The Dallas Stars' 2011-2012 season was filled with its fair share of ups and downs, but the biggest down of all had to have been the team's underwhelming powerplay, which hobbled it's way to 30th in the league at a mere 13.5% success rate.
The team made big moves this offseason to improve the situation, adding Derek Roy, Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, all proven performers with the man advantage.
However, you can't add new faces to a roster without subtracting others, and while the new additions are sure to improve the powerplay side of Dallas' special teams, it might have come at the cost of the other side, the penalty kill.
Last season the Stars ranked a steady 13th overall in the league, despite being a man down more frequently than the league average, finishing 27th in total penalties. But due to offseason transactions, if Dallas want to maintain such a strong PK they will have to do so without a handful of players that helped them get to that point last season.
Below is a list of the team's top ten players last season in terms of shorthanded time on ice per game. The players in bold are no longer with the team:
(Note: Dillon's 2:41 was only for the one game he played in Dallas last season)
Five out of the ten players have moved on, leaving a lot of PK minutes that will need to be eaten up by other players. The questions now are which players will fill that gap, and how good of a job will they do?
Roy logged a solid average of 1:42 SH TOI/G last season in Buffalo, but also averaged over two minutes per game in past season with the Sabres, so he'll certainly be relied on to log similar minutes in Dallas.
But Roy is the only one out of the team's new group of veterans that played significant time on the PK last year. Whitney and Jagr played next to none, and probably won't get any once again this season. Aaron Rome played 0:41, which is below average as far as NHL defencemen go, but he did so on a Vancouver Canucks team that was very deep on the blueline. It's very likely that he will be expected to increase that number with the Stars, but how capable he is of handling such an increase remains to be seen.
Right now Dallas has seven skaters in camp that started this season in the AHL (Cody Eakin, Reilly Smith, Antoine Roussel, Colton Sceviour, Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak and Dillon), all of whom have been a part of the Texas Stars' penalty kill. It's still unknown which of these players will make the big roster and which ones will be sent down, but it's possible that any of them could be relied upon on the PK in Dallas because they played on the PK in Texas, with some (notably Dillon) more likely to play with a man down than others.
The danger is that Texas' PK this season is sitting at 26th in the AHL, meaning that the youngsters might not be fully ready to achieve success yet in that sort of role in the NHL.
There's is also the possibility that help could come from within, not just with existing penalty killers increasing their shorthanded minutes, but with familiar faces getting new roles there. Brenden Morrow, Philip Larsen, Tom Wandell, or Ryan Garbutt might get tried out in that role to see how they perform. Morrow killed penalties when he was younger, while the other three I mentioned have skillsets that could lend themselves well to being on the disadvantage.
As uncertain and full of "what-ifs" as that sounds, there is still a lot of hope that the PK will have what it takes to get the job done.
It's been said for years that a team's best penalty killer is their goaltender, and the Stars are lucky enough to have an increasingly reliable goalie with Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen has shown the ability to single-handedly carry the Stars, even strength and on the penalty kill, and with only 48 games scheduled this season Lehtonen should be able to do the same without fear of wearing down too quickly.
Dallas also won't have to worry as much about being on the penalty kill this season thanks to a greater focus on overall team discipline. After all, it's easier to not worry about killing penalties when you don't take them in the first place. Brandon Worley wrote an article earlier this week outlining the team's toughness, which features this quote by head coach Glen Gulutzan that perfectly sums up the new goal.
"We were minus-100 or so minutes, I believe, in power play versus penalty kill," said Gulutzan. "We have to turn that around. You put yourself in a negative situation for basically two full games this season and you're in trouble. We would like to be more disciplined."
Overall, with so many intangibles in play, it's too hard to say so early how Dallas' penalty kill will perform throughout the course of this season. But with only such a small number of games to be played, any mistakes could wind up having huge consequences, so this will definitely be a factor that's worth keeping an eye on.
What do you think about the Stars' penalty kill going into this season? Will the team feel the loss of so many penalty killers from last season? Will other players step up and take the reigns? Will the play of Lehtonen or the team's new focus on discipline be enough?