The important thing is not to panic. Remain calm. What we have to do right now is keep our composure. Nobody freak out. Yes, the math sucks. In last night's possibly pyrrhic victory, the Dallas Stars lost the league's second-leading scorer, the team's fifth leading scorer, and a winger with five points in nine games since returning from injury. For those of you with social lives, who maybe didn't catch the tilt live, I'm talking about as-of-now unspecified lower body injuries to Tyler Seguin and Ales Hemsky, and a much more obvious head injury to Patrick Eaves.
So that's it, right? In the immortal words of Randy Quade "Back up the truck, back it up!" I'm flying by the seat of my pants in terms of hard news, but as of Lindy Ruff's post-game presser, all three are expected to miss "some time." In a season so full of ups and downs, it's only natural to start counting. "Some time" can equal up to 27 games this season. The Stars have to win most of those games to realistically challenge for a playoff spot in the Western Conference. It's not good.
But it's not fatal, either.
For starters, Jamie Benn currently has the switch flipped to Beast Mode. He has 10 points in nine games since the team returned from the All Star Break. Six of those points are goals, including last night's game winner, and a pair in the victory over Boston. Digging deeper, Benn's 55.7 CF% trails only Seguin and Jason Spezza, and his 181 isolated scoring chances trail only Seguin.
If we truly are in a post-Seguin world, the Stars are going to need more of the same. Benn will also have to start shooting a bit more. True, Benn was second on the team with an average just under three shots per game, but Seguin was generating more than four. There's a gap to close. Benn is also going to have to up his production on the power play. Improbably, the Captain currently has a mere 11 points with the extra man this season.
The other obvious "it's on you" candidate would be Dallas' flashy free agent, Jason Spezza. You have to think he's Benn's new partner in crime on the top line. A return of 10 goals and 32 assists in 54 games suggests he's up to the task, as does his 60.2 CF% (best among regular Stars forwards this season). Remaining an ace on the faceoff dot (55% FoW) will help, as will continued production on the Stars power play (16 PP Pts).
Where I worry with Spezza is usage. So far this season he's seen an average of 17:06 of ice time each night. With three top line players no longer available, you have to think Ruff will ride his scoring line harder, and that Spezza's TOI will go up. He's done it in the past. Spezza routinely exceeded 19 minutes per game as an Ottawa Senator, and played 18:11 as recently as last year. One of the many luxuries of having Tyler Seguin around was that it obscured the fact Jason Spezza is also a #1 center in the National Hockey League. It's time for him to remind us.
The other big name is Erik Cole, both in terms of his recent play, and by virtue of being the last man standing. Cole's 29 points are suddenly good for third among Stars forwards, his 15 goals are good for second. Last night, Cole played 19:22, which is well above his season average (14:02). For all of his historic inconsistency, you have to think the new normal is closer to 19 minutes than it is to 14 minutes. Now would be a really, really good time for another hot streak.
Especially considering Cole might not ride with Spezza and Benn. It's speculative, of course, but if the Stars are to pursue scoring balance, Cole is one of the pieces they could rely upon to make a second line work. Can he produce with another veteran (Fiddler or Horcoff in an expanded role), or perhaps as the steady hand to a call-up (Travis Morin, Curtis McKenzie, and Ritchie are all candidates).
You'll note I'm starting to mention a number of pieces. Yes, the focus has been somewhat confined to Tyler Seguin, but adding in Hemsky and Eaves, the Stars are now bereft fully half of their top two lines. This is going to have to be more than a patch job.
Is this finally the time for Colton Sceviour to iron out his inconsistent ice-time issues? Eighteen points on six goals and twelve assists in just 12:52 each night imply strongly there's more to give, but there's a reason his game-by-game log looks like he's tagging in and out with an evil twin. Sometimes, he's a swift-skating, body-banging winger with a developed scoring touch. Other times, he's over-eager to shoot, to force a pass, and to chase his way out of position.
Young Brett Ritchie, just now back from injury, is another candidate. His talent level is obvious, and he has already spent some time on Dallas' top lines. At 14:48 ATOI, it's also clear that Lindy Ruff has developed some level of trust in the burly winger. Three goals in 10 games is also an acceptable rate of return. Though he is still an AHL player at this moment, you have to think a significant injury to any of last night's three will mean a quick trip up I-35 from Austin.
Other callups could be coming. Curtis McKenzie is already with the team, and now seems likely to tag into the lineup. This would be an excellent time to make good on some of the promise he showed during last season's Calder Cup run, though it's much more likely his role will be to fill in beneath other Stars playing in expanded roles. In the worst case, long term layoffs to Eaves, Seguin, and Hemsky could also present an opportunity for Travis Morin, he of the stellar AHL production and oh-so-close NHL frustration.
The players already on the team are going to have to increase their production. In light of last night's injuries, Antoine Roussel's suspension becomes even more painful. He (11 goals), Cody Eakin (10 goals), and Ryan Garbutt (7 goals) are going to have to walk an even finer line: give more, give up less. Shawn Horcoff (19 points) would do well to channel last season's post-season energy, and Vern Fiddler (19 points) might have just seen his merit-promotion to the third line become semi-permanent.
Eakin and Roussel, I think, see the biggest bump. I think Dallas' new top six is some combination of Benn, Spezza, Cole, Eakin, Ritchie/Sceviour, and Roussel. I think we'll see usage spike for Benn, Spezza, and to a lesser degree, Eakin. It's time to ride the big guns whenever, however possible. How many more weeks is Valeri Nichushkin out? Is it also time to mention Kari Lehtonen's last three save percentages are .944, .932, and 1.000?
Life without Tyler Seguin, Ales Hemsky, and Patrick Eaves isn't going to be pleasant, but this isn't the stomach punch we all felt watching them hobble off last night. Last season, it would have been. During the wild stretch run, an injury to Seguin is exactly what Stars fans feared the most. Twelve months later, a team that's already weathered the loss of Big Val can shuffle pieces and try to move on. It would not be inappropriate to take a moment to be thankful for quality organizational depth.