There are only three weeks left in the remaining season and the Dallas Stars are currently on the playoff bubble with 84 points in 72 games.
That’s a bit disappointing for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations heading into the season, but the Stars have been doing much better this season compared to last. Several players have taken an extra step forward, such as Radek Faksa emerging as a premiere shutdown center, and Mattias Janmark returning from injury as a legitimate top six forward.
However, only a few players have performed at such an elite level that they’ve transformed the team with their play. Let’s take a look at three players who could be considered the team’s Most Valuable Player and break down the case for and against them.
The Case For: Klingberg has been leading all NHL defensemen in scoring for the majority of the season, sitting at 62 points which puts him at fourth on the team. He currently sits at 5th on Dallas in CF% with 53.4 and 9th in FF% with 52.4% out of skaters who have played at least 20 games (all stats courtesy of hockey-reference.com).
In addition, Klingberg leads the team in average time on ice with 23:55, and has not been overly sheltered by the coaching staff (he starts 45.3% of his shifts in the defensive zone). Under Ken Hitchcock and assistant coach Rick Wilson, Klingberg has steadily improved his defensive play, slowly transforming into a strong two-way defenseman. While he might not win the award (especially if Dallas misses the playoffs), Klingberg is almost a shoe-in to be a Norris Trophy finalist, handed out annually to the league’s best defensemen.
But perhaps the strongest case for Klingberg is his consistency throughout the year. While many players have hit ruts or been stuck in a scoring drought or two, Klingberg has consistently been one of the best players on the ice since opening night back in October.
The Case Against: While Klingberg is certainly making progress in his own zone, he currently does not spend much time on the penalty kill, despite being the team’s best defenseman. He currently averages only 1:08 of shorthanded TOI per game, which is good for 12th on the team excluding Martin Hanzal (who is out for the season) and above only Antoine Roussel out of regular penalty killers. If you take into consideration that Roussel is usually the one in the penalty box (he leads the team with 122 PIM), you could argue that Klingberg is the least-trusted (or least utilized) player on the PK.
In addition, if you consider the definition of MVP as “a player whose absence from the team would hurt Dallas the most,” then Hitchcock’s coaching style might hurt Klingberg’s case. Hitchcock runs a defense-first system, where the primary purpose of the defensemen is to play defense and their offensive ability is an added bonus. Should Klingberg become injured, Hitchcock likely wouldn’t change much about how he approaches his games, outside of perhaps giving the likes of Stephen Johns or Julius Honka more ice time.
The Case For: After overcoming a slow start to the season, Radulov has been nothing but fantastic in his first season in Dallas. He currently sits in third on the team in points with 62, already a career high, and ranks sixth in CF% and fourth in FF% with 53.3 and 53.7 respectively.
But the impact Radulov has had on the team goes far beyond points. Mark Stepneski and Sean Shapiro have both written about the energy that Radulov brings to the game on a day-to-day basis, even on back-to-back nights or during routine practices. He’s taken the time to observe the game of younger players, such as Jason Dickinson, and given them pointers on how to improve. He has gone far beyond the team’s expectations of him when he signed with Dallas in free agency.
Sometimes the chemistry and leadership in the locker room matter just as much as the point contributions, and Radulov brings both to the table.
The Case Against: Intangible benefits aside, it’s hard to argue that Radulov has been the best Stars player when he sits behind both Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn in terms of points and is only slightly ahead of Klingberg. Points aren’t everything, of course, and “best” doesn’t necessarily mean “most valuable,” but while losing Radulov would be a huge blow to the team, it wouldn’t be insurmountable.
Radulov also starts 57.3% of his shifts in the offensive zone, tied with Jason Spezza for the team lead. He doesn’t play on the penalty kill, which means his contributions are primarily offensive and not defensive, like other forwards such as Jamie Benn, Seguin, and Radek Faksa. He also is second on the team in PIM with 60, all of which have been minor penalties (he has not been in a fight in the NHL according to hockeyfights.com). Even if the Stars have a great penalty kill, Radulov only hurts them by going into the box so often.
The Case For: Seguin currently leads Dallas in both goals and points with 38 and 69 respectively, good for fourth and 21st in the league. He sits in third in average TOI with 20:44, which is the most among forwards, and eighth on average PK time (excluding Hanzal) with 1:35, third among forwards.
Perhaps the most impressive part about Seguin’s game is how well he’s adapted to becoming a two-way center. When Hitchcock discussed turning Seguin into a modern Mike Modano upon arriving in Dallas, most people assumed that Seguin’s point total would suffer as a result. Instead, he is on pace for 78 points, which would be the second best total of his career, and should also hit the 40 goal mark for the first time. That’s all despite starting more of his shifts in the defensive zone (51.1%) than the offensive.
In addition, while the rest of the team has been struggling in their last few games, Tyler Seguin appears to be firing on all cylinders. If Seguin were to suddenly get injured, you could easily argue that the Stars’ playoff hopes would be all but over. At the least, someone would have to step up in a big way to lead the team to a postseason birth.
The Case Against: If there is one area that Seguin doesn’t stand out, it’s the more advanced stats. His 51.6 CF% and 52.3 FF% are not bad, but they’re both only good for 10th on the team out of skaters with 20 or more games played. In other words, his puck possession isn’t quite as good as someone like Radulov or Jason Spezza, and instead is more or less average.
But that’s nitpicking at its finest. Seguin has been one of the team’s best players for the duration of the season and arguably the best as of late, and it’s hard to find any obvious flaws in his game.
Alexander Radulov and John Klinberg have both had fantastic seasons, going far beyond expectations heading into the year. I myself have thought several times that one or the other deserved to be called the MVP of the Dallas Stars.
But as the regular season approaches its last leg, it has become clear to me that Tyler Seguin has set the bar just a little bit too high. He’s been the best, most talented player on the team, and his absence, in my opinion, would hurt Dallas the most. He won’t be getting any Hart votes, but he’s for sure the Stars’ MVP.
Who do you think is the Stars’ MVP?
This poll is closed
I’m not sure