Saturday’s shootout win in Colorado closed the book on the 2016/2017 regular season. Unfortunately for Stars fans expecting more, early injuries and never-quite-solved consistency issues doomed Dallas to an April without playoff hockey. This is all we’re going to get, in other words. It sucks, especially after last year’s run convinced many a corner had been turned.
So today, let’s salve the wound by casting an avaricious glance at the Western Conference’s top eight, and marking what the Stars would need to keep up with the Joneses (proverbial, not Keith). Know your enemy or whatever.
Chicago Blackhawks (50 Wins – 1st in the Central, 1st in the West)
Goals, in a word. The Chicago Blackhawks had six players break the 20-goal threshold, and would have had seven with one more Ryan Hartman tally. Only Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn were able to best that mark for the Stars. Furthermore, the Hawks had two players (Patrick Kane and Artemi Panarin) beat 30 goals. If we look at points, Duncan Keith’s 47-assist season gave Chicago seven players with 40+ points. Dallas had three.
The goals themselves are an obvious benefit. You need more of them to beat the other guys, and on fifty occasions the Hawks managed just that. There are deeper implications, however, That many scorers translates to lineup flexibility, and to coaching headaches for the opposition. All too often this season we saw the Stars lump Benn, Seguin, and Jason Spezza onto a single line.
The Stars have to hope Jason Spezza has a healthier 2017-2018, that Mattias Janmark returns somewhere in the ballpark of his previous self, that management makes moves to bolster the offense (put me in the Ales Hemsky should return camp), and that some of the kids continue to progress. Easy as that.
Minnesota Wild (49 Wins – 2nd in the Central, 2nd in the West)
Devan Dubnyk made 65 starts and managed a .923 / 2.25 statline, with five shutouts tacked on for good measure. Neither of Dallas’ netminders matched a single one of those statistics. Minnesota’s Number One won 40 games while Dallas’ duo notched 34. Ryan Suter helps. Heck, there’s a lot to like across the entire Minnesota defensive unit, but the buck stops with Dubnyk.
Steady goaltending permeates an NHL roster. Mathew Dumba played 20 minutes a night at 22 years old, Jonas Brodin (23) played more than 19. Good goaltending also pushed the Wild penalty kill into the top 10 (10th, 82.95%) despite being a middle-of-the-pack group in terms of shot suppression (17th – 30.1 SA/GP).
All it took was for the Wild to gamble on a maligned stopper who had struggled in Edmonton, Nashville, and as a part of Montreal’s minor league system. Yes, there is risk, but players like Dubnyk can be had.
Secret bonus stat, yes, Dubnyk gets the press, but the Wild actually had more 40+ point scorers (nine) than the Blackhawks.
Anaheim Ducks (46 Wins – 1st in the Pacific, 3rd in the West)
It’s fitting the Ducks should fall just below the Wild. The obvious answer is John Gibson. The 23-year old American won 25 games with a .924 Sv%, a 2.22 GAA and six shutouts. However, he’s not the entire story. Behind Gibson, Jonathan Bernier started 33 games with a 21-7 record. The longtime backup stopped almost 92% of the shots he faced (.915 Sv%), and kept his goals-against roughly in line with Gibson (2.50 GAA).
Consistency across both goaltenders is important for any team in the NHL. It allowed the Ducks to weather injury concerns with Gibson. The fact the Ducks could roll either goaltender and expect reasonably similar results also helped offset Ryan Getzlaf’s slow start, and a season-long drought from Corey Perry (19G, big ole jerk). Unless you can find a 60+ game starter, you’re going to need a capable backup in today’s NHL.
Edmonton Oilers (47 Wins – 2nd in the Pacific, 4th in the West)
The biggest no-brainer on the list. The Oilers were inept long enough to win a no-brainer draft lottery and snag a generational talent in Connor McDavid. This season’s leading scorer (30 G, 70 A, 100 Pts) was the Oiler’s fourth swing since 2010. He follows Taylor Hall (traded), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (alright), and Nail Yakupov (traded).
It’s hard to call being terrible a strategy, even if it appears to be paying some dividends for the Oilers. Also, the Stars sort of already have their “McDavid Moment” in the form of the Tyler Seguin trade.
St. Louis Blues (46 Wins – 3rd in the Central, 5th in the West)
The Blues boasted top ten units on both the penalty kill (84.8% - 3rd) and the power play (21.3% - 8th). The Stars most emphatically did not (PP – 17.9% - 20th, PK – 73.9%, 30th). The Blues made the playoffs with a +17 goal differential, they scored 50 power play goals, that’s a big deal.
It’s an efficiency thing. St. Louis scored the 10th most power play goals despite generating the 20th most power play opportunities. Dallas went on the job more than all but seven teams. A couldn’t-score-when-they-needed-it power play cost Dallas in the post season last year. A complete special teams collapse this year is as much a reason they missed the dance as anything else.
San Jose Sharks (46 Wins – 3rd in the Pacific, 6th in the West)
Joe Pavelski (29 G, 68 Pts), Joe Thornton (43 A, 50 Pts), Logan Couture (25 G, 52 Pts), and Tomas Hertl (22 Pts, 49 GP) are all listed as centers. As with our friends in Chicago, that kind of positional depth makes line-matching against a team like San Jose incredibly difficult. It’s also a bulwark against injury. Promising young Hertl missed significant time this season, but the team stayed afloat.
Also, and he deserves his own paragraph, Brent Burns (29 G, 47 A, 76 Pts) is amazing.
Calgary Flames (45 Wins – 4th in the Pacific, 7th in the West)
Outside of his age (33), Mark Giordano is exactly what the Stars’ defensive unit needs. The Flame blueliner combines tangible production (12 G, 27 A), with analytical goodness (53.6 CF%), and does so at volume (23:35 ATOI). There simply isn’t anyone like that on the Stars’ blueline right now.
Nashville Predators (41 Wins – 4th in the Central, 8th in the West)
Unless of course P.K. Subban somehow becomes available.