Jamie Langenbrunner was a fantastic NHL player. Over the course of an 18-year career, he played in 1,109 games, scored 243 goals, and added 420 assists for a total of 663 points. Healthy totals spread out across stints with the Dallas Stars, New Jersey Devils, and St. Louis Blues. More importantly, Langenbrunner played in the Stanley Cup Final on three occasions, twice with Dallas and once with New Jersey. He won once with each franchise. All of which is highly relevant as the underdog Dallas Stars prepare for a first down showdown with the Nashville Predators.
Though Langenbrunner was a fantastic player — nobody plays more than 1,000 NHL games without being truly excellent — he was at no point during his career a prolific scorer. He never scored 30 goals in an NHL season and only hit 20 goals on four occasions. Langenbrunner hit 60 points three times (all with the Devils) and 50 points twice. A rounding error would put Langenbrunner at .6 points-per-game for his career (.5978 technically). The 2018-19 Dallas Stars would kill for that kind of production, but again, hardly the stuff of legends.
Except, if we look at his postseason totals, a funny thing happens. In 1999-2000, Langenbrunner scored 17 points (10 goals and seven assists) in 23 games riding shotgun with Conn Smythe winner Joe Nieuwendyk and the rest of the OG Dallas Stars. In 2002-03, Langenbrunner potted 18 points (11 goals and seven assists) in 24 games for the victorious New Jersey Devils. For those of you scoring at home, that’s two titles from two postseasons of above-average production (0.75 points per game).
Does it mean that Langenbrunner was some kind of clutch madman warrior? Probably. A little. A Stanley Cup by itself proves, more or less, an extraordinary level of willpower. A player like Langenbrunner proves another thing: coaching acumen.
The 1999-2000 Dallas Stars were powered, offensively, by Mike Modano. Langenbrunner was a 24-year-old scorer on a veteran-heavy squad. He lacked Jere Lehtinen’s defensive acumen (not an insult, by the way, everyone lacks Lehtinen’s defensive acumen) and Brett Hull’s, well — Hullosity (Hullishness?). Despite all of that, Langenbrunner found his way onto Joe Nieuwendyk’s wing, and played an average of 17:43 during the postseason march to the Cup.
It wasn’t an accident. Langenbrunner’s play did a great deal of the talking, but 45 points in 75 games was hardly world-beating. Some credit must go to then-coach Ken Hitchcock who surveyed a roster with experienced names like Pat Verbeek and Mike Keane and decided to up Langenbrunner’s average time on ice by nearly two full minutes (he played 15:51 during the regular season) once the games got meaningful.
What does all of this have to do with the 2018-19 edition of the Stars? Modano (23 points), Nieuwendyk (21 points), Hull (15 points), and Lehtinen (13 points) carried strong regular seasons into the playoffs. The Stars needed more. It took six games to get past the Blues in the second round, seven games to get past the Colorado Avalanche in the conference final, and six to break hearts in Buffalo. How much of that happens without 17 points from Langenbrunner, and how many of those points happen had Hitchcock favored more experienced options?
This year’s squad lacks a clear-cut Langenbrunner. Roope Hintz might count (age: 22, points: 22), as could Radek Faksa (age: 25, points: 30), Mattias Janmark (age: 26, points: 25), or even Jason Dickinson (age: 23, points: 22). The age profile breaks, but Jason Spezza (age: 35, points: 25) also belongs on that list. So does new signing Mats Zuccarello. None match Langenbrunner’s 1999-2000 production, but all are offensive possibilities outside of the acknowledged top three.
Let’s be honest, the Stars desperately need offense outside of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. To win a series against the Nashville Predators, they’re going to have to do better than the league’s 29th best offense. In a best-of-seven series, a big piece of that puzzle is going to land on head coach Jim Montgomery and his staff. They’re going to need to find someone else, something else if only to break focus on the team’s top line.
The Stars will need a timely power play goal or someone else to carry the mail should Seguin’s goal-post-itis return at an inopportune time. Once upon a time, Ken Hitchcock found that option in Nieuwendyk and Langenbrunner. Can Jim Montgomery find a similar x-factor this season, or will Dallas’ return to the postseason prove short-lived?