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Playoffs or No, Dallas Stars Need Work

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This time of year, a lot of focus is put on whether or not a team is in contention. For a flawed Stars team, contention is irrelevant. It’s time to make a move.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Dallas Stars
Seeking Linemates for the End of the Season
Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

As the deadline approaches, it’s perfectly natural to look at where the Stars sit in the Western Conference Standings (12th place, 7 points out of the final Wild Card spot). The mistake, to me, is considering the Stars’ position in the standings (dire) and their status as a Buyer/Seller to be directly related. Bad = sell. Good = buy. One certainly influences the other, but even if you think there are glaring similarities between this year’s edition and the 2011/2012 LA Kings, there are moves to make.

Three issues, in particular, stand out as glaring. Whether the Stars are flawed, unlucky, or a little bit of both, they’re going to need to be addressed moving forward, and the deadline is as good a time as any.

1 – Prune the Defense

As of this writing, the Stars have nine defensemen on their NHL roster: John Klingberg, Dan Hamhuis, Johnny Oduya, Jordie Benn, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Julius Honka, Esa Lindell, and Stephen Johns. Three of those players (Oleksiak, Nemeth, Lindell) will be RFAs this offseason while a fourth (Oduya) will be an UFA. A VERY cursory glance at the Texas Stars’ roster reveals two more names worth short-term attention (Ludwig Bystrom and Mattias Backman).

That’s a lot of names. Buyer or seller, the Stars have to do something with the jumble — they’re not good enough to stand still.

The Stars struggle to suppress shots (30.6 SA/GP – 17th), and if we look at even-strength play, are not making up the difference with shots for (-27 Shot Attempts – 18th). Digging deeper this is a negative possession team (49.73% CF – 18th) despite being a little lucky (100.28 PDO). Yes, those are team stats. So is a penalty kill that leads the league in generosity (73.3%).

If we narrow down to individual players, only Honka (11.2% CFRel - benched!), Hamhuis (5.1% CFRel), and Nemeth (1.3% CFRel) are clocking in above the team average. Switching to Fenwick sneaks Johns into positive territory (1.8% FFRel), but the overall narrative is unchanged. Klingberg (31 points – 13th) is the only defender in the NHL’s top 50 scoring defensemen, but before we hand out a ribbon, remember he finished 5th last season.

In a lot of ways, the situation with the defense is emblematic of the team as a whole. If this is a youth movement, the Stars should be carving out meaningful minutes for their youth. That makes Oduya (UFA this offseason before his injury) and Hamhuis (UFA after next season) attractive pieces. If the Stars are sellers, both men should go. If they’re still feeling frisky, perhaps just one.

Furthermore, the Stars need to figure out who, exactly, is in said “Youth Movement.” Starting last season, the Stars have consistently kept one (or more) prospects confined in their press box. Last season it was Oleksiak (19 games played), Jyrki Jokipakka (40 games played) and Nemeth (38 games played) suffering through long observational stretches. It, briefly, looked like trading Jokipakka was going to fix the logjam, but then the Stars added Hamhuis, Lindell, and, presumably, Honka.

There is a difference between players fighting for playing time and roster congestion. Especially when you factor in waiver ineligibility. The Stars have put themselves in a position where they cannot play their kids with the big club and cannot send their kids down to the farm. One season is an inconvenience, two is a problem.

Or the Stars are ready to compete now. If that’s the case the defense is still a limited, leaky bunch with at least one significant injury. It’s time to flip someone(s) from the Lindell/Honka/Johns/Oleksiak/Nemeth/Bystrom/Backman pile for a player who can immediately step into the top four.

This group has had 54 games to solidify and prove they can compete in the upper echelons of the Western Conference (longer if you include last year). There is patience, and then there is insanity.

2 – Find a Scorer

Tyler Seguin is 10th in the league in scoring (51 points), 19th in the league in goals (20), and 16th in assists (31). Over the past ten games, Seguin spent 48.9% of his shifts alongside Jason Spezza and Antoine Roussel. Post-injury to Spezza, he’s been between Brett Ritchie and Jiri Hudler (21.78%) and Ritchie and Roussel (18.81%). Roussel, Ritchie, and Hudler, the linemates of the NHL’s 10th leading scorer, rank 240th, 300th, and 492nd respectively.

That’s not good enough.

Even before Spezza’s injury, the Stars’ forward group was a mixture of maladies. Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky aren’t going to play this year, Jiri Hudler battled Kalavirus, and #IAmValNichushkin decided strange coaching decisions would be easier to take in his natural Russian. It’s left the unit depleted, and it’s left the Stars’ big gun adrift.

Again, the Stars’ status as a buyer or seller is largely irrelevant. Even if we assume Janmark returns as exactly the player he was and Spezza’s ouchie is a one-off blip, the Stars have decisions to make on Patrick Sharp (UFA), Patrick Eaves (UFA), and Hemsky (UFA). At some point they’ll also need to decide if Seguin is a center or a wing. They’ll need to either nail Seguin and Benn together, or find enough depth to play them apart. That depth does not exist on the roster at present.

Rent Brian Gionta, take a run at James van Riemsdyk, gamble on Tomas Vanek. Heck, would a package built around Julius Honka be enough to get the Avs listening on Matt Duchene? Who is this off-season’s Nail Yakupov or Evander Kane? Jordan Eberle is perpetually available.

A move now rounds out the offense and gives the Stars at least a puncher’s chance to stay in the mix until Spezza returns, or it solves a problem before free agent prices explode. Thanks to the “Hey, You Showed Up!” overtime system, the league is artificially full of teams that think they can make a run. Take advantage of one now.

3 – Purge a Goaltender

Neither Antti Niemi nor Kari Lehtonen are the reason the Stars have struggled this season. Furthermore, goaltending wasn’t the reason the Stars got the blues last season (blame the power play for that one). Leaving it with the goalies is both lazy and reductive. That said, $10 million for subpar netminding in a cap league is untenable. It’s a failed experiment.

This isn’t a situation where the Stars are going to get value. They need to cut bait via buyout, lopsided trade, or outright demotion. Think about players like Martin Jones, Cam Talbot and Matt Murray. All were backups given an opportunity to start due to injury. That path does not exist at present with the Dallas Stars. They need a free spot at the NHL level to at least begin searching for options.