What were the Dallas Stars particularly good at last year? What was the thing they hung their hats on as a group? No, Jamie Benn is not a good answer. What about the year before that? Or the year before that?
In what areas did the 1997-2004 Dallas Stars excel? That's an easier question, right? With an answer that leaps off your tongue. Go beyond that even. With Sergei Zubov and Philippe Boucher, Norstrum and the like lingering into the post lockout years the Stars identity was not a hard one to figure out. Dave Tippett, love him or not (when the playoffs come around) gave this team an identity, or rather continued on with the one they'd always had.
Playoff teams have identities. Go down the list. Vancouver is...well, strong everywhere. The Sharks will beat you with their PP. The Kings keep it low scoring with their system play and good young defense. The Coyotes have Bryzgalov. The Blackhawks might not be great but you know you better stay out of the box when you play them. Coach Trotz leans on his goaltender. Even non playoff teams in Colorado and St. Louis have an identity: You know they're going to use their young legs and skate you right out of your own barn.
When Joe Nieuwendyk took over management of this roster in the summer of 2009 he openly declared that he was going to change the teams identity. Words like PIttsburgh and Detroit were thrown around. Fast forward two years and look at the team numbers:
Goals per game (17th), goals against per game (15th), save percentage (16th), shots per game (28th), shots against per game (14th), faceoffs (20th), power play (14th), penalty killing (23rd). Mediocre and average to poor depending on where you look. Even among the bad, you try to find some good, but the Stars numbers just don't present much outside of meaningless trifles like shooting percentage (3rd!)
Dallas' number one attribute last season was probably their ability to stay in games. They led the league in wins when trailing after two periods and they very rarely let games get out of hand. When your best attribute is correcting your mistakes it doesn't say much for your identity, unfortunately.
Luckily that means there are any number of things to improve upon and claim as your strength...
|Year||Goals For||Goals Against||PP%||PK%||5on5 GF/GA Ratio|
It's hard to believe they actually scored fewer goals in 2006-2007 and made the playoffs, but the defense was there to mop it up, even though it ultimately ended in the game seven loss to Vancouver. Speaking of Vancouver, Dallas surrendered 20 of their 233 goals against to the Canucks this season. Take that number away and it improves their rank a little, but not enough.
Given Joe Nieuwendyk's publicly confessed penchant for offensive hockey we won't look for the Stars to go into a shell and push their GA number down around 200 any time soon, but it wouldn't hurt to try. Did you know the number one seeded Washington Capitals scored FEWER goals than the Dallas Stars did this season? Their identity this year was defense and they allowed fewer than 200 goals in their net with a rookie netminder leading them.
We don't expect, with a new coach, the players available and the financial situation that Dallas will turn into a defensive beast of an offensive juggernaut next year, but they need to at least get on the right side of the goal differential. Only one team (the Flames) had a positive goal differential and missed the post-season.
The off-season will dictate the area most ripe for improvement. If pressed I'd say special teams might present the most workable opportunity. Even a slightly above average penalty kill or power play sustained over 82 games would make all the difference in the world.
Whether it be offense, defense, special teams, strong home play, strong road play, strong shootout team, or goaltending...the Stars need to do something (probably a couple of things) above average next year if they want to make it back into the playoffs, or like their 17th ranked 5on5 GF/GA ratio of 1.00, they're going to end up the 17th best team again.
What is Columbus' identity? "Well, I guess they have Rick Nash...". Dallas doesn't want this to become them with Jamie Benn.
What do you say? Who are the Dallas Stars? What are they good at particularly? What can they be good at next season with new coaching and minimal roster changes?