This 2014-15 NHL season preview features the Dallas Stars.
What was Stanley Cup worthy in 2013-14?
After missing the playoffs for 5 consecutive seasons, a lot went right for the Stars last season.
It all started in the summer of 2013 when they traded for Tyler Seguin, and he ended up having a “pretty good” season. 37 goals (5th in the NHL), 84 points (4th), 294 shots on goal (4th), and a +16 on top of all that. He became the franchise player many people thought he’s be when he was drafted 2nd overall.
Of course, it helped to have Jamie Benn on his line. The power forward developed instant chemistry with Seguin and delivered a breakout year with 34 goals and 79 points of his own.
Rookie Valeri Nichushkin was most often the third member of that line last season, and the 18 year-old didn’t look out of place, finishing with a very respectable 34 points and +20 in 79 games. At 6’4″, 205 pounds, the size/skill combination Nichushkin brings is a great complement to his linemates.
With both Benn and Seguin still in their early 20’s, and signed for at least the next 3 years at very reasonable cap hits (11 million combined), and Nichushkin on his entry level deal for another two seasons, the Stars have perhaps the best young line in hockey.
One other young player who looks to be a great complement to the top line is Cody Eakin. In his third NHL season, he finished 4th on the Stars with 35 points. Perhaps more importantly, he earned more ice-time come playoff time, and produced 5 points in 6 games.
All these offensive minded players made the Stars the team with the 6th most shots on goal per game at 31.7, while also finishing 10th in the NHL with 2.82 goals per game.
What was draft lottery worthy in 2013-14?
With all this talent up front, it’s hard to understand how the powerplay ended up just 23rd in the league, converting 15.9% of their chances. I suppose the good news is that the only playoff team that finished below them was the Stanley Cup Champion Los Angeles Kings.
After acquiring him in a trade with Montreal the year before, Dallas hoped that Erik Cole would be able to rediscover some of what made him a 35 goal scorer just two years ago. He managed just 16 goals and a -17 as he continuously lost minutes to the younger forwards.
After posting 6 goals in his first 7 NHL games in 2012-13, a lot was expected out of Alex Chiasson last season. Things never seemed to click however, as he managed just 13 goals in 79 games despite ranking 6th in ice-time among forwards on the team.
So what did they do to get better?
Perhaps the disappointing season paved the way for the Stars to deal Chiasson as part of a package to acquire Jason Spezza from the Senators. While Spezza may no longer be the franchise centre he once was, he becomes one of the top 5 2nd line centres in the entire league. While he’s had his share of injuriy issues, he’s a prolific point producer, having scored just over a point-per-game for his career (687 points in 686 games).
Joining Spezza on what is likely to be a revamped second line is Ales Hemsky who was signed as an unrestricted free agent. The concern with Hemsky is his injury history. He’s missed 161 games over his last 8 seasons, missing less than 10 games just 3 times in that span. Having said all that, in the games he has played, he’s been productive, totaling 336 points in 441 games during the same time frame.
Those two additions addresses the depth on offence that led to just 3 players cracking the 40 point mark for the Stars last season.
Player to watch
Valeri Nichushkin has all the tools to become a premier power forward in the NHL. With that being such a hot commodity across the league, the prospective of having two such physically imposing players flanking Tyler Seguin has many in the Stars’ organization very excited.
If Nichushkin can avoid the dreaded sophomore jinx, we may be looking at a modern-day version of the “Legion of Doom” line.
…this is not a team I’d want to face in round 1.
They will make the playoffs if…
They will miss the playoffs if…
Their new top line buckles under the pressure of facing top checkers every night. The additions of Spezza and Hemsky should help, but it remains to be seen how well Seguin handles seeing the top defensive match-ups on a nightly basis.
What should we expect this season?
Dallas had a very good season last year and came very close to even winning a round in the playoffs. Jim Nill has done an excellent job assembling a lot of good young pieces.
What happens next is in the hands of those young players. The potential is certainly there for this team to rise up the Western Conference ranks quickly.
What doesn’t help them is that they are perhaps in the toughest division in hockey. That, coupled with the likely need for some chemistry to develop with all the new arrivals means the Stars will have an adjustment period early on.
They should still have enough skill up front to score a ton, but their depth and quality on defense is definitely a question mark, especially given the fact that they allowed 30+ shots per game last season.
In spite of that however, this is not a team I’d want to face in round 1.
43-28-11 97 points, 4th in the Central Division, 7th in the Western Conference