The annual NHL trade deadline is right around the corner once again, and with it comes the yearly tradition of rampant, unrestrained trade speculation and theorization about any and all teams in the league.
For the Dallas Stars specifically, this year’s trade deadline presents an ideal, intriguing, and possibly rare opportunity, one that could reap major benefits for the organization if things shake out just right.
Before going any further, some quick housekeeping notes.
First of all, the Stars want to win now, and thus, will most likely be buyers at the trade deadline instead of sellers. The team didn’t throw big money and big contract terms to Ben Bishop, Alexander Radulov, and Martin Hanzal this summer without the explicit goal of achieving as much short-term success as possible.
Second of all — and an essential counterweight to the first point — is that the Stars want to be successful in the future too. They don’t seem willing to sell off future assets unless the immediate return is precisely what they’re looking for at exactly the right price point. They won’t make a bad deal just for the sake of making a deal.
So with all of that being said, what exactly are the Stars looking for? What should they be looking for?
Dallas General Manager Jim Nill is a man that usually holds his cards close to his chest, so deciphering what the Stars want at the trade deadline could be a real challenge, unless Nill decides to open up a little bit to the media at some point.
But, luckily, it’s easy enough to analyze from a distance which areas the Stars are stronger in and which areas they are weaker. More often than not, the team’s brass comes to the same sorts of conclusions that we do.
The main question then becomes simple - what areas are the Stars weaker in?
As of February 16, the Stars rank 11th in terms of goals per game, fifth in goals-against per game, 16th on the power play, and ninth on the penalty kill. According to Corsica, the Stars rank ninth in terms of Corsi For percentage and sixth in Goals For percentage.
Giving a cursory glance over these stats, both the “fancy” kind from Corsi and the more traditional kind, it seems obvious what the team’s biggest primary weakness has been so far: scoring while on the man-advantage.
This problem is, by no means, a glaring or fatal one. A 20% power play success rate, as the Stars have now, is good enough in and of itself. However, considering that the Stars have some incredible high-end talent on their roster, perhaps it should be better than it has been.
Either way, if the Stars are set on being buyers instead of sellers at the deadline anyway, this is a good place to focus on as a target.
When it comes to personnel, up to this point in the season, the Stars’ top power play unit has featured four players consistently, with a rotating cast of auditions for the final spot. The four consistent names are the obvious ones: John Klingberg, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Radulov. Other players that have rotated in a few times include Jason Spezza, Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, and Hanzal.
Despite some varying success, none of these fifth-spot supporting cast members have ever truly seemed to establish themselves as just the right fit to play with the top line of Benn, Radulov, Seguin, and Klingberg. The 34-year-old Spezza was a fit last year, but maybe isn’t quite as much now as he used to be.
Is this all a problem somehow? Potentially. Chemistry and familiarity go a long way on the man-advantage, so having one member of a group always be less familiar could prove to be a detriment.
For the sake of comparison, the top power play unit in the NHL belongs to the Pittsburgh Penguins. They have a consistent cast of five players that they trot out on the job in the powerful line of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Patric Hornqvist, and Kris Letang.
There is certainly logic to having “specialists” (a player that has a great release, a player that is great at screening a goalie, etc.) that can be rotated in to match up against specific penalty kills, but this option still exists and is not taken away even if a team has five players that are successfully used together as a unit the vast majority of the time.
The Stars already have eight capable blueliners ready to go, and with Klingberg — the NHL’s leading scorer among defensemen — excelling on the top power play group, it makes more sense for Dallas to look for a forward instead of defenseman.
Others close to the Stars organization, including Mike Heika, have come to the same conclusion.
In an incredibly lucky turn of events for the Stars, this year’s crop of trade deadline talent is rife with forwards. The unexpected early struggles of teams like the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, and Ottawa Senators have put players on the market that probably weren’t expected to be available at this time.
So, given everything we’ve covered, there appears to be a clear, specific type of player that the Stars should target at the trade deadline: a forward that can help the team’s power play.
(It should be mentioned, of course, that potential acquisitions could also possibly help out the team at even strength, on the penalty kill, and in other areas.)
To help narrow down which players fit this criteria, I’ve compiled a very simple list of forwards that it is assumed are on the trade market, and how many power play points they’ve recorded from the start of the 2016-2017 season until now.
From this chart, it shows which forwards have had success on the man-advantage over the last little while, and which ones have not. Knowing which players would fit in with the Stars specifically requires more work and analysis than simply looking at power play point totals, but this is a good place to start.
Mike Hoffman really excels in this area, while Mats Zuccarello and Max Pacioretty look good too. Thomas Vanek is an interesting name here, because he would help the power play and cost far, far less in a trade than the bigger names.
Rick Nash and Michael Grabner have both been mentioned as potential trade targets for the Stars, and while both are good players in their own right, neither would likely do very much to help the Dallas power play.
Actually getting any of these players is still no small feat for the Stars, as there will likely be many other buyers and asking prices will be high, but given the sheer number of players available the odds are good that Dallas can make a move to help bolster the team’s playoff hopes, both this season and maybe even next year’s as well.