The end result of the Dallas Stars' 2014-2015 offense was staggering. The Stars scored at a 3.13 goals-per-game clip, which was good to finish behind only the Stanley Cup runner-up Tampa Bay Lightning. For the second year running, the unit boasted a pair of scorers in the NHL's top ten (Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn), including hombre numero uno (Benn). Then, amidst the chaos of another busy offseason, GM Jim Nill further bolstered the unit by acquiring Patrick Sharp from the Chicago Blackhawks.
There's nothing wrong with adding strength to strength, but given the glaring nature of the Stars' weaknesses, moving for Sharp seemed like a bit of an odd turn. On the surface, at least. Thing is, if we look past the gigantic Art Ross trophy I hope Jamie Benn carries around in a gold-plated satchel, we see an offense that actually underwent quite a bit of turmoil.
Aside from Benn, Seguin and third amigo Jason Spezza, Dallas' top six was actually quite fluid last season. At times their number included Nichushkin, Cody Eakin, Patrick Eaves, Erik Cole, Ales Hemsky, Brett Ritchie, Colton Sceviour, Antoine Roussel, and Curtis McKenzie. If we count in-game shuffling, Ryan Garbutt and Shawn Horcoff also spent shifts in an offensive posture. While it is indisputable the overall unit worked, the team also enjoyed 82 games from Benn and Spezza, and 71 from Seguin.
Hope springs eternal, but it seems foolish to expect full seasons from the team's three marquee offensive talents. Furthermore, Cole, Garbutt, and Horcoff are outright gone, while Ritchie may well begin the year with another seasoning stint in Austin. Big Val basically spent an entire season on the shelf, Eakin and Roussel seem destined to fill in further down the lineup, and honestly, it seems a bit optimistic to expect either Sceviour or McKenzie are suddenly going to find twenty-five goals at the NHL level. That leaves Hemsky, who spent nearly thirty games getting to the point of being maddeningly inconsistent.
Look at the list again. Benn, Seguin and Spezza are locks for the top six. Shapr is too, unless of course Nill is suddenly the sort of GM to ship serious assets to acquire an overqualified third liner. That's two spots left. Maybe Eaves gets one. He certainly has recent performance on his side. Thing is, Eaves could also play a depth role, and has a history of injury. The first makes him a good candidate to clear space via coach's decision; the second sort of takes care of itself.
Perhaps it's Hemsky. There's at least some pedigree there. He had a few good years in Edmonton, and a stellar stretch with Spezza in Ottawa. Hemsky's case is further helped by the fact he really doesn't provide value outside of a scoring role. A cynic might say that, if he slumps again, Hemsky doesn't exactly provide much value inside the top six either, but don't you have to at least give him an opportunity?
Nichushkin, surely, has a spot all his own. Remember that rookie season? What if he learns to lift the puck? Sure, Big Val has drawn praise for conscientious defensive play, but the Russian machine wasn't drafted to back-check. Only Nuke is coming back from a missed season and might not be ready to contribute right out of the gate.
Two spots for Eaves, Hemsky, and Nuke. Unless Eaves gets hurt, Hemsky stays frustrating, and Val needs extra time to catch up. If that happens, don't the Stars suddenly need someone else to take a leap? How quickly can Ritchie put pressure on his peers, hasn't Sceviour showed spurts of production?
Failure is only truly conquered by volume. What the Stars have done is maximize the chances six players will find offensive success at the NHL level. They may not be the same six players all season, or the six players we expect heading into training camp, but that hardly matters. Yes, acquiring Patrick Sharp wasn't the most obvious move to make, but ensuring the Stars' retain their core identity as a potent offense is every bit as important as shoring up the defense and goaltending.