Rick Bowness

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

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.

Dallas Stars: This season’s biggest surprises and disappointments

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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 surprises and disappointments for the Dallas Stars.

Stars firing Jim Montgomery among season’s biggest surprises

Amid a rash of surprising head coach firings, the Stars dismissed Jim Montgomery in December.

You could say there were surprises within surprises. In a media age where secrets are difficult to guard, the details of Montgomery’s “unprofessional conduct” still remain vague. Frankly, we still don’t know a whole lot beyond Montgomery announcing that he checked into rehab for alcohol issues.

To some extent, it continues the trends of the Stars presenting quite a few surprises off the ice. After all, Montgomery criticized Stars stars Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn early this season, carrying on the f’ing horsebleep tradition from CEO Jim Lites in 2018-19.

On the ice, the Stars play a defensive style that aims to suffocate any semblance of mistakes. Off the ice, the Stars feel more like a soap opera.

Bishop and Khudobin keep chugging along

Whether it was Montgomery or Rick Bowness behind the bench, the Stars have maintained a steadfast commitment to defense.

It’s plausible that the Stars could find a more even balance between risk and reward, yet if nothing else, Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin continue to thrive. Yes, Dallas does what it can to set the table for success, but Bishop and Khudobin remain an elite combo. Personally, any sustained run of great goaltending is a surprise, as goalies can be very unpredictable in the modern NHL.

Khudobin (16-8-4, .930 save percentage) has actually been even better than Bishop (21-16-4, .920) this season, but the cumulative result is goaltending that allows the Stars to successfully walk a tightrope of low-scoring games. Bishop and Khudobin both rank among the top 10 in Evolving Hockey’s goals saved above expectation stat, as Charting Hockey captures:

Stars surprises Khudobin Bishop dominant again

Being that both are 33, it’s fair to wonder if they can sustain this much longer. Either way, delivering such excellent goaltending again in 2019-20 served as one of the more pleasant surprises for the Stars.

(Granted, the Stars might expect that work at this point, whether that’s realistic or not.)

Klingberg and free agents rank as disappointments for Stars

Dallas aimed to take the next step by handing Joe Pavelski a three-year contract with a $7M AAV. They also hoped they were buying low on Corey Perry.

Rather than representing the next step, Pavelski’s been stumbling for the Stars, at least production-wise. Meanwhile, Perry started off on the wrong foot — a broken one — and basically face-planted from day one. His most memorable Stars moment will probably be his “walk of shame” after Perry was ejected from the 2020 Winter Classic.

While players like Roope Hintz made positive strides in 2019-20, John Klingberg seems to have taken a discouraging step back.

Klingberg is still useful, but it would be more appealing if he could maintain the Norris Trophy dark horse work from previous seasons as Miro Heiskanen comes into his own. Consider Klingberg’s strong multi-season RAPM chart (via Evolving Hockey) for 2016-17 through 2018-19:

Stars surprises Klingberg three year

Versus Klingberg’s less impressive RAPM chart for this season:

Stars surprises Klingberg struggles 2019-20

No, Klingberg has not been a disaster. Clearly, Klingberg still helps on offense, particularly on the power play. But this regression remains one of the disappointments for the Stars this season.

MORE ON STARS IN 2019-20:

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.

Why Stars’ Benn avoided suspension for boarding Ekman-Larsson

Stars forward Jamie Benn avoided a suspension for boarding Coyotes defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson.

The hit happened during Wednesday’s 3-2 win for Dallas. Taylor Hall scored on the ensuing five-minute major opportunity, but Arizona didn’t make the Stars pay beyond that. The Stars won the special teams battle overall, going 2-for-2 on their chances. That loss, and a lack of suspension, could leave Coyotes fans feeling extra bitter.

Explaining why Benn avoided suspension

Reporters did pass along the league’s potential reasoning for no further discipline, though.

To start, TSN/The Athletic’s Pierre LeBrun explained some of the logic:

Matthew DeFranks of The Dallas Morning News passes along the league’s lengthy video explaining “contact along the boards,” including this portion:

Stars coach Rick Bowness shared a take that lines up with the Department of Player Safety.

“That’s a tough call,” Bowness said, via The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub required). “Two guys are going for the puck, and one guy turns into the boards, and they are going to bang. It probably looks a lot worse than it is. I hope the guy is OK, and he finished the game, so he must be OK. It’s one of those — sometimes, you put a referee in a tough position. I think that’s one of those.”

Ekman-Larsson returned to Wednesday’s game, which likely also helped Benn’s cause. Coyotes coach Rick Tocchet told reporters that OEL’s neck was sore, but it doesn’t sound major.

Overall, there seems to be some precedent for not providing further discipline. Now, should the NHL consider setting new standards as we learn more about head or neck injuries? I’d say yes, but the league isn’t showing much haste in making sweeping changes.

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.

Benn makes difference as Stars beat Lightning

Jamie Benn made the difference as the Stars beat the rising Lightning 3-2 (OT) on Tuesday.

Dallas created several broken plays and breakaways in this one. Benn and Denis Gurianov created the first two Dallas goals on breakaways, while Benn created havoc to win it for the Stars in overtime.

Benn entered the All-Star break with modest numbers (23 points in his previous 48 games). Maybe this performance can propel Benn to a strong finish? A better Benn could make a huge difference for a Stars team that sometimes deals with tiny margins for error.

While the Stars beat the Lightning, Tampa Bay can thank Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov for grabbing a point. Stamkos scored both of the Bolts’ goals, including the one that sent it to OT. Kucherov collected assists on both of those goals.

The Stars beat the Lightning in what was mostly a tightly-played game. Both teams failed to score on four power-play opportunities, while Dallas managed a 35-25 shots on goal advantage.

Considering how closely played this game was, it’s fitting that they boast fairly similar records. The Stars improved to 28-17-4 (or 60 points in 49 games played). The Lightning, meanwhile, finished Tuesday at 29-15-5 (63 points in 49 GP). This makes the Stars 11-6-1 since Rick Bowness took over.

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 have extra motivation to grab at least one round of home-ice advantage

NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Wednesday’s matchup between the Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. Coverage begins at 10 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

Look, every sports team craves home-field (or in this case, ice) advantage. Even with that in mind, the Stars have plenty of incentive to wrestle away the Central Division’s second seed from the Colorado Avalanche.

The Kings don’t serve as much of a threat on paper, but let’s consider larger trends to see why the Stars should do what they can to take care of business on Wednesday.

Stars fighting through challenges while Avs hit a snag

Looking at the Stars’ and Avs’ recent records alone makes you realize that things could get tight.

Despite all of the turmoil that came from the surprise coaching change of Jim Montgomery being replaced by Rick Browess, the Stars settled down and are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They’ve won four games in a row, with a nice chance to make that five tonight.

You’d think that the Avalanche would climb, not stumble, with several key players returning from injuries. Instead, the Avalanche lost their last game and are a mediocre 4-5-1 in their past 10.

Colorado is still ahead of Dallas for the second seed, but not by much.

Avalanche: 25-14-4 for 54 points in 43 games played
Stars: 24-14-4 for 52 points in 42 GP

Indeed, if the Stars beat the Kings on Wednesday, then it would merely come down to tiebreakers. Kind of hard to believe, right?

[Five players the Kings might trade]

Stars rely on home games

Again, the Stars have serious incentive to try to hop over at least the Avalanche. (The Stars have some chance of leaping the Blues [59 points, 43 GP], but it’s unlikely.)

So far in 2019-20, the Stars boast a 15-6-2 home record, while they’re only 9-8-2 on the road. A stark home/road disparity extends beyond this season, too.

  • The Stars own an 87-45-14 record in 146 home games since 2016-17, the seventh-best mark in the NHL.
  • The Stars rank seventh-worst on the road during that same span (56-70-16 in 142 road games since 2016-17).
  • Overall, they landed very much middle-of-the-pack since 2016-17 began (143-115-30 in 288 GP).
  • This home/road split carries over noticeably from year to year. Things were most extreme in 2016-17; the Stars went 22-13-6 at home and just 12-24-5 on the road.

Those stats provide reasonably compelling evidence that the Stars really are a far more dangerous team in Dallas.

Now, I can’t tell you exactly why the Stars have been that much better at home. Maybe opponents feel sluggish after eating all of that brisket and delicious Tex-Mex food? Perhaps a physical player like Jamie Benn takes it up a notch in front of a partisan crowd? The Stars morphed into a team that sometimes survives on a fairly slim margin of error lately, so maybe the sometimes-subtle home-ice advantages tip the scales?

Either way, with the door open a bit, the Stars should burst through it. Playing key home playoff games could end up making an, erp, Texas-sized difference.

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.