To say last season was a disappointing one for fans of the Dallas Stars may be an understatement.
The team was coming off of a season in which they dominated the Western Conference in the regular season and were one Game 7 win away from going to the Western Conference finals in the playoffs. Then injuries combined with the team never quite getting a groove going ended with one of the worst seasons Stars fans have witnessed in a while and the third overall draft pick in the draft. It was the highest the team has drafted since they started playing in Dallas.
The contrast between the two seasons was quite stark. After all, the team had finally seemed to be showing results after overhauling the roster with general manager Jim Nill at the helm. They looked like they were finally going to start being the perennial playoff team Nill and company were looking to develop the Stars into.
Nill went to work again, retooling the roster this offseason.
A new (old) bench boss was put into place with the hiring of Ken Hitchcock. Hitchcock has provided proven results in his career, and should give the team a defensive structure that was sorely lacking – and crippling to the team’s success – the last two seasons.
Goaltending had been a weakness for the Stars for several seasons, and they traded for, then re-signed, Ben Bishop to be the starter moving forward. Bishop is an obvious upgrade for the Stars heading into next season.
They drafted a blue chip defensive prospect at the draft, shoring up the defensive future of the Stars.
Martin Hanzal was acquired to provide added two-way center depth on the team and should improve the penalty kill. Alexander Radulov, the top offensive free agent this summer, was signed to give the Stars added offensive weapons that will make it harder for opposing teams. After all, shutting down Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, John Klingberg, Julius Honka, and Alexander Radulov on the power play will be a “choose your own adventure” for penalty killing units.
But these types of upgrades have been seen by Stars fans before. It’s not that dissimilar to the moves made the season before the team dominated the conference just two years ago.
Plenty of questions exist for the Dallas Stars: will Hitchcock have a good relationship with Benn – and, by extension, the rest of the locker room? How will Jason Spezza’s game be impacted by the Hanzal signing? Will the defense adapt quickly to the new defensive scheme? Can Bishop return to his Vezina-esque ways? Will the power play be improved? Can the penalty kill not be “historically bad” this season? (Ok, that’s not a high bar to set, let’s be honest…)
It’s hard not to look at this team today and feel that the Stars won’t be a playoff team. The intangibles will be the true influence on the season – the coalescence of talent in the room, the working relationship between the coaches and the team, the buy-in of the players into the system and the results they should see from it.
Given all of the changes, and the questions that still exist before the team actually hits the ice, what are your expectations for the Stars next season?
Personally, I feel that anything less than a second round playoff appearance will be a disappointment. After all, the window seems to be open now. The prime of Benn and Seguin’s careers won’t last forever. It’ll be on them as much as anyone else to lead the team to success this season.