The Dallas Stars were gangbusters last year. They outperformed most people’s expectations. While many figured that their offense would make them a contender for a wild card spot or possibly the third seed in the Central Division, not many expected them to actually win the hardest division in the league.
Yet there they were at the end of the season, not only winning the Central but beating out all of the teams in the West in points and outdone by only one other team — the Washington Capitals, who won the President’s Trophy.
Yet as all offseasons go, changes were made. The Stars lost several key defensemen (Alex Goligoski signed in Arizona, Jason Demers signed in Florida, and Kris Russell departed for a yet-to-be-determined team) and lost Valeri Nichushkin to the KHL. However, their offense remains relatively intact from last season. They’re giving the reigns over to the young guys ready to make their mark in the NHL, and they’re goaltending remains the same as last year.
Which leads us to three questions facing the Dallas Stars this season.
Can the Dallas Stars be legitimate contenders with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in net?
Stars general manager Jim Nill is on record that he believes they can be the backstops for this team. They’ll get plenty of scoring support to help them out with guys like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Jiri Hudler, Ales Hemsky, and John Klingberg in front of them. Both goaltenders won 25 games last year, and they did help the team win the West.
However, the question remains whether they can get it done in the postseason. Yes, they had decent performances in the regular season. But nobody has forgotten the epic meltdown that happened in Game 7 versus the St. Louis Blues, either. Niemi has backstopped a team to a Cup before (back in 2010, which isn’t exactly recent) and Lehtonen has never really had a good showing in the postseason. Combined with their last playoff game, there are reasons for the feeling that this duo aren’t the ones to win the Cup for this team.
One thing is for certain: Jim Nill is not afraid to make a move to improve his team. The Stars will likely be connected to any rumor about a good goaltender on the move throughout the year and at the trade deadline. The Stars feel that their window of contention for the Stanley Cup is opening, and they will not be afraid to shake things up if the goaltending will be an impediment to their objective this season.
With the recent string of injuries to centers like Cody Eakin, Tyler Seguin, and Mattias Janmark, who will the Stars tap to fill the voids in the forward lines to start the season?
Preseason results seem to indicate that Gemel Smith might get the nod and make the opening night roster. Adam Cracknell also looks like a possibility, with help needed in the center position. With the injuries that the Stars have sustained, it looks much more likely that Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie, who appeared to be fighting for the last spot in the lineup in July, are going to be members of the bottom six on opening night as well.
Will the defense be improved over last season even though the blueline is now younger and less experienced?
You know how they say that one time is a fluke and two times is a coincidence? Well, now we can say that the Stars preseason ability to limit the number of shots on goal is a trend. They’ve limited the scoring chances against, and the forward units appear to be more committed to their backchecking responsibilities.
There is reason to feel that the overall defense of the team will be better this season based on early results. However, it is still a question mark that only time will answer for this team this year.