"Why am I even watching this?"
That was three nil in Buffalo, and a good friend of mine speaking. A Stars fan, too, just one that has been through the wars of a very trying season. Honestly, it was hard to blame him. Our beloved Stars were in the process of dropping two precious points to the NHL’s worst team, this was after a last minute collapse cost them against Colorado. I could just about hear Jim Mora’s incredulity in the wind. Playoffs? They’ve been on my mind a lot, lately. Every game gets pushed into the prism of Dallas’ post season chances. Really, every single play. It was enough to drive a guy crazy.
It got me thinking: what if the playoffs were not a part of the discussion? What if we just collectively decided to take a little break? There are other storylines, you know. For all of their struggles (perhaps because of those same struggles) this year’s version of the Dallas Stars is a fascinating collection of players. So this is an article that has nothing to do with the playoff chase. Hit pause. Deal with it. This is an article about the other things we, as fans, should be aware of.
Tyler Seguin: NHL Scoring Leader
Since the start of the 2013/2014 season, Tyler Seguin has played in 134 regular season games for the Dallas Stars. In those games, the dynamic young center has delivered a total of 66 goals, 77 assists, and 143 points. That’s with 29 games worth of production left this season. If, for the sake of argument, we assume a steady pace the rest of the way, Seguin will be looking at 175 points in 162 games as a Dallas Star. To hammer the point home, Seguin arrived in Dallas, immediately set career highs in goals, assists, and points, and now seems poised to do the same thing all over again in year 2.
This has placed him at the top of the metaphorical heap. At the close of business on Tuesday Seguin sat tied for first place in the NHL scoring race with 59 points. He plays for a team that scores five or loses. Jamie Benn, his primary linemate, hasn’t missed the scoresheet since the All Star Game. Jason Spezza, his pivot on the power play, is essentially a point-per-game player over a 740 game career. You better believe Seguin will have every possible opportunity to produce down the stretch. The Dallas Stars have never had an Art Ross winner before, nor have they laid claim to the Rocket Richard. What if Tyler does the double?
John Klingberg: Calder Candidate
On the topic of offense and individual accolades, let’s have a conversation about John Klingberg. The 22-year old defenseman played his first game as a Dallas Star on November 11th. He failed to register a point. He failed similarly the next game and the game after that. Then, on November 16th, he picked up his first career assist against Chicago. That started a five game scoring rampage during which Klingberg collected three goals and five assists.
Thirty nine games later, Klingberg leads the Stars’ blueline in points, and is fifth among NHL rookies (10 G / 19 A / 29 Pts). He won’t catch Nashville’s Filip Forsberg (48 Pts), who has played 20 more games, but what if he sneaks into second (Johnny Gaudreau, 40 Pts), or even just the top three (Aaron Ekblad, 31 Pts)? Klingberg is playing 1st-pair minutes and excelling, despite Dallas’ overall struggles. He’s also reliably producing highlight quality moments, which can sometimes stand out in the minds of voters. Klingberg’s Calder candidacy is a longer shot than Seguin’s run at the Art Ross, but at this point, are you willing to bet against the kid?
Trevor Daley's Mad Dash to 20 Goals
Sticking with the Dallas defense, Trevor Daley is chasing an accomplishment of his own. Last night’s tally took Trevor to 14 goals on the season. That’s five back from the Stars’ current franchise record, which is 19 goals by Philippe Boucher during the 2006/2007 season. The little lightning rod remains a part of Dallas’ power play, and an active, aggressive skater. He also fits the "score one more than they do" mantra of the 2014/2015 Dallas Stars. Love him or hate him, there would be a certain poetic justice to Trevor Daley setting an offensive record.
Brett Ritchie: Alex Chiasson 2.0?
Another interesting offensive record was the start Alex Chiasson enjoyed to his career as a Dallas Star. Seven games, six goals, and one assist. Two years later, the young winger is trying to find his feet as a member of the Ottawa Senators. Brett Ritchie, by comparison, has experienced a much more modest debut. Just three goals across his first nine games, though perhaps the performance highs have been generally higher, and there is an injury to consider.
So what do the Stars have in Brett Ritchie? The young winger has scored at every level, and carries a first round pedigree. He possesses a tantalizing blend of size and skill. Sick mitts, basically. In his short career, Ritchie has looked completely at home alongside Benn and Seguin. Ritchie has also been scratched, played fourth line minutes, and missed time due to injury. Next season, he’ll have to compete for prime time against the likes of Valeri Nichushkin (healthy), Ales Hemsky (lately productive), and Erik Cole (suddenly back in the scoring line conversation). Now would be a good time to stake a claim.
No area has more questions to answer, however, than the Dallas defense. Jamie Oleksiak is on his third stint with the Texas Stars, Patrick Nemeth is recovering from a gruesome arm injury, and Jyrki Jokipakka has only just returned from an AHL trip of his own. Jason Demers is new to the team, Jordie Benn blew up again last night in Boston, and all five have to be looking over their shoulders nervously at the development of "Orange" Julius Honka. Only six guys get to play each night, you know.
But which six? For all of our (justified) talk of improvement in the Dallas defense, the Stars still struggle mightily with goal prevention. We’ve already discussed Klingberg and Daley. It would be unfair to not mention that Alex Goligoski is in the middle of a quietly excellent season of his own. Meanwhile, tremors in Toronto and Arizona, plus creeping cap situations in Boston and Los Angeles (amongst others) could make a number of intriguing names available via trade. The Stars need to know who their guys are going to be moving forward, and if those guys aren’t the ones they’ve got already, well, they’ll just have to go out and get some new ones.
There’s more, of course. There are lapsing contracts, a big trade deadline, and cracks in the indomitable wall that used to be Kari Lehtonen. There’s also the fact the Stars sit just behind league-leaders Tampa Bay with 3.15 goals per game. It’s all about the drama, so relax, forget for a minute the post-season hangs in the balance, and just enjoy the show.