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Dallas’s Depth Scoring Supplementing Slumping Stars, Barely

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Is it enough? It has, just barely, done the job so far

Calgary Flames v Dallas Stars Photo by Glenn James/NHLI via Getty Images

Ain’t even scratched the surface

Thinking I deserve the dream but I don’t deserve the hurting

I want the flame without the burning

But I can’t find my purpose when I don’t know what my worth is

***

Hello there! The Dallas Stars are on pace to score 213 goals as a team this year. That’s just three more than their 210 last year, and 22 fewer than they scored (235) under Ken Hitchcock in 2017-18.

This year, of course, there’s been a lot of ink spilled over the Stars’ putative scorers not, well, scoring.

You know the raw numbers. Roope Hintz is still the only double-digit goals guy, and the top three goal-scorers are averaging just 0.30 goals per game each. Last year, a year in which ownership was not best pleased with its top players, that number was 0.39. in 2017, under Ken Hitchcock’s Check for Chances Bonanza, it was 0.42. Personally, I blame every single person last year who ever thought, “Wow, if only the Stars’ weren’t so top-heavy with their scoring.” Thanks a lot, all of you.

But think about that even more. Roope Hintz has only played 28 of the team’s 35 games this year, and yet no other player has more than 75% of his goal total. Part of that is a consequence of how hot Hintz was to start the year, but the much broader trend here in that drop—again, from 0.42 to 0.39 to 0.30 goals per game over 2017-2019—is that the Stars just don’t seem to have any Pick ‘Em guys from game to game. Yes, the depth has chipped in to help them to a solid record in spite of a bad start. But imagine where the team would be if Blake Comeau was having the season he did last year?

Or, in fact, imagine where they’d be if Gurianov hadn’t chipped in six goals of his own? Sure, Gurianov is the forward who gives up the most chances against, which I think partly explains his limited usage at even-strength, but on this team, you are probably better off trading a couple chances for goals, when you can. He has done that, thankfully.

The good news on offense this year, nonetheless, is the depth scoring. After the top-three goal-scorers on the team, spots 4-8 are averaging 0.20 goals per game this year. By comparison, 2017 saw the Stars’ 4-8 scorers averaging 0.18 goals per game (these are per-skater numbers, by the way), and Jim Montgomery’s team last year saw a paltry 0.16 goals per game average from the same spots. The top scorers weren’t this bad last year, but the depth was markedly worse.

So, hey! The depth scoring is improved! That is great, except for the fact that the depth scoring this year includes Jamie Benn and Joe Pavelski.. That’s great if you have top scorers blossoming in your system, but with Hintz slowing down (as he was always going to do), the Stars have yet to see one of the other guys really chip in.

In fact, if we go by goals per game (which I am using in this piece to illustrate how players are used, not necessarily how they might perform given more minutes), then this year shapes up like this:

Goals per game, 2019-20

Hintz - 0.43

Radulov - 0.26

Seguin - 0.20

Faksa - 0.20

Pavelski - 0.20

Benn - 0.20

Heiskanen - 0.20

Gurianov - 0.20

This gives you a pretty solid lay of the land, I think. The Stars wished upon an old rusty lamp, and the daemon within granted their ill-spoken request for “depth players who can score more like the top three scorers.”

As Jim Nill said earlier this year at a season ticket holders event, the team is kind of borked (I am paraphrasing) if the top scorers just suddenly stop scoring. No system in the world should be able to turn Tyler Seguin into a 16-goal scorer with him still getting minutes with top talent at evens and on the top power play with stalwarts like Klingberg, Pavelski, and Radulov. You hope that Seguin’s late goal the other night can spark something, because my goodness, something has gotta give, right?

As for the rest of the roster from year-to-year, I think it’s fair to say that Corey Perry is an improvement on Jason Spezza only in the sense that he is being paid less to score maybe eight or nine goals this year. He and Mattias Janmark had identitcal 3-8-11 scoring lines, and Mattias Janmark has the shot of one of my old Nerf guns from 2001. Which, by the way, I modified to shoot hard and leave welts, necessitating reinforced foam darts and all, but still. Janmark’s shot is still probably world-class in a broad sense, but it is not one that goalies seem to fear that much, and the numbers have borne that out in recent years.

In fact, Mattias Janmark is a good point to end on, for now. In 2017-18, Mattias Janmark (with a reconstructed knee, mind) scored 19 goals. This year, only two players on the Stars are on pace to beat that number, and we are less than two weeks from 2020. The depth scoring is thicker than in past years, absolutely. And the Stars have gotten key goals from players like Joel L’Esperance, Nick Caamano, Justin Dowling, Taylor Fedun, Blake Comeau, and even Jamie Oleksiak. The team has found a way to pull itself back together after being diced up for nine games to start the year. But it’s tough to say right now that they won’t still be scrambling for scoring in the final 47 games, given the trends that are emerging this year.

Depth scoring is better than no depth scoring, absolutely. And if any team is positioned to eke out victories while scoring at a bottom-five rate in the NHL, it’s probably this one, with this goalie tandem and ability to protect the dangerous areas. But I think I remember hearing once that good teams can impose their will upon their opponents. The Stars can sort of do that at one end of the ice, and they are creating what should be scoring chances at the other, per every metric you can find. But until those chances start being converted, and until the power play resuscitates the top guys’ scoring altogether, this team will be looking for its goalies to lead them to victory. At least they have two really good ones.