It's summer, the really boring part. We're past meaningful free agents, we haven't reached training camp yet, and October feels as remote as the chances San Jose will ever win a Stanley Cup (#neverforget, #marchmentsucks). I'm bored, man, you're probably bored too! Where's the hockey? Lacking any tangible way to pass the time, why not settle for wild speculation?
The rapidly-developing Stars enter next season with a number of significant questions. It seems like each positional group; the forwards, the defense, the goaltending, and special teams has or will undergo some modification. How is this team going to get one game better? Then four games better? Then eight?
So here's the bit. We're going to go group by group and examine what the Stars hope will happen, and what they fear will happen.
We'll start with the forwards, Dallas' obvious strength. The group that finished the 2015/2016 season was good for 265 goals, more than any other team in the NHL. That group, in effect, then added Radek Faksa at the deadline and got even more dangerous. They also celebrated an extension for team Captain, league scoring champion, and MVP candidate Jamie Benn. What could possibly go wrong?
Wes: Let's start with the obvious: injuries. For the second season running Jamie Benn will enter training camp post-surgery, Tyler Seguin was unable to compete in the playoffs, and Jason Spezza will be 33 years old. The team can (and has) survived the loss of one of those pieces, but any worst case scenario is going to revolve around the Three Amigos. Maybe a balky back, another low-bridge hit, or a fight gone wrong.
Marcus: It is hard for me to argue against injuries, because ultimately that is the worst case scenario for this forward group. Of course all of the role players could flounder but if 14, 91, and 90 perform to their par the team will be okay. The true apocalypse could only occur if Benn went down.
Wes: You're not wrong. I will hedge a bit, though, and say that a true worst case involves two of the three. This team, as currently constructed, can run on two Amigos for short periods of time, but that's depressing, dazzle me.
Marcus: To play the game, here is the best case scenario for the Stars' forwards: Benn has 90-100 points, Seguin scores 50+ goals. Spezza has 70 points and Sharp has 55 points again. Nichushkin starts to settle in and scores 20 goals with 30 assists. Mattias Janmark somehow improves offensively and continues to make plays defensively. The Fak'em line begins where they left off last year, and by season's end are one of the premier show-stopping lines in the entire league. Through a youth movement, some combination of Ritchie, McKenzie, Shore, Eaves, Dickinson, etc. form a formidable 4th line that is dangerous offensively and physically terrorizes the opponents. Cody Eakin wins 50% of his faceoffs and manages a Corsi Rel of 0.0% and CF% of 50.00 percent.
That's your best case scenario.
Wes: Cody Eakin! I love it. I think the thing I like most about that scenario is how plausible it is. Sure, Seguin needs a quick start and Spezza has to hold off father time one more season, but it's not like he's 40. That said, it isn't a lock. Once again it falls to me to spin a tale of woe.
While plausible, your best case highlights the fact that our beloved Dallas Stars are accumulating question marks beneath the big trio. We've already touched on age for players like Sharp and Spezza, but Ales Hemsky is a candidate to regress as well. Even if he doesn't, we could still talk about consistency. Hemksy is basically a synonym for uneven play, and despite his promise, Valeri Nichushkin is more hat than cattle at this point. Those are just the names on the marquee. Do you want to bet on Cody Eakin at this point? Are we certain Mattias Janmark isn't going to backslide even a little bit? How about Brett Ritchie, is it really realistic to assume he'll be healthy and capable of top six contributions? Devin Shore has an injury to overcome, Patrick Eaves will play great between injuries of his own, after that Brendan Ranford?
Yeah, the offense has been great, but the Stars aren't going to stumble into Vernon Fiddler's career-high goals every season (13 in 2014/2015).
Marcus: There are lots of moving parts, no argument here. But there is also some upside to those moving parts. It isn't like the team is counting on Ales Hemsky suddenly becoming an All-Star, or Val Nichushkin to win the Rocket Richard.
I think the best case scenario is laid out pretty clearly. Veterans like Sharp, Hemsky, and Eaves play within 10% of where they were last year, and one or two young guys have a breakout season. As far as the forwards go, those are pretty reasonable expectations, no? Especially considering the fact that you could argue Faksa and Janmark "broke out" last year.
Expecting some decline from veterans is understandable but I do not think a freefall is in the cards. Hemsky and Sharp don't play a physically demanding style of hockey.
The crazy part is, I would argue that 3-5 guys could have a drop off in play and the team is just as dynamic as last year. A worst case scenario involves a Benn injury (long term), and a best case scenario sees everyone do exactly what they did last year.
Wes: Thing is, our Stars don't play in a vacuum (except San Jose, that place sucks!). Along with the significant changes we're going to see on the squad, the rest of the division isn't getting any easier. This season Stars fans will be treated to Patrick Kane, P.K. Subban, and and Nathan MacKinnon. A lot. This unit could be every bit as good as it was last season and still lose ground in a hyper-competitive Central Division. These are the margins we're living with, and they make the worst cases outlined above so much more terrifying. That 10% you mentioned might be enough to fall into the 6-7-8 wasteland.
More than any other area the Stars must not slip at forward, and yet, outside of three critical pieces it seems like an awful lot is up for grabs. Things could begin to Ruffle very quickly, lines could fail to coalesce, and without the Big Guns the Stars would be forced to rely on defense and goaltending. That, to me, is a clear worst case.
Marcus: I see what you are saying, but the Stars' forward group would be like an investment portfolio with 70% of its shares in Wal-Mart, Chevron, Google, and Lockheed Martin. Of course to mix in some risk you bought some Nintendo a month ago (Janmark bubble possibility), Netflix (Nichushkin), Apple (Faksa split, please?), and shares in your uncles' Mexican restaurant (Cody Eakin). The borderline investments could go poorly, but the core of this team is the core. Barring injury, you aren't talking about a huge variance in performance.
It is worth mentioning that the actual best case for the forwards group is the osmosis of some defensive wherewithal. There were flashes from the Faksa line last year, and the best case scenario for this season is continued improvement in that regard.
Wes: Insert "Defending Big D" joke here.