Way back in December, you know, back when the season was only slipping away and hadn’t all the way slipped, I took a look at four of the team’s most critical players: Jason Spezza, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and John Klingberg. At the time, three of four were mired in nasty early-season struggles. Thirty-ish games later I decided to take a second look. No, the overall on-ice product hasn’t improved, but what about our big guns?
Feel free to take a glance at the original article, or just refer to the “original projection” included for each player to see how far they’ve come in the past 38 games.
Last Season – 68 GP / 32 G / 36 A / 68 Pts / 261 S / 12.3% / 19:27 ATOI / 22 PPP
This Season – 68 GP / 23 G / 44 A / 67 Pts / 252 S / 9.1% / 18:33 ATOI / 26 PPP
Original Projection – 82 GP / 27 G / 52 A / 79 Pts / 276 S / 9.9% / 18:54 ATOI / 36 PPP
New Projection - 82 GP / 28 G / 53 A / 81 Pts / 304 S / 9.2% / 18:33 ATOI / 31 PPP
Complaints about the Stars’ offense this season are both warranted and serious, but the more I look, the more I feel like Seguin retains his exemption. The 25-year old pivot projects to best his career-high marks in assists (currently 47 in 2013-2014) and power play points (currently 29 in 2014-2015), and is tantalizingly close to an overall career-high in points (currently 85 in 2013-2014).
Again, I find myself marveling at Seguin’s evolution as a hockey player. Did you know he hasn’t finished below 50% on the dot since 2013-2014, that he’s eclipsed 20 power play points every year since coming to Dallas (2013-2014), or that he’s maintained elite shot totals (270+ each year since 2013-2014). Shots are critical because there are no great goal-scorers in the NHL, just great volume shooters. Alex Ovechkin wins scoring titles by shooting nearly 400 times a season (398 last year), not by shooting 12.3%.
It seems like Coach Lindy Ruff is buying into Seguin’s continued success. With the Stars uncharacteristically light scoring, Seguin has spent most of the last ten games alongside his fellow amigos (30.69% of shifts with Jason Spezza and Jamie Benn). While it will not be enough to get the team’s season back on rails, more time with offensive specialists should keep any and all personal milestones well within reach. During a lost season, goodwill like that is important (plus, the kid has earned a little limelight).
Last Season – 68 GP / 32 G / 41 A / 73 Pts / 213 S / 15% / 20:08 ATOI / 23 PPP
This Season – 64 GP / 24 G / 39 A / 63 Pts / 173 S / 13.9% / 19:43 ATOI / 24 PPP
Original Projection – 82 GP / 22 G / 44 A / 66 Pts / 186 S / 11.8% / 20:07 ATOI / 25 PPP
New Projection – 78 GP / 29 G / 48 A / 77 Pts / 211 / 13.7% / 19:43 ATOI / 29 PPP
It’s easy to get lost in the glow of another late-season edition of Beastmode Benn. At the 30 game mark Jamie was still stuck with single digit goals and power play points. Fast forward to now and he’s very nearly caught up with December’s full-season projections. It’s absurd. The Captain is now three points out of the NHL’s top 10, and three power play points out of first place overall.
In December, I pointed out his shooting percentage (11.8%) and projected shot total (186) were limiting his offensive impact. Both have rebounded in a big way. Jamie is now shooting 13.9% a touch above his 13.3% career mark. He’s also solved his hesitancy in front of net and bumped his projection from 186 shots to 211. His play has been noticeably more assertive (for the most part), and what we’re seeing is a logical result.
While career highs in all major offensive categories seem out of reach (41 Goals, 52 assists, and 89 points), Jamie Benn’s monster run is at least introducing doubt. Without a major international competition to muck up the summer, Stars fans can perhaps dream of a world in which Benn gets going in October or November instead of February.
Last Season – 66 GP / 10 g / 43 A / 53 Pts / 140 S / 7.1% / 22:54 ATOI / 19 PPP
This Season – 66 GP / 11 G / 29 A / 40 Pts / 111 S / 9.9% / 23:29 ATOI / 14 PPP
Original Projection – 77 GP / 5 G / 33 A / 38 Pts / 99 S / 5.6% / 22:53 ATOI / 16 PPP
New Projection – 81 GP / 14 G / 36 A / 50 Pts / 136 S / 10.3% / 23:29 ATOI / 17 PPP
The last time I did these projections I had to hold my nose with Klingberg. Through 30 games the dynamic young defender had shifted from Sergei Zubov comparisons to Matt Niskanen lamentations (he was bad before he left, I promise!). Things had gotten so out of hand that Alex Goligoski (a player divisive enough to make the Hatfields and McCoy’s seem quaint) was actually missed.
From a statistical standpoint, things are better now. Klingberg’s goal totals have exploded. That improvement has also been enough to nudge his overall production closer to career norms. If this latest trend continues, Klingberg will join Benn in shrugging off a catastrophic start. It would be a nice bit of calm-down for an anxious fanbase.
Klingberg has responded to a higher degree of consistency in terms of his defensive partner. The first half of the season saw pretty much everyone take a turn, from Jordie Benn, to Dan Hamhuis, to Jamie Oleksiak. Lately, it’s been all about Esa Lindell. During the past ten games, Lindell has assumed full Robin status, and played beside Kilngberg on 83.64% of his shifts.
Legitimate questions remain over whether or not Klingberg’s improved production is a sign that the defensive unit, as a whole, has actually improved. That’s just a much broader topic. We can celebrate Klingberg’s resurgence without unpacking a defensive calamity spanning everything from goaltending, to forward coverage, to rank special teams play.
Last Season – 62 GP / 25 G / 24 A / 49 Pts / 165 S / 15.2% / 16:36 ATOI / 19 PPP
This Season – 56 GP / 12 G / 28 A / 40 Pts / 120 S / 10% / 16:10 ATOI / 18 PPP
Original Projection – 64 GP / 14 G / 25 A / 39 Pts / 151 S / 9.1% / 16:19 ATOI / 19 PPP
New Projection – 70 GP / 15 G / 35 A / 50 Pts / 150 S / 10% / 16:10 ATOI / 22 PPP
Our final point of study, Jason Spezza, is also doing a fair bit better now. Since December he’s improved his projections on assists and on the power play. It seems like a down goalscoring year is inevitable at this point, but at least we’re no longer looking at a total loss.
It’s still galling to see Spezza playing on the wing, and spending time with the likes of Lauri Korpikoski and Radek Faksa (17.22% of his total shifts the past 10 games), but on a team desperate for scoring depth such tinkering is impossible to avoid. Maybe things will improve once/if Ales Hemsky re-establishes himself as a regular.
Increasingly, the challenge with Spezza is as much about the parts available as it is the player himself. If he plays with Benn and Seguin someone gets shoved to the wing. If he plays away from Benn and Seguin the quality of his wingers drops. Unless he becomes a winger himself.
The Spezza situation is one of Dallas’ many sub-plots heading into the offseason. While it’s possible the loss of Cody Eakin via expansion draft or trade creates wiggle room, more likely a growing reliance on Radek Faksa, emergence by Devin Shore, and possibly even additions to the roster from Cedar Park (Jason Dickenson) or via free agency (a la Jiri Hudler this year) create further lineup tension.
Let’s put on the old Cap of Optimism for a moment. The fact that our fearsome foursome has, more or less, rebounded (or in Seguin’s case continued to perform) adds blessed simplicity to the Stars’ offseason plans. It means Dallas “only” needs to conjure up a second power play unit, a second scoring line, two goaltenders, and to resolve the chaos that is their defensive rotation. That’s tongue in cheek, honestly, the fact the Stars boast three elite talents inside the prime years of their career along with a still-potent fourth is a great starting point.
Of course the khaki slacks of depression point to the fact roster churn created a lot of this season’s issues, and is likely to recur. Also, the fact that three of four generally have rebounded is secretly a problem. At the end of the day, the Stars are going to get what they expected (in terms of raw production) out of their four most critical offensive players… and still stink. That changes Jim Nill’s task significantly. He has to both improve the pieces that aren’t working while simultaneously hedging for challenges with the pieces that are.
If the Stars wind up with new coaching, does that upset the now-settled Klingberg pairing? For instance. The forward corps could also be in for adjustment. Patrick Eaves is gone, Patrick Sharp could very well follow, and unless Robert Tiffin grows exponentially more influential Ales Hemsky could depart as well (for what it’s worth I love Hemsky and think he’s underrated). Throw in Eakin or Antoine Roussel being possible exposed and the enigma that is Val Nichushkin and things are about to get wild.
It’s a lot to ponder. Probably too much for fans that expected Dallas’ season wouldn’t end in April. So instead let’s focus on the 14 games this particular group has left and what they might be able to accomplish in that time.