Mats Zuccarello

Should Stars bring back Zuccarello?

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Not all trade deadline acquisitions are created equal. Some work out, some not so much.

Now that the Dallas Stars have been eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in the second round, we can analyze how the Mats Zuccarello trade ended up working out for them.

Zuccarello’s tenure with the Stars didn’t get off to a great start, as he suffered a broken arm in his first game with his new team. The injury kept him out of the lineup for 17 games. He came back for one game at the beginning of April, but they decided to rest him in the final two games of the regular season.

Right from the start of the playoffs, the 31-year-old seemed to fit in perfectly on Dallas’ second line. He managed to score three goals in the first four games of their first-round series against the Nashville Predators. Secondary scoring has always been an issue for the Stars but Zuccarello, Roope Hintz and Jason Dickinson helped take some of the pressure off the top line of Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov and Tyler Seguin.

The veteran didn’t score in the first six games of the series against the Blues, but he added seven assists during that stretch. He also chipped in with the Stars’ only goal in Game 7.

In 13 postseason games, he had four goals and 11 points. Not too shabby for a guy who had never been traded before.

Now the Stars have to analyze whether or not it’s worth it for them to re-sign him before he hits the market on July 1st.

The trade with the New York Rangers included two conditional draft picks. One was a 2019 second-round pick, the other a 2020 third-rounder. Had the Stars made it to the Western Conference Final, the second-rounder would’ve turned into a first-rounder. If Zuccarello re-signs with Dallas, that third-round pick turns into a first-rounder.

Stars general manager Jim Nill has to decide if Zuccarello is worth a first and second-round pick. So on one hand, he’s a great fit and would probably love to be in continue his playing career in Dallas. But on the other hand, is handing over that kind of draft compensation smart business?

Of course, opting to replace Zuccarello with a trade acquisition or a  free agent could be risky too. Nill could commit big term or dollars to someone else, but he won’t know how he fits in with the rest of the team until the season starts. With Zuccarello, management already knows that’s he fits in, which means the risk diminishes significantly.

Nill helped get the Stars back into the playoffs this year, but he’ll need to get them to another level in 2019-20. Making the right or wrong decision on Zuccarello could be the difference between taking a big step forward or backwards for this group.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Stars capitalize on crazy sequence for tying goal

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Heading into Game 7 on Tuesday night our friend James O’Brien wondered if Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn would start to get some bounces that he has probably been overdue for against the St. Louis Blues.

Well, it wasn’t Benn that got the bounce in the first period, but the Stars did get a little bit of puck luck to go their way when Mats Zuccarello scored his fourth goal of the playoffs late in the first period to tie the game at one.

It came after a wacky sequence of events that included the following:

  • Blues goalie Jordan Binnington losing his stick after he was run into by Tyler Seguin.
  • Blues defender Joel Edmundson tripping over the lost stick as he attempted to position himself to accept a pass around the boards from David Perron and falling to the ice.
  • Perron’s attempted pass hitting the referee, bouncing off the side of the net, and then going right to a wide open Zuccarello in front of the net to score the goal.

You can see the play in the video above.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

There was some thought that the Blues might challenge the goal, arguing that Seguin had interfered with Binnington by knocking his stick out of his hand and preventing him from playing his position. But enough time had passed between that incident and the shot itself that it would have been really difficult to see it being overturned.

The Blues opted not to challenge and saved their timeout.

Sometimes you need a little bit of luck to win, and this goal definitely qualifies as luck for the Stars.

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Crazy first period sequence helps lift Stars to Game 2 win over Blues

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A two-goal effort from rookie forward Roope Hintz and a flawless performance by the penalty kill helped lift the Dallas Stars to a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues in Game 2 of their Western Conference playoff series on Saturday afternoon.

The Round 2 series is now tied, 1-1, as if shifts to Dallas on Monday night.

Hintz opened the scoring for the Stars at the 7:11 mark of the first period with his third goal of the playoffs, capitalizing on a great shift by him and linemate Mats Zuccarello.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Just a few minutes after that goal, the Stars and Blues combined for a crazy two-minute sequence during a four-on-four situation that saw the teams combine for three goals, scoring on three consecutive shots.

The Stars ended up getting the better of that sequence, scoring two goals on highlight reel tallies by rookie defender Miro Heiskanen and veteran forward Mattias Janmark.

Heiskanen’s goal was quickly followed by a goal from Blues defender Colton Parayko to cut the deficit in half. But the Stars quickly responded with Janmark’s first goal of the playoffs just 26 seconds later. Janmark’s goal ended up going in the books as the game-winner.

The Blues would again cut the deficit to a single goal early in the third period when Jaden Schwartz continued has recent goal-scoring binge with his fifth goal of the playoffs.

They were never able to get the equalizer.

They were gifted a great opportunity in the closing minutes when Hintz made the mistake of firing the puck over the glass in the defensive zone, resulting in a delay of game penalty. But the Blues’ power play, which struggled all day, including on a brief 5-on-3 advantage earlier in the game, was unable to score, even after pulling starting goalie Jordan Binnington to give them a 6-on-4 advantage.

Hintz ended up scoring an empty-net goal to put the game away after exiting the penalty box. He also recorded an assist on Heiskanen’s goal in the second period and is now up to seven points in eight games this postseason. His emergence, as well as the return of a healthy Zuccarello, has given the Stars a really strong second line that has perfectly complemented their top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov.

Starting goalie Ben Bishop played a big role on all of the penalty kills and was once again outstanding in the Stars’ net, turning aside 32 of the 34 shots he faced.

This sprawling, desperation save mid-way through the second period was one of his finest plays of the day.

 

Game 3 of Blues-Stars is Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Zuccarello is perfect complement for Stars’ top line

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The Dallas Stars had a problem for much of the 2018-19 season, and it was always a very easy one to identify.

Even when the team was at its lowest point, their top trio of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn was doing what it had always done in carrying the team’s offense.

When Seguin and Benn came under irrational fire from their own CEO in the middle of the season, they were far from the biggest issue on the team. In fact, they weren’t even an issue at all and just five seconds of objective research should have made that clear. When they were on the ice the Stars were carrying the play, dominating the opposition, and performing exactly as you would want your franchise players to perform. Maybe the individual numbers weren’t what we have come to expect from them, but they were consistently outplaying and outscoring their opponents.

The problem was that they didn’t have any other forwards that could do the same thing. Their forward depth was so thin that only one other forward outside of the Seguin-Benn-Radulov trio topped topped the 30-point mark this season (Radek Faksa had exactly 30 points in 81 games). That is not anywhere near good enough. It wasn’t a “star” problem; it was a problem with players around the stars.

But because the top trio was so good, and because they received Vezina-worthy goaltending from Ben Bishop (and don’t forget about the play of backup Anton Khudobin, either) they were able to stay in playoff contention in a watered down Western Conference and continue playing their way toward the postseason. If they were going to do anything once they got there they were going to need somebody outside of their top line to provide some kind of a threat offensively.

This is where Mats Zuccarello comes in.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

He has only played seven games with the team entering Game 6 of their Round 1 series against the Nashville Predators on Monday night (8 p.m. ET; CNBC; Live stream), but his impact has already been noticeable.

The Stars acquired Zuccarello from the New York Rangers just before the NHL trade deadline and in his first game with the team made an immediate impact with a goal and an assist in a 4-3 win. It was exactly what the Stars needed for the stretch run. But because he was also injured in that game and missed several weeks they never really had an opportunity to see exactly what he could provide. They are seeing it in the playoffs where he has already tallied three goals (second only to Radulov) and has given them an additional threat offensively.

It’s even more impressive when you remember he is still finding his way with a new team and still probably isn’t all the way back to 100 percent.

In other words, he probably has room to get better.

When you look at his individual shot and scoring chance numbers he hasn’t created a ton of them, and so far is riding a short-term spike in shooting percentage to carry his postseason production. It would be fair to point to that as somewhat of a red flag for what it might mean in the future.

You have to keep in mind, though, that the injury not only took him off the ice, it also robbed him of an opportunity to develop chemistry with a new set of linemates. Getting thrown into what is still a new lineup, when you may not be totally healthy, and right in the middle of the madness that is the Stanley Cup Playoffs is not an easy thing to do. There is still probably a bit of an adjustment period taking place here.

What is important for the Stars, though, is that he is another high-level player that has the ability to capitalize on the chances he does get, and that is an element the team had been lacking all season.

He is a threat with a proven track record of production.

Zuccarello has been a criminally underrated player for quite some time now and has always been a lock to finish with 50-60 points over a full season. That may not seem great or anything that instantly jumps off the page at you, but it is top-line production, and top-line players are not always easy to acquire.

Since the start of the 2013-14 season, the year Zuccarello became a full-time player in the NHL, his 0.72 point-per-game average puts him 67th out of more than 570 players that have appeared in at least 200 games during that stretch.

Outside of Seguin, Benn, and Radulov there is not another forward currently on the Stars’ roster that sits in the top-100 out of that group.

Jason Spezza is the only other one in the top-200.

You have to go all the way down to Faksa at No. 296 to find the next one.

There just wasn’t enough impact talent elsewhere on the roster to help support the Stars’ top players.

Zuccarello gives them one, and his presence, along with the emergence of Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz in this series, is a big reason they have been able to put themselves in a position to advance.

MORE: Hintz becoming important part of Stars’ lineup

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Rookie Miro Heiskanen leads Stars in upset win over Predators

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The Dallas Stars and Nashville Predators have no shortage of defensive stars, so it seems appropriate that defensemen also drove the offense in Dallas’ 3-2 win over Nashville in Game 1. Among them all, it was rookie blueliner Miro Heiskanen who came out on top with two goals.

Roman Josi got Nashville on the board first and that was the only goal going into the first intermission. Heiskanen answered back with a power-play goal in the second period and then gave the Stars a 2-1 lead at 6:10 of the third. Heiskanen was one of the league’s top rookies this season. In addition to contributing 12 goals and 33 points in 82 contests, he logged 23:07 minutes per game. After a campaign like that, Stars coach Jim Montgomery didn’t shy away from leaning on Heiskanen in his playoff debut. Only Nashville’s Josi and Dallas’ Esa Lindell spent more time on the ice in Game 1.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Mats Zuccarello scored the first goal of the series contributed by a forward at 10:39 of the third period. It has to be particularly satisfying to the Stars to see him score, especially after he barely played for them in the regular season due to injury. He suffered a broken arm in his first game with Dallas after being acquired from the Rangers.

Predators defenseman PK Subban cut the lead in half to make it interesting and a late holding penalty on Mattias Janmark gave Nashville a good chance to tie the contest. The Stars managed to stay strong though and Ben Bishop was solid when he needed to be, making 30 saves on the night.

The pressure is now on the favored Predators to bounce back and ultimately to win one in Dallas, where the Stars were 24-14-3 in the regular season.

Stars-Predators Game 2 from Bridgestone Arena will be Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. ET on CNBC

Ryan Dadoun is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @RyanDadoun.