Smell that hope and optimism in that pitcher of flavory sugary drink? The bulk of the ingredients still coming from the top consisting of Benn and Seguin. Add a new coach with a new order of business mixed in with some new faces and you have something stirring. You know you have something, but how good can it be?
You can go in circles until you are dizzy trying to predict Dallas Stars’ seasons in recent years. You thought adding a Stanley Cup winning coach, another electric offensive player and a consistent goaltender would extend the 2017-2018 team past the regular season. You thought when that team had 76 points with a little more than a month left that summer hockey in Texas was inevitable. But after 82 games, general manager Jim Nill was left trying to answer a familiar question: What does this team need to do to be a playoff team?
It starts with Jim Montgomery. The head man at the University of Denver gets his chance to bring his high octane offensive attack to the NHL. We have already seen flashes of how successful it can be in the preseason. Nill and the Stars are hoping this will free up the young legs on this team that will help contribute to much needed secondary scoring suspect from last season.
What we saw from last season
Alexander Radulov is awesome. The former KHL star worked seamlessly with Seguin and Benn as the first line and top power-play unit. While his 72 points were impressive, it does not paint the full picture of his game. His speed, aggressiveness and puck control suffocated opponents and freed up teammates around him. You feel his impact as soon as he steps onto the ice. Here’s just some of his many great moments from last season.
Bringing Ben Bishop to the team added consistency between the pipes. He allowed just under two and half goals per game and a .912 save percentage, which meant most nights he gave the Stars offense a chance. Bishop presence never felt more prominent when he was removed from the lineup. Bishop missed most of last year’s record losing streak due to injury and the Stars felt the absence of their big goaltender.
What we will see this season
We should expect better things from Jason Spezza. It is safe to say he did not jell with Ken Hitchcock. The 35-year-old veteran saw possibly his worst season as a professional hockey player. In 78 games he managed to tally just eight goals and a grand total of 26 points. Compare that to his 50-point season in ten fewer games the year before and you have to expect an improvement. Surely father time has not caught up that quick, right?
Well we did not get Erik Karlsson so expect a heavy dose of the kid Miro Heiskanen on the blue line. The 19-year-old from Finland knew the call up would come when the Stars selected him third overall in 2017’s draft. He is being praised as one of the next best two-way defensemen and a perfect fit for Montgomery’s up-tempo system. But the biggest test will be how the legs last over the course of an entire season.
The biggest sigh of relief from the offseason has to be the contract extension of Tyler Seguin. You can still count on the rare chance of seeing him in the Dallas night life until at least eight more years as Seguin’s $78.8 million contract runs through the 2026-2027 season. The biggest thing it avoids is having this hang over the team throughout the season. Seguin can now focus on attributing to wins and Jim Nill can dodge lingering questions about his star centerman’s future status.
Let the games play out
I have never gone into a Stars season so indecisive about how this team could end up. There are questions that will not get answered until games unfold. How’s the Montgomery system going to look over an 82 game season? What contribution are we getting from secondary guys? Is goaltender depth solved? What are we getting from Val Nichushkin? Maybe it is the homer fan in me or my optimistic personality, but I still expect a Seguin-Benn led team to make the playoffs. However it would not be inconceivable to find out that this team is still a season away.
Upcoming Schedule – All Times Central
10/4 vs Coyotes 7:30 p.m.
10/6 vs Jets 6:00 p.m.
10/9 vs Maple Leafs 7:30 p.m.
10/13 vs Ducks 7:00 p.m.