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Positives Exist for Stretch-Run Stars

Yes the season has been a disappointment, and no, it’s not likely this bunch will find a way back into playoff contention. However, there are still plenty of positive stories to chase over the season’s final 22 games.

Winnipeg Jets v Dallas Stars Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images

I’m sure the Dallas Stars are eager for a break. The brutal slog of a season spent beneath expectations has got to be a drain. Perhaps a chance to reset is what the team needs to force their way back into at least the playoff conversation, if not the race itself. More realistically, the Stars are four teams and eight points away from the West’s final Wild Card spot. That gap would be daunting with 40 games left to play, let alone the 22 Dallas has after their bye.

Does that mean fans should check out? Of course not. The Stars are still our team, and there are a number of interesting storylines to chase over the final stretch of games. Below are just a handful of non-playoff, positive plots to pull for as we head towards April.

Can Tyler Seguin stay healthy?

The Stars’ mercurial center reached his bye week ninth in overall NHL scoring with 59 points and sixth in assists with 38. This is all despite a thoroughly decimated forward unit and sometimes-unconventional assortment of line-mates. Both are already heady achievements, but recent history has taught Stars fans to hold their breath when it comes to #91.

Since his arrival in Big D, just about the only thing capable of keeping Seguin off the scoresheet is keeping him out of the game itself. In 2014 Seguin missed 11 games, in 2015 he missed 10. In those seasons he finished seventh and fourteenth in scoring. Tantalizing finishes given his obvious talents and, until this year, the Stars’ overall offensive gift. So far this season, Seguin hasn’t missed a game. There have been high sticks, slashes, and errant pucks, but nothing severe enough to sideline the dynamic forward. Please know I am knocking on wood as I type this.

In many ways, this season can be considered Seguin’s most impressive in victory green. While the team around him has struggled, Seguin has continued to pile up points to the tune of 21 goals, 38 assists, and 59 points through 60 games. It is perhaps a bit much to expect him to make up eight points on league-leading wunderkid Connor McDavid, but netting three points over his competition the rest of the way would push Seguin into the Top-5.

On the personal achievement front, Seguin is 16 goals and nine assists shy of career highs (37 and 47 respectively). The former would take a fairly Hullian explosion across the remaining 22 games, but nine assists seems do-able. A 9.6% shooting percentage (his lowest since 2010) and a PDO of 99.2 suggest improvement is very possible.

It won’t be Jamie Benn’s improbable dash to the Art Ross, but isn’t it about time Tyler Seguin got his own branded Dallas moment?

Patrick Eaves’ Feel-Good Tour

Sticking with the forwards, how can Stars fans stand to miss a moment of Patrick Eaves’ superfluous season. Perhaps applying some of the time he’s saved grooming, Eaves is already sitting on career highs in goals (21) and points (37). Two more assists is all he needs to hit the personal accomplishment hat trick (16 currently, career high 18), which seems like a foregone conclusion at this point.

The bigger question is whether or not Eaves will need to switch jerseys at any point. From a late-season addition perspective, Eaves checks just about every possible box. He’s affordable ($1 million AAV) and unrestricted at the end of the season. Patrick is also a veteran of 604 NHL regular season games with another 76 in the post-season, including a run to the Eastern Conference Finals with Carolina in 2009.

Eaves offers nothing but upside to a possible contender, and could bring meaningful help in return. As a fan of the Stars, I would hate to see him go, but as a fan of Patrick Eaves, I would be hard pressed to deny him an opportunity to chase Lord Stanley’s Cup (just so long as he promises to pull the old Keith Tkachuk and come right back).

Honorable mentions to both Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya. These potentially-valuable vets (assuming Oduya can get healthy) could also draw interest from the upper echelons of the league as deadline acquisitions.

Honk(a) to get Traffic Moving

As and if the Stars truly do waive the white flag on a playoff run, it could reduce the “Win Today” pressure on their coaching staff. If that happens, fans could get another glimpse of the player who flashed brilliance during a 10-game cameo this season.

Yes, the sample size is lousy, but if we look at the NHL’s own 5v5 shot attempt data, Honka shines. The rookie blueliner tops the Stars at 58.30%, nearly seven points higher than the next defender (Dan Hamhuis at 51.85%). Honka is also just outside the Stars’ top ten in points per game (11th with 0.40 P/GP).

The point isn’t that fans can automatically expand that performance across an 82-game season, but wouldn’t it be nice to learn a little more about Honka as a player? For better or worse, the Stars sliding definitively out of contention (and possibly trading some of his colleagues) could create the opportunity.

Second Half Surges

Would it surprise you to learn Jamie Benn leads all Stars in scoring over the past month (15 points in 12 games), or that John Klingberg is tops among defensemen (6 points in 12 games)? Those are big pieces of the Stars puzzle, and both struggled mightily at the start of the year. However both have recently shown signs of a turn-around.

Neither is out of the woods by a long-shot. Klingberg’s 51.39% 5v5 SAT isn’t great, and Jamie is a charitable 49.18%. That said, the raw production is encouraging. For a fan-base suddenly nervous about the future, a strong closing kick could be vital in settling nerves.

The Kids are Alright?

Sticking with TIL, Patrik Nemeth is a Honka-like 57.61% 5v5 SAT over the past month, and Esa Lindell’s 21:57 is the second highest TOI/GP behind only Klingberg’s 24:39. Stephen Johns (17:31) and Jamie Oleksiak (17:21) are also in the top 10. Amongst the forwards, Radek Faksa (0.5 P/GP / 16:42 TOI/GP) and Devin Shore (15:12 TOI/GP) have settled into consistent roles.

Perhaps those totals will continue and finally mollify the youth-movement gang. Perhaps as well heavy minutes, and the scrutiny that comes with them, will give the team a leg up heading into what might be a busy off-season.

Other Stars Chasing Career Highs

Finally, on the subject of scoring, Stars fans can hope for a handful of other milestones down the stretch:

Jason Spezza - On nine separate occasions during his illustrious career, the veteran center has topped 20 goals. He’d need a massive hot streak to get there this year (12 goals in his last 22 games), but it would be a fun story to watch.

John Klingberg - The slick Swede is also chasing a milestone. With eight goals to his name, Klingberg is three tallies away from a new career high.

Antoine Roussel - Another hat-trick would see the French winger surpass his previous career high of 11 goals. Roussel also needs four points to exceed his current high of 29.

Jordie Benn - Another defenseman joins our list. The Elder Benn needs one goal and six points to reset highs of two goals and 20 points.

Adam Cracknell - The burly winger has already exceeded his previous best goal-scoring effort and needs just another point to beat his current high of 10.

As far as narratives go, “Can the Stars win the Cup?” is much more fun, but to call this a sunk season does a major disservice to all involved. The Stars weren’t quite their championship selves in 1993-94, but fans still got to enjoy Russ Courtnall’s 80 points. Don’t be fooled by the doomsayers. There is still beauty in the world, and with this roster. You just have to know what to watch for.