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Stars Entering Critical Stretch with No Answer on Offense

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The season-long drama that is the Stars offense has yet to be constructively addressed. With the team entering a tough home stand and another road trip, waiting for the deadline shouldn’t have been an option.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars and their lack of production on offense has been a season-long drama that shows no signs of relenting anytime soon. Rock bottom for the offense came on this last road trip where the league-best Tampa Bay Lightning rocked the club 6-0 and the Carolina Hurricanes buried any talk of turning it into a respectable trip for the Stars with a frustrating 3-0 win.

Two straight shutout losses and a road trip that saw the Stars score seven goals in five games. Long gone is the six-game point streak, gone is the good feeling of the 5-4 win over the Arizona Coyotes on February 4, and gone are the Stars from the third place slot in the Central Division playoff picture.

That’s what a 1-3-1 road trip will do for you. This is what the “deepest” Stars club since 2011 is.

An elite defensive team, with elite goaltending, but an offense that sits 29th out of 31 clubs.

NHL: Dallas Stars at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Elite defending and goaltending are a great asset to have in the NHL, and is worth the time and monetary effort that the Stars have dedicated to their backend. For the first time in recent memory the Stars are back in the conversation for a Jennings Trophy, as they sit in second place in goals against. The backend has really been the backbone for the team and as perplexing as it is for fans, the Stars are built from a defensive base. That is completely fine and does lend to a fair amount of winning, if you have an offense that compliments the strength of the club.

The Stars do not have such an offense and have done nothing to address it.

The fact that the Stars have done nothing to bolster the offense to this point in the season is concerning. In fact, the only move the Stars have made to address the offense led to the laughable idea that this is the deepest team in Dallas since new ownership took over in 2011. A team that sits second in goals against with 149 but is still a minus team with an offense that has produced a mere 145 goals for. That is not a deep hockey team. That is a team that has no real forward depth beyond the overburdened Tyler Seguin and an aging Jamie Benn.

It’s not as if any of this should be surprising. The Stars came into the season with lingering questions in the depth scoring department, but it was not a concern for the front office. After all, the team was bringing back Valeri Nichushkin, who scored 14 goals as a rookie in 2014, and who was coming back from the KHL as a more mature player. Nichushkin currently has zero goals on the season and looks absolutely lost out on the ice on most nights. Beyond the re-addition of Nichushkin, the Stars also had some hope down the lineup in Mattias Janmark and Radek Faksa who scored 19 and 17 goals a piece and were knocking on the door to be 20-goal scorers. Through 58 games in 2018-19, both players have combined to score just 14 goals and neither are positioned to touch the 20-goal mark.

This all leads us to the idea that Jason Spezza, who has been a remarkable soldier for the Stars, could shed the bad taste of the Hitchcock experience and have himself a rebound year. To Spezza’s credit, he has done all he can and he does look dangerous out there on some nights. He still makes easy zone entries, he still creates space for himself, but he no longer is able to carry those around him and boost his own numbers. It isn’t his fault, more of an indictment on the front office over the idea that an aging 35-year-old center could still do the things he could do when the Stars traded for him five years ago. Father Time is undefeated, something the Stars simply didn’t want to recognize. To date, Spezza has scored six goals and pitched in 16 assists for 22 points.

There is another concern here from the Dallas front office that has yet to be addressed. Julius Honka is not working in Dallas; in fact, he is working so poorly here that he hasn’t worked since January 15 against Tampa Bay. One month ago. This is a month where his trade value has decreased even more, a month where potential suitors haven’t seen the young player in action, a month that further cements the lingering issues of drafting and development that has plagued the franchise for years. It is fair to question if Honka was ever going to be an actual part of the Stars defense this season, and if he wasn’t, why wasn’t he pitched for a deal earlier in the year when the issues on offense became apparent?

The thinking is deeply flawed here by the front office and I’m not even mentioning Nichushkin or Brett Ritchie, who have also seen their value decrease with every passing shift.

The fact of the matter is that the Stars should have made a move for a player that can score goals and create offense months ago. When the first signs of trouble on offense arose, the front office should have done something other than shuffling lines, calling up prospects and asking for immediate production, or making a ridiculous public statement pointing fingers at the wrong people. However, they didn’t make that move, they didn’t bring in a Mark Stone, Artemi Panarin, or even Gustav Nyquist. They didn’t find center help in the offseason, when the market was flush with good ones, and they swung and missed on two high-profile players, when they could have built actual depth without shattering the salary cap.

However, there is still time for a move to be made. Time for the team to improve their goal scoring as they try to find a way into the playoffs for the first time in three years. The immediate road isn’t going to be an easy one.

This upcoming home stand will be a test for the team, and could really represent a critical stretch for a bubble team. The Nashville Predators, the white-hot St. Louis Blues, and the Carolina Hurricanes (again), are all coming to the American Airlines Center. The Stars are 0-2-1 in their last three games against these rosters. They need to find a way to win these tilts, and pull points in a very tight Western Conference playoff picture. If the Stars fail to do this, they could find themselves behind the eight ball with a very limited number of games to mount a return. Fans can hope for the defense and goaltending to right itself, but it’s time for the offense to dig deep until the front office brings in some help.

It’s gut check time for the team, and more importantly, for the front office. If they are actually serious about bringing an end to the mediocrity that has plagued the franchise for a decade, they need to do something decisive to change it.