The Dallas Stars have some winning to make up for.
After making the playoffs and losing in six games to the Anaheim Ducks, the Stars fell short of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year contradicting the high expectations. The front office holds the same expectations for this season. Jim Nill and the Stars front office put together another proactive offseason hoping to avoid missing the playoffs for the seventh time in eight seasons.
Improving with playoff experience
The additions of Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya and Antti Niemi bring Stanley Cup experience to a young talented Stars team. Each player adds much needed depth to the roster. Sharp’s veteran offensive savvy gives the Stars four complete lines and addresses the need to improve the power play. Oduya strengthens the young defensive lines that struggled with goals against last year. Niemi gives head coach Lindy Ruff two starting goaltenders to platoon in and out of the lineup. Most of Kari Lehtonen’s struggles last year were from fatigue as he played in 65 of the 82-game season. Though they are only a year apart in age (Lehtonen 31, Niemi 32), Niemi’s experience overshadows Lehtonen’s. Niemi has been to the postseason five of the last six years that included a Stanley Cup Championship in 2010. Can the two-goalie platoon work? This seems to be the biggest question going into the Stars’ season as it has the potential to create controversy if each goalie gets cheater their ice-time.
Players to watch
The new players will fill in voids missed from last year but some current stars will still need to play to their potential if this team wants playoffs implications. Here’s a list of a few players to watch for:
Kari Lehtonen and the goalie competition
The hot seat is burning up for the starting goaltender and bringing in another starter amps up the pressure. If Lehtonen has another disappointing year, the Stars face a question about his long and expensive contract. With that said, Lehtonen is primed for a good year. Adding Niemi gives stability behind him and important rest to keep him fresh throughout the season.
John Klingberg “sophomore” year
We’ve all heard about the curse of the sophomore slump. It usually happens in baseball and football when the competition adjusts to the rookie without the rookie adjusting. To avoid this, Klingberg must continue to get better. His offensive awareness was off the charts last year but his defensive game had some holes. Expecting improvement on defense and continuing success on offense, John Klingberg will be an important piece for the Stars.
The 20-year-old Valeri Nichuskin is entering his third year in the league. His rookie campaign showed flashes of the superstar he will become. His second year was plagued by “lower body” injuries that forced him to see the ice only eight times. Staying injury-free is the key for Nichuskin. He’s proved he can play with the Benn and Seguin superstar line and is a force on the power play. His puck handling and body size can match with anyone in the league. Expect high scoring contribution from the young Russian.
This league is hard to predict. Nobody outside the Winnipeg Jets saw them making the playoffs, and the same can probably be said about the New York Islanders on the other side of the league. However, it’s always fun to guess and act like a fortuneteller.
Stars 2015-2016 record: 46-31-5 (97 points)
When you look back at an NHL season, usually 96 points gets you into the playoffs. Barring big injury, this Stars team should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and make some noise when they get in there. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are in their prime and Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky (among others) primes are running out. Jim Nill has said the time to win is now and anything but for the Dallas Stars will be a disappointing season.