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Stars sign Esa Lindell to six-year, $34.8 million contract

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Esa Lindell has become a cornerstone of the Stars’ blueline over the last couple years, so naturally Dallas wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. The Stars announced that he signed a six-year, $34.8 million deal.

That’s his first big contract after his two-year, $4.4 million deal expired. He would have become a restricted free agent this summer.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on May 23) set career-highs with 11 goals and 32 points in 82 games this season. He logged 24:20 minutes per game, including an average of 3:14 shorthanded minutes.

“Esa is a consummate professional who has proven himself dependable in every situation and is just an absolute workhorse,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “When you combine his strength, conditioning, hockey IQ and skill, he has become an integral part of this team. Along with John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen, the three make up the foundation of a blueline that will not only be a strength for our club, but one that will be as good as any in the NHL for the foreseeable future.”

Speaking of Heiskanen and Klingberg, the Stars now have the trio signed to pretty reasonable contracts. Lindell’s annual cap hit is $5.8 million through 2024-25 while Klingberg is at $4.25 million through 2021-22 and Heiskanen still has two seasons left on his entry-level deal.

Lindell’s deal isn’t too far off from Shea Theodore‘s seven-year, $36.4 million contract signed in September after he scored six goals and 29 points in 61 games while averaging 20:21 minutes. Nate Schmidt (six-years, $35.7 million) and Jakob Chychrun (six-years, $27.6 million) are two other recent comparable, but they’re not ideal examples because Schmidt was set to become an unrestricted free agent while Chychrun was coming off his entry-level deal.

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.

John Klingberg one of the driving forces behind Stars’ success

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The Dallas Stars have one of the season’s breakthrough players in 19-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen.

He has been so good, so impactful, and so impressive at such a young age that his team’s starting goalie has already called him a “no doubt” Hall of Famer, and one of the best defenders he has ever played with. While it might be just a little early for Hall of Fame talk, the praise toward the No. 3 overall pick from 2018 is certainly justified because he has been great all season.

All of that praise and hype has made it a little too easy to overlook the performance of John Klingberg, Dallas’ other top defender.

So let’s take a few minutes to look at the impact he has made because he has been one of the best players in the postseason so far and a huge part of the Stars’ current run.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

If you have been paying even the slightest bit of attention to the Stars it probably shouldn’t be a surprise that Klingberg has been excelling because he has been an outstanding defender for several years now. While his defensive play has sometimes been unfairly criticized, he has been an elite possession-driving, point-producing player since he arrived in Dallas, having already twice finished in the top-six in Norris Trophy voting.

But because the team around him has always been so top-heavy and so flawed in so many areas, he has never had an opportunity to truly shine on the league’s biggest stage or get the recognition other top defenders around the league tend to get. Reputations tend to be made in the playoffs, and Klingberg hasn’t had a chance to consistently play on this stage. The 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs are just the second time in his career he has played in the postseason, and it has been some of the best hockey he has ever played in the NHL and a big reason why the Stars are in Round 2 and looking to get the upper-hand in their series against the St. Louis Blues.

He is simply operating at an elite level right now.

Entering play on Friday, there have been 26 defenders in the 2019 playoffs that have logged at least 150 minutes of 5-on-5 ice-time.  Out of that group Klingberg ranks third in shot attempt differential, first in goal-differential, first in scoring-chance differential, and first in high-danger scoring chance differential (all via Natural Stat Trick). Along with the territorial domination, he also has eight points, including two goals, one of which was a series-clinching overtime goal in Round 1 against the Nashville Predators.

He is pretty much everything you want in a modern-day, top-pairing defender with his ability to skate, move the puck, join the rush, and help drive his team’s offense.

He is also one of the league’s biggest steals against the cap.

There are only six other defenders in the NHL that have produced as much offense on a per-game level as Klingberg over the past five seasons (Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns, Kris Letang, Victor Hedman, John Carlson, and Roman Josi). Other than Josi (who still only makes $4 million per season), every other player on that list makes north of $7.25 million per season.

The Stars have Klingberg signed for three more full seasons after this one at just $4.25 million per season, two years longer than what Nashville has Josi signed for.

When you combine that with the fact that Heiskanen still has two years remaining on his entry level deal, the Stars are going to get two potentially elite, two-way defenders, both of whom are capable of playing top-pairing minutes, for a grand total of just over $5 million against the salary cap. That is insane value.

General manager Jim Nill has made his share of mistakes over the years, but drafting Heiskanen at No. 3 overall and getting Klingberg on that contract has been a massive score for him and the organization. Defenders like this are really difficult to come by, and the Stars have two of them for way below market value for the next few years.

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.

 

Ben Bishop says Miro Heiskanen is ‘going to be a Hall of Famer’

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Dallas Stars defender Miro Heiskanen did not get enough votes to be a finalist for the Calder Trophy as the league’s rookie of the year (he was in the top-three on my ballot, if you are interested) but he should not lose too much sleep over that right now.

Not only is his team still playing in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, but he played a huge role in a 4-2 win over the St. Louis Blues on Saturday afternoon, scoring a goal and adding an assist, to tie the series at one game each.

He also received some high praise from Ben Bishop, his team’s starting goalie, after the game.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Really high praise.

Really, really, REALLY high praise.

Bishop was asked what has impressed him the most about the Stars’ 19-year-old rookie this season and, well, he set some pretty high goals for him.

“I mean the guy’s going to be a Hall of Famer, no doubt,” said Bishop, via Fox Sports Southwest. “It’s unbelievable. He’s one of the best defensemen I’ve ever played with and he’s 19. The sky is the limit for that guy. He is unbelievable. Everything he does on and off the ice. He’s a true pro. He’s always getting better and it’s scary to think he is only 19.”

Keep in mind that during Bishop’s NHL career he has made stops in Ottawa, Tampa Bay, and Los Angeles, meaning that he has been teammates and played with the likes of Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and Drew Doughty, three of the best defenders of this era. So when he says “one of the best defensemen I’ve ever played with” that is not something to just take lightly. He has played behind some great ones.

How Heiskanen’s career plays out from here obviously remains to be seen, but there is no denying that his rookie season has been about as impressive as a rookie season can be for an NHL defender. He has not only played in every game this season (all 82 regular seasons, all eight playoff games so far) but he averaged more than 23 minutes of ice-time per game, saw equal time on the penalty kill and power play, and played more than 20 minutes of even-strength ice-time per game. He has been a top-pairing defender all season and never really looked out of place. Even though this was his first taste of NHL action, and even though he is still a teenager, he still finished as a positive possession player and was outstanding when it came to scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance differentials.

When he was on the ice during 5-on-5 play the Stars controlled more than 53 percent of the total scoring chances and more than 54 percent of the high-danger scoring chancers (via Natural Stat Trick).

He also finished with 12 goals and 33 total points and was top-20 among all defenders in the NHL in 5-on-5 shots and total shot attempts.

In short, he did pretty much everything for the Stars this season.

With Heiskanen and John Klingberg the Stars’ blue line looks to be in good hands for the foreseeable future.

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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.

Youth is being served early in Stanley Cup playoffs

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For all the value of postseason experience, youth is off to a nice start in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Teenage defenseman Miro Heiskanen built on his stellar rookie season in his playoff debut with Dallas, 19-year-old Andrei Svechnikov tried to carry Carolina back from a big deficit, early 20-somethings Mitch Marner and William Nylander continue to be among Toronto’s best players and young Matthew Tkachuk did his part to finally win a playoff game with the Calgary Flames.

The NHL is getting younger and more skilled, and youth is being served in a big way early in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They may not get the attention like Winnipeg’s Patrik Laine or Toronto’s Auston Matthews, but Heiskanen and Svechnikov turned in two of the more impressive playoff performances in recent history for players before their 20th birthdays.

”Some people, it’s hard and some people it’s pretty easy, and those are the people it looks like it’s pretty easy,” Hurricanes forward Teuvo Teravainen said of Svechnikov and fellow Finn Heiskanen. ”They don’t stress too much. They just go out and play and have some fun.”

Svechnikov became the youngest player in 22 years to score twice in a playoff game and the third teen to put up two goals in NHL postseason history after Pierre Turgeon in 1988, Eddie Olczyk in 1985 and Don Gallinger in 1943. The 2018 second overall pick will try to help Carolina even its first-round series against Washington in Game 2 Saturday (3 p.m. ET, NBC).

”There’s not pressure on him,” Hurricanes captain Justin Williams said. ”Just go do it. Go enjoy it. Go have fun. That’s what this time of year is about, and we’re going to need even more from him if we’re going to advance.”

The Stars won in Nashville thanks in large part to Heiskanen’s goal and assist in Game 1 . At 19 years, 266 days old, he became the youngest defenseman in franchise history to score in the playoffs and the fifth teenage rookie defenseman with two points in his postseason debut.

”My 19-year-old year, when it was April, I was drinking beers in my frat basement,” Dallas defenseman Ben Lovejoy said. ”What he is doing is just incredible. It’s so special. He is so good, it is just such a pleasure to watch him play and to be on his team. He’s such an asset. He’s going to do this for 20 years and I can’t wait to watch him.”

Coach Jim Montgomery would love to see Heiskanen and 22-year-old rookie Roope Hintz play like this for several more weeks. Game 2 in Nashville is Saturday (6 p.m. ET, CNBC).

In Boston, the Bruins have to be better in Game 2 (8 p.m. ET, NBC) on Saturday after losing the series opener on home ice. Marner was a big part of that with his two-goal game, including being just the fifth player to score a shorthanded goal on a penalty shot in the playoffs.

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

”He’s an elite player in the league at a young age,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. ”Years ago I remember (people saying about Wayne) Gretzky, ‘Why doesn’t anybody hit that guy?’ Well, it’s not that easy.”

It’s not easy to hit or stop Nylander, either. The 22-year-old Swede scored for the second consecutive game and appears to have solved his late-season dry spell.

”It’s good for me,” Nylander said. ”I’ve been thinking just to hit the net and get it on it.”

In Calgary, Tkachuk’s two goals a series-opening victory against the Colorado Avalanche snapped his six-game goal drought, though the 21-year-old’s agitating ways stuck as much as his scoring. Teammate Andrew Mangiapane, 23, also scored in his playoff debut and the West’s top seed is off and running with Game 2 Saturday night in Calgary (10:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

”Now all of those guys have got their first game out of the way, they should get some confidence,” coach Bill Peters said. ”We’ll get better as the series goes along.”

INJURY WATCH

Even in the hockey-speak of upper- and lower-body injuries, playoff time brings an extra cloud of secrecy. Seemingly everyone is day-to-day or a game-time decision.

That’s the case for Carolina defenseman Calvin de Haan, who practiced Friday after missing the past six games with an upper-body injury. Coach Rod Brind’Amour said he hopes de Haan can play ”at some point” and added defenseman Jaccob Slavin was fine after getting a day off for playing a lot of minutes Thursday night.

Boston forward Jake DeBrusk is questionable with the injury that knocked him out of Game 1 against the Maple Leafs. Cassidy said if DeBrusk can’t play, veteran David Backes will go into the lineup.

AP Sports Writers Teresa M. Walker in Nashville and Jimmy Golen in Boston contributed.

Follow AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno on Twitter at https://twitter.com/SWhyno

More AP NHL: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports