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Matching Minors: Goal-Setting for 2018-2019

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The last two years have made it clear that the Dallas Stars are in dire need of balanced offense. Can they find it before next season, or is it going to be another nail-biting year in Big D?

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Montreal Canadiens
Is Mad Max Pacioretty the answer to Dallas’ recent goal-scoring woes?
Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

First things first, this article was written on an island. On that island, in addition to the usual coconuts, hula girls, and whatnot, the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes is not a thing. You see, it can’t be a thing. Not if we’re going to talk about other aspects of Free Agency, at least not while the Dallas Stars are in the mix. Which they are, or were, or might be. Honestly, it’s hard to tell from moment-to-moment. Okay, focus. So if Karlsson isn’t a thing, that leaves the Stars still chasing offensive depth.

Last season was something of an offensive disaster. After leading the league in 2015-2016 with 3.23 goals per game, the Dallas Stars first staggered in 2016-2017 (16th - 2.71 GF/GP), and then stumbled in 2017-2018 (18th - 2.82 GF/GP). Not coincidentally, Dallas last made the playoffs in 2015-2016. Blame coaching, blame veterans, blame depth. Blame whatever you want, the team has not been able to consistently generate offense and it’s been a huge issue.

All roads to improvement in 2018-2019 are paved with goals, so, Robert, where are they going to find those goals? Are there legitimate internal options, or is a free agent the best course of action? If a free agent, which, what do you give up, and for how long? Finally, are there any solutions via trade, and if so, what would the Stars have to surrender?

Wes: Let’s start with internal options. Last season’s top four scorers were Jamie Benn (36 G 43 A 79 Pts), Tyler Seguin (40 G 38 A 78 Pts), Alex Radulov (27 G 45 A 72 Pts) and John Klingberg (8 G 59 A 67 Pts). With the exception of maybe Radulov; assuming health that group shows no signs of imminent collapse (for those of you pissed I just jinxed the season, hatemail can be directed to my Twitter account: @RobertTiffin). More likely we’ll see a nudge upwards in production with a new, more offensive system. Just not enough of a nudge, not all by themselves.

By and large Dallas’ big guns have come through, and they will continue to come through. It’s time for someone else to join them.

Could Mattias Janmark be that someone? Technically, Matty was next on the Stars’ scoring list. However, he was 33 points behind Klingberg (19 G 15 A 34 Pts). It would perhaps be more accurate to describe him as the first name on a second, separate list. Ditto Radek Faksa (17 G 16 A 33 Pts), Devin Shore (11 G 21 A 32 Pts), and Tyler Pitlick (14 G 13 A 27 Pts).

Janmark offers a compelling case. After missing an entire season to injury he proved he could play a regular shift (81 GP / 16:56 ATOI), and built on an impressive 29-point rookie season. So long as the knee holds up he should better last year’s totals if for no other reason than lousy luck (97.2 PDO), but is that a 30+ point jump?

Shore was even unluckier (94.1 PDO), but remains a question in my mind. He played an awful lot with high end players (1:49 PPTOI). What happens if the new coaching staff doesn’t see him on PP1 or on either of the scoring lines?

Not that Faksa is any less volatile. Though he is my personal pick of the group, Radek’s fate seems inextricably tied to Martin Hanzal. If Hanzal isn’t healthy does that put Faksa on a checking line? Is he more Selke than Art Ross, is what I’m saying? I feel like Faksa needs a role change to reach higher levels of production, but the coaches might be thrilled (justifiably so) with what they’ve already got.

Am I missing anyone? On last season’s roster? Are you a Gemel Smith guy? Is this the year Brett Ritchie “Figures it out?” Also, do we put Valeri Nichuskin in this bucket, or is he technically an FA?

Rob M: I agree with you Wes. but I am going to instead focus on Jamark and Faksa, though Pitlick, Shore, and Blake Comeau could all help produce more goals.

We all know that the lack of scoring in March and April is what really sunk this team, and it was beyond painful to witness.

The internal options for the Stars are there and could come through for the club, but I think this all hinges on Jason Spezza rebounding as the Stars second line center. The Stars do not need Spezza to score 20 goals, in fact, I believe the Stars could benefit from Spezza assuming a Joe Thornton type role in the 2 slot. The club needs his playmaking ability, and if Spezza rebounds with a heavy total of helpers in 2019, Mattias Janmark could pot 20 goals.

Radek Faksa is also a dark horse 20 goal candidate, in that his goal total has gone up in each of his season in Big D. The third line pairing of Faksa and Pitlick was a good one for the Stars in 2017-18, and adding Comeau (who can open up the ice), will do nothing but benefit Faksa. Radek has shown in the past that he has the ability to score goals, and that he has the skill to make plays with the puck in tight. I like his development since he arrived in 2016, and he could finally turn into the 20 goal scorer that Brett Ritchie hasn’t for the Stars.

As for external options, I really do not believe Erik Karlsson is the answer. The Stars already have John Klingberg on the roster and while it sounds good in theory, it could also crash in burn. I won’t go into much more detail here, but I will direct readers to my earlier opinion piece on the Karlsson matter.

Back to the topic at hand.

Fans shouldn’t be alarmed if Jim Nill doesn’t make a move before training camp. He seems to like this roster as it is constructed now, and Stars fans might be a little spoiled with the huge moves from the past. I get it, I am not immune.

I believe that Nill will hand the reins to Monty, and let the new coach implement his desired style of play, which is known to be an attack style that suits the Stars present roster. The Stars have Seguin, Benn, Radulov, Klingberg, and hopefully Miro, and that is wealth of talent that clubs would kill to have, and Nill might put all of his trust into them to start.

With that being said, if the Stars do struggle to score, then all bets are off. I can see Nill making a big trade in the early months of the season to surge offense into the lineup, and avoid the pitfalls of last winter. I could be completely wrong and Nill could make the trade that fans are accustomed to in the next

Wes: So if it’s a big trade, and you don’t like Karlsson, are we talking about Max Pacioretty?

Rob M: Max Pacioretty really intrigues me. The guy scored 35 goals in 2016-17, and has the pop in his game that would really assist Jason Spezza and Mattias Janmark on the second line.

Last season is Montreal was a well documented train wreck, and they are shedding players who may not be inclined to go through a rebuild. The question then becomes: What is the price that Montreal commands? Is it still Julius Honka and a prospect in the system? Or is it Julius Honka, a roster player, and prospect? We really just do not know.

The question that Jim Nill and the front office will have to reconcile is if Max Pacioretty is still a 30+ goal scorer in the NHL. He missed a chunk of time last season with injury and only recorded 17 goals, 20 assists, for 37 points

Wes: That is the question. As I write this, Pacioretty is 29-years old, coming off of a down season on a bad team, owed $4.5 million over the final year of his contract. In the grand scheme of things, that’s not a bad risk to take. If he rebounds, that’s a win. Even if Jim Nill has to throw in Julius Honka. Is it weird that it still makes me nervous?

Either by accident or (hopefully) design, the Stars have aligned their cap situation to perfectly suit the expiration of Tyler Seguin’s current deal ($5.75 million through 2018-2019). Even if they go multi-year with RFAs like Janmark, Esa Lindell, and Gemel Smith, it seems unlikely they’ll do enough damage to offset the expiration of Jason Spezza’s $7.5 million AAV deal. Just add that number of top of Tyler’s and be done with it, yeah?

Only, what if Pacioretty breaks 30 goals? How much do you give a resurgent, 30-year old winger? How much CAN you give that winger and still retain the flexibility to handle the rest of the roster? Suddenly, the non-Seguin portion of the Stars’ offense is on the wrong side of 30 (Jamie Benni s currently 29 and Alex Radulov is 32). It’s not like the Stars have shown an ability to replenish top-end talent via the draft.

All I’m saying is I’m worried. It feels like maybe this isn’t the season to take a swing. I guess talk me out of it and we can wrap this thing up.

Rob: It’s obvious that Jim Nill’s first, second, and third priority is the Seguin extension, and a winning roster will make that easier on both parties. As we all know scoring goals in this league is hard, and a player who can score 25+ is always worth looking at. Adding a winger like Max Pacioretty could be a signal to Seguin that help is on the way down the lineup.

The Stars are in a clear win now mode, even though the win thing has eluded them in recent years. I also agree with you Wes, that 2018-19 probably isn’t the year the Stars compete for a spot in the WCF or SCF. However, this is the year that the team needs to make the playoffs by any means, and should probably find a way to push a series to six or seven games. That is going to be tough task because, the Blues got better, and the Preds, Jets, are still two of the top teams in the West.

What is good is that the club seems to know what happened down the stretch, and the players should be starving to play again. The team really believes that they were one of the top ten teams in the league for the majority of the season, and they hit their rough stretch at the worst part of the season. Adding a player like Max Pacioretty would give the players another reason to empty the tank, and if/when the Seguin deal gets done, Nill can focus in on getting the Pacioretty conversation going.

Either way, the Stars cup window is in the next five years, and not winning a cup in this window would be massive disappointment. The Stars have been flirting with being a team that can win and compete with the giants in the league, but the courtship is over. The Stars are going to have to put it together this year and take steps forward towards that ultimate goal. If they don’t then this will go down as the most disappointing era of Stars hockey, overshadowing the darkness that was the bankruptcy days.