.
This is nothing new in the world of professional sports, and especially the NHL, where the people at the top of the payroll will always take the fall when things go poorly, whether they are the ones most responsible for it or not.
But this isn’t your run-of-the-mill criticism from fans or the local press. This is over-the-top, extremely vicious, and irrational ranting from, of all people, the team’s very own CEO, Jim Lites.
Not only was it all of that, but Lites specifically went to local members of the Dallas media with the intention of going on the record to rip his team’s star players.
In an interview with Sean Shapiro of The Athletic, Lites used several expletives to describe the play of Seguin and Benn this season, saying they have been “f—— horse s—” and that team’s owner Tom Gaglardi is “pissed.”
“We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done,” Lites said. “It’s embarrassing, and no one writes it. Write it!”
“These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager, who I can’t speak for, but it’s not good enough for the job he’s done,” Lites added. “But we’ve had meeting after meeting after meeting. The accountability on the ice is not there. These guys were signed to big contracts because they were the third- and sixth-leading scorers in the National Hockey League over the past five years. They get their money, we expect them to not be outplayed every game we play in. And if they were as good as they’ve been in the past we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”
“But for me, it’s pissed me off, what nobody says is what is completely obvious to me: We are getting terrible play from our top two players,”
“If 14 and 91 don’t lead, we will not be successful,” Lites said. “I think this is the most talented and deep team we’ve had in years here. Certainly, this is the best team that we’ve put together from a talent perspective since Tom Gaglardi’s owned the franchise. Tom has allowed us to do everything we needed to do to be successful. Whatever it’s taken, he’s done. And I am tired of getting emails from him saying ‘What the hell is going on with our best players?'”
This type of candid, on-the-record criticism is almost completely unheard of in the NHL, and makes the rant from Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford from earlier in the season look relatively tame, if for no other reason than he had the good sense to not make his star players the focal points of his anger.
It certainly makes for great print and is highly entertaining to everyone outside of Dallas (especially everyone outside of the Stars’ dressing room), but it’s also completely idiotic and a far better representation of why they’re are almost totally irrelevant as an organization than anything Seguin and Benn are not doing this season.
Yes, it’s true that Seguin and Benn have seen their production slip this season. Yes, it’s also true that they are making a ton of money after signing new long-term contracts in recent years to remain with the franchise and are taking up a significant portion of their salary cap space. And yes, it’s also true that their current level of play is probably worth some criticism (especially most recently), if only because it is not up to the standard that they have set for themselves during their time in Dallas.
But to point the finger entirely at them, and to do so in such an outrageous way is completely baffling.
The thing about tossing out blame in the NHL is that whenever you think it’s your best players that are the problem, they are probably not the problem.
Star players take more blame because they have a more difficult job than, say, your bottom-six forwards. It’s easy to look at a third-or fourth-liner skating around with energy and praise him for always doing his job because his job, within the context of the NHL, isn’t that hard. It’s a lower expectation and is easier to reach and is something they can do on most nights. So it looks like they’re doing their jobs and carrying their weight, even if what they do isn’t always going to make a difference. Your top-line players, the ones that have to score the goals and carry the offense, have a far higher ceiling to reach and no matter how good they are and no matter how well they play they are not always going to reach it. And when they don’t, it looks like they’re playing worse than the fourth-line energy guy even though they are still probably doing more.
Seguin and Benn are having down years for them, but they are still producing more than a significant portion of the NHL, and more than anybody else on the Dallas roster.
That brings us back to Lites’ comment about this being “the best team we’ve put together from a talent perspective since Tom Gaglardi’s owned the franchise.”
How can anyone possibly say that with a straight face when there is not a single player on the roster outside of the top-line that has topped 20 points this season? A season where goal-scoring is once again up across the league.
(Alexander Radulov is third on the team in scoring with 29 points in 28 games, but he mostly plays on the Benn-Seguin line when he is healthy.)
When Seguin and Benn are on the ice this season during 5-on-5 play the Stars are outscoring their opponents by a 24-11 margin. They are controlling 52 percent of the shot attempts. More than 53 percent of the scoring chances. More than 58 percent of the high-danger chances. When you add Radulov to that line it becomes even more dominant.
When neither Seguin or Benn is on the ice, the Stars have been outscored 34-48. Their shot attempt share drops down to 45 percent and their scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance shares drop down to below 47 percent.
This is your deepest and most talented team? No, sir. That is a freaking lottery team.
How can you absolve your GM (Jim Nill) of any responsibility in that mess?
Lites talked about how Seguin and Benn were given the big contracts because they were the third-and sixth-leading scorers in the league over the previous five seasons. It was at that point that a rational sports team executive would have looked at that and come to the reasonable conclusion that maybe, just maybe, his general manager wasn’t doing a good job.
While Seguin and Benn were among the top-six scorers in the league between 2013-14 and 2017-18, they were making a combined total of $11.3 million per season.
The Stars had two of the league’s best and most elite scorers on their roster for roughly the cost of oneJonathan Toews. That was a steal. It was such a steal that it should have made them the focal point of a championship contending team with even remotely competent work from the front office. Do you know what the Stars surrounded them with during those years? They surrounded them with a team that made the playoffs twice in five years, only once made it past the first round, and was never a serious threat to win a Stanley Cup because they either never had the goaltending, or the defense, or the depth (and sometimes none of the three) to complement their two superstars.
Superstars that were being paid like second-liners.
The Stars surrounded them with a team where the third and fourth best players after them were a young John Klingberg and a mid-30s, past-his-prime, Jason Spezza. You want to talk about accountability? How do the people responsible for that sort of roster construction get a pass?
Can you imagine what Lites or Gaglardi would have said if Seguin or Benn had spoken out during those years and ripped the team’s management because they weren’t getting enough help and their peak years in the NHL were being wasted? Because that’s what happened, the Stars wasted the prime years of two of the league’s best offensive players and other than former coach Lindy Ruff nobody in a position of power paid the price for it.
Successful organizations start at the top, and it seems awfully difficult to be a successful organization when the people at the top sound like angry fans on the post-game call-in show.
Especially when those same people at the top refuse to look in the right places for who to blame.
You have the power to name to the expansion NHL Seattle franchise. What are you choosing?
SEAN: Kraken is already a popular choice, and as a fan of hockey history (and their original jerseys) I’d love to see the Seattle group bring back the Metropolitans name. But do you then keep the Metropolitan Division name? The NHL is stubborn for change sometimes, so I doubt it.
Let’s get crazy in this post-Gritty world and go with Sasquatch. It’s perfect for the region (ever watch “Finding Bigfoot?”) and would allow Seattle to welcome back Squatch, the Sonics old mascot. The jerseys would be great. The plushy toys at the arena team stores would be sold out on a regular basis and he’d be a welcomed addition to the annual mascot game during All-Star Weekend.
Squatch is legendary, and with the NBA likely returning to Seattle at some point, might as well get him started before he has double duty. He was a dynamic performer, willing to take big risks to entertain the crowd, and even had his own theme song, thanks for Chris from Presidents of the United States of America:
JAMES: Deep down, my answer is the Sonics/Supersonics, but I’m aware that a ton of people from Seattle are giving me the stink-eye just for bringing that up, so I relent. Go ahead and name the Seattle team after the Kraken, or some other mystical and/or tuff beast.
For my money, the greater battle revolves around the mascot.
Allow me to introduce “Jittery,” an anthropomorphic cappuccino mug with cartoonish arms, legs, and comical googly eyes. Let’s face it; we’re in a Post-Gritty world, so you have to go big – which usually means some combination of garish, frightening, funny, and cute – or go home.
Jittery would have the potential to edge the Golden Knights’ gila monster, with the far-flung dream of at least competing with Gritty for viral potential/mindshare.
The greatest potential would be in what you could put in the Jittery’s head, which, again, is a coffee mug. Would mysterious, coffee-like liquid splash out of its head when Jittery is excitedly celebrating a goal? Would Jittery cry coffee tears upon defeat? Maybe you could fill Jittery’s head with toys/treats for the kiddos, and the young-at-heart. Just imagine Seattle winning a Stanley Cup, but drinking out of their mascot’s head, instead.
This is clearly a bullet-proof, genius concept, and I demand royalties.
ADAM: I know there is virtually no chance of it happening, and I think any reference to it has always been made in a joking manner (or maybe even a half-joking manner), but I am 100 percent on board with the Seattle Sasquatch. I think the biggest reason I like it is just for the mascot possibilities. Look at how crazy everyone went over Gritty. But I think Sasquatch seems to have just as much potential, maybe even more. Think Harry from Harry and the Hendersons.
But given that Sasquatch doesn’t seem to be a realistic option, I think I can accept Kraken. I was originally opposed to the Sockeye suggestion but I’ve even come around on that, too, and I assume Sockeye Salmon hitting the ice will be a thing at some point no matter what. I’m not on board with Metropolitans. I get the history — and I love hockey history — but we need something new, fresh, unique. Sasquatch is the answer.
JOEY: I’m going with Metropolitans. That was the team’s name when they became the first American team to win the Stanley Cup in 1917, and that’s the name they should keep. Yes, I realize that you’d have to re-name the Metropolitan Division, but I don’t care. There’s hockey history behind the name and I think it would be pretty cool if they came back with it in 2021.
SCOTT: Seattle Kraken. Scrap the skyscraper odes and all that other garbage and RELEASE THE KRAKEN!
I’m all for this shift in marketing philosophy made popular by the Philadelphia Flyers this year with Gritty. It’s opened the door to other possible ideas that are, well, not just the same old cliche, safe stuff we’re used. Seattle Kraken has so much potential. Incredible jerseys, a ridiculous number of options for a mascot, a title sponsor with the Kraken Rum brand. There’s probably some death metal band with Kraken in their name that could sing the anthems and fit right into the Seattle music scene vibe.
I’m not holding out much hope here. They’ll probably be named the Skyscrapers or something like that with the Space Needle as their logo and some type of fish as a mascot.
We talk a lot about head coaches and hot seats, but what about some general managers who could follow in Ron Hextall’s footsteps out the door?
SEAN: It’s pretty amazing that Marc Bergevin’s seat has cooled considerably when you think about all the talk last season, but the Canadiens are playing better than expected and owner Geoff Molson isn’t close to making that kind of move.
Two GMs who should be feeling the heat are Doug Armstrong and Stan Bowman. I’ve harped on Armstrong since the Mike Yeo firing and am curious how long owner Tom Stillman will wait before making a change. Another season appears to be wasting away and some big names could be out the door by the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Then what? It won’t be a complete teardown, just a retooling if that’s what happens. But does he get one more season to make it work?
The move to fire Joel Quenneville hasn’t gone as planned and Chicago could be another place where big names are dealt, whether by the trade deadline or in the summer. Bowman’s helped construct championship teams and now some of those heavy-term, big money extensions have hamstrung building around the likes of Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Alex DeBrincat. Another playoff-less season won’t make upper management happy and you wonder if the changes won’t stop with Quenneville.
JAMES: Honestly, it boggles my mind that Peter Chiarelli survived last season, so if his Hitchcock Hail Mary falls short, that Oilers era should come to a merciful end. It’s nigh-criminal to accomplish so little with Connor McDavid and a bucket of other high-profile picks (which Chiarelli’s squandered either through trades, bad picks, or stuttered development).
I like a lot of what Doug Armstrong’s managed, particularly since – beyond Alex Pietrangelo – the Blues really haven’t been built by lottery picks. Still, it’s clear that the Blues need a change of direction, and a fresh voice would be more inclined to undergo the painful, necessary surgery to right the ship … which may, in fact, come down to trading Pietrangelo.
There’s also Ken Holland, if the Red Wings truly are planning on moving to Steve Yzerman, but can’t say out loud because of tampering.
Three more who I’d say are less pertinent, but interesting to watch:
• Jim Nill – Yes, he’s made some great trades, not unlike Armstrong. But the Stars also failed to truly take advantage of Jamie Benn‘s former-bargain contract, and seem headed toward the same with Tyler Seguin‘s $5.75M expiring after 2018-19. They’ve made significant missteps in slowing down their style (baffling with Seguin & Co. as their best players), failed to find difference-making goalies despite paying huge money, and have whiffed hard on some key drafts. Nill’s been there since April 2013. It’s fair to wonder about him if Dallas can’t make big strides.
• John Chayka – The Coyotes are in a much better place than they were when Chayka took over, and it would be nice to see him get some more time to bring them to the next level.
Sometimes sports can be especially cruel, however, and there are factors that make you wonder about Chayka. For one, the Coyotes have made some bold moves to get better, yet they seem on track to miss the playoffs once again. Ownership might grow impatient.
Let’s not kid ourselves, either: the ownership situation is often in flux, and if that changes, they might want to bring in “their guy.” Hopefully Chayka gets at least a bit more time, but it’s something to watch, either way.
ADAM: My answer earlier this season was Peter Chiarelli in Edmonton, but the Oilers have gone on enough of a roll and Ken Hitchcock seems to have them doing something right (mostly playing Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl until the wheels fall off) and I think that is going to buy him some time.
I think now we have to look over at the Central Division and either Doug Armstrong in St. Louis or Stan Bowman in Chicago.
The Blues spent a ton of money and gave up a ton of assets this summer after missing the playoffs a year ago, and now they stink. They already fired the coach, so that card has been played, and the next logical conclusion is the guy that built the team. Other than a run to the Western Conference Finals in 2015-16 this has been a first-or second-round team at its best (usually a first-round team) and now is on track to miss the playoffs for a second year in a row. Not a great sign for the GM who has, again, already played his “try to save the season” card by changing coaches.
This might be a controversial position to take, but I think if Stan Bowman were named Stan … Smith. Or Stan Johnson. Or anything other than Stan Bowman his seat would probably be a LOT warmer than it is now. His track record in Chicago is obviously great, but it’s been a few years now since the Blackhawks have been a Stanley Cup team, they missed the playoffs a year ago, are currently one of the worst teams in the league, and it didn’t really have to be THIS bad. I know they had salary cap constraints and they have some big contracts, but he has made a lot of questionable to bad moves over the past couple of years. Then he went and fired the most successful coach in franchise history and one of the best coaches in NHL history and the team has completely sunk after that. Not sure the Blackhawks are going to make a change now or even after this season, but if this season keeps going as it is and they do not get better next season they might consider doing something.
JOEY: You can’t mention general managers being on the hot seat without bringing up Doug Armstrong’s name. Last season, he traded Paul Stastny away because he felt his team was a year away from being a serious threat, but that hasn’t been the case in 2018-19. He pulled the trigger on a major deal for Ryan O'Reilly over the summer, and although O’Reilly’s been good, the team simply hasn’t been. Armstrong has fired a coach this season and if the Blues can’t turn it around, he’ll be next. With Jake Allen struggling for the most part over the last few seasons, Armstrong hasn’t found a solution to the problem between the pipes. This might be it.
Stars GM Jim Nill is also likely on thin ice. His team has some high-end talent, but depth has been an issue for them since he’s taken over. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg can only carry the team so far. Getting contributions from the rest of the team has been an issue. As of this moment, the Stars are on the outside of the playoff picture. If they were to miss the postseason again, you’d have to think that someone will play the price. It won’t be new head coach Jim Montgomery, so who else can it be but the GM?
And you can’t forget ‘Pistol’ Pete Chiarelli. Like Armstrong, Chiarelli also made a coaching change to try to get his team going. The Oilers are currently sitting in a Wild Card spot, but if they were to fall out of the playoff picture again at the end of the season, you’d have to think that Edmonton’s decision makers will want to make a change. You can’t just keep wasting all of Connor McDavid’s great years.
SCOTT: It would seem that Peter Chiarelli has bought himself some time after bringing in Ken Hitchcock to be the team’s savior. Edmonton is in a playoff spot, which isn’t something you would have uttered a month ago.
Of course, a losing streak of four or five games would change the above narrative, so Chiarelli is still certainly in the conversation and is by no means out of the woods just yet. He’s done little to improve this team since he arrived and still probably needs a miracle to happen if he’s to be in the same position this time next year.
Sticking in the west, Doug Armstrong’s leash must be retracting a bit. There were a lot of people who believed the Blues won the summer. But as we approach Christmas, we now know that wasn’t the case.
The Blues don’t look half bad on paper, but their on-ice product has been truly poor this season. Maybe the Blues just need to head in a new direction.
The last guy I have on a hot seat is Stan Bowman. If Bowman’s last name wasn’t Bowman, he’d probably already be gone.
I suppose he bought some time firing Joel Quenneville, but it’s clear Quenneville wasn’t the problem. Jeremy Colliton has been tasked with the impossible and it hasn’t worked out so far.
Bowman did well to win the Stanley Cup three times (partly due to drafting done before he got there), but there’s little coming up through the system these days that provide any hope for better times ahead. And trades to get picks and younger assets don’t seem to be in the cards either (see: Brent Seabrook contract). All the “bad” contracts are shrouded with no-movement clauses.
To some Dallas Stars fans, the Patrick Sharp trade was as much about grabbing Stephen Johns as anything else.
(Granted, that might be a small sampling, but there was such chatter.)
Following the move, Stars GM Jim Nill probably summarized the most exciting takes: he’s the sort of defenseman the franchise might just be lacking.
“Stephen was a big part of that trade,” Nill said. “We’re trying to change a little bit of the dimension of our back end … he’s 6-foot-4, 220 lbs. and can skate.”
That’s what makes the 23-year-old especially interesting: while he packs some punch and snarl – relevant factors on a blueline that leans more toward finesse – it sounds like he’s swift enough that he won’t bring the Stars’ high-octane attack to a crawl.
Of course, it’s a big assumption that Johns can make the roster.
The Stars currently have eight defensemen under contract, and while some seem like they could be trade fodder if needed (Jason Demers?), Johns would need to impress to force the Stars’ hand.
Johns thinks he has what it takes, at least.
“Personally, I think I’m ready but it’s not up to me,” Johns said in July, according to the Dallas Morning News. “I’m going to do the best that I can, play the best hockey I can, and try to impress them.”
If you’re looking at young players who have the highest odds of making the team, Johns isn’t that guy.
One would think that Patrik Nemeth, Jamie Oleksiak and Jyrki Jokipakka would have a significant head start after playing quite a few NHL games in 2014-15. To some extent, they made their leaps – or steps up – already, however.
Johns is a more interesting story to follow during training camp. There’s a good chance that he’s not even the prospect with the highest ceiling hoping to make an impression – Julius Honka fits that bill – but Johns is at the age where he must be getting awfully antsy for a longer look.
For all we know, he may prove that he’s just too useful to send to the AHL.
Jhonas Enroth and Jussi Rynnas also had stints in the Stars’ net last season – neither gave Nill confidence he had a reliable replacement when Lehtonen needed a night off.
As a result, Nill went out and acquired the rights to Antti Niemi and gave him a three-year, $13.5 million contract in June.
“I really believe it’s becoming a two-goalie league. It’s hard for one goalie with all of this travel and back-to-backs. The league is so close. If you can win an extra two or three games because you have a rested, healthy, very competitive No. 1 goalie that you can put in any time is going to make a big difference,” said Nill. “I think it’s going to be a great competition. I’ve talked to both goalies. They’re very comfortable with it. They think it’s going to be very great for them. They know that they got a chance if they go on a run winning five or six games in a row, good for them. And once they start to get tired or something they have another guy who can come in and play for them.”
Lehtonen was 34-17-10 last season to go along with a 2.94 G.A.A. and a .903 save percentage.
Niemi meanwhile made 61 appearances with the San Jose Sharks posting a 31-23-7 record to go along with a 2.59 G.A.A. and a .914 save percentage.
Together they’ll have a cap hit of $10.4 million next season.
“We think it’s going to be a split job. Now someone might get it and run with it for a while. We’ll play it by ear,” said Nill. “There’s always the unknown. There’s injuries. So many things can happen. Somebody can get sick. You don’t know what’s going to happen.
“In the end, I think it’s going to be a split situation. I think it’s going to work well. Like I said, we’re fortunate because of our cap situation that we can do it. I know that if other teams had the cap room, they’d do it. You can’t get any better than having two No. 1 goalies in your lineup.”