As the free agency window gets closer and the Stars look to reshape their roster for the 2019-20 season, what will the 2020 Dallas Stars look like? A quote from head coach Jim Montgomery last year has stuck with me and has been making me wonder what some of those internal discussions may sound like between management and the coaching staff regarding the type of players they want to bring in. Last year, Matthew DeFranks spoke with Montgomery and quoted the following:
“Montgomery said he doesn’t think in pairs. On a three-player line, he wants a puck possession player, a puck pressure player and a scorer. He uses the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line as an example.
”On a line, a scorer needs to go with a puck possession guy,” Montgomery said. “Ideally, that third guy is a puck possession guy that does all the details and the habits right that create turnovers for the other two to do their magic. If you look at when Rads is going, Rads is a puck possession guy and also a guy that creates turnovers because of his puck pressure. Seggy’s a spiner. And Jamie Benn is a puck possession power guy.”
”If you look at other lines right now, if you look at Boston’s line,” Montgomery said. “Pastrnak is a sniper. Bergeron and Marchand are both puck possession and incredible puck pressure guys. That’s why their one of the best lines, because they’re consistent with their habits and their details.
”Colorado, 29 is the sniper. Rantanen is the puck possession guy and Landeskog is the detailed guy. He’s getting rewarded with goals because he’s doing things really well.”
I find this actually quite interesting for two reasons that stick out. The first being that mostly it seems as if the common thought process is having a forward pair then supplying that duo with a support piece to create a forward line. Montgomery obviously forgoes this and instead looks for complete lines of three that have a specific chemistry — puck possession/playmaker, shooter, and puck pressure/two-way player.
The next thing that has stuck with me — and one that is noticeable when the Stars are playing up-tempo — is his concentration on puck pressure. Montgomery loves players with closing speed and who are efficient in creating turnovers in the offensive and/or neutral zone. Some players are better at it than others and it’s a quality that is not easily measured through statistics. Although Montgomery and the Stars blended themselves as a defensive, shut-down team around the midway point of the 2018-19 season, the Dallas head coach has preached since the beginning that he envisions his team being a “relentless, puck-pressuring team that makes plays all over the ice.”
The big question to consider — does Montgomery run back the same defensive structure with a heaping of icings and forwards back to negate chances? Or will we see a more up-tempo team that is aggressive in the forecheck and neutral zone, taking time and space away from the other team and creating offensive chances from turnovers and defensive zone exits? Montgomery mentioned this season that with the roster he had to work with, a team structured around defense works best — and it did. But with the recent trades, I believe Montgomery and GM Jim Nill are working diligently on creating the identity of a roster that fits Montgomery’s philosophy more accurately.
Cogliano & Hartman
The two big trades with term that the new Dallas Stars have made are Devin Shore for Andrew Cogliano and Tyler Pitlick for Ryan Hartman. I believe what these trades tell the fans is actually pretty compelling. At face-value, they don’t say much. Both trades are for bottom-six players of pretty equal value, but it’s their qualities that really revolve around Montgomery’s coaching philosophy.
Cogliano, as many Stars fans have now seen, has excellent speed, which in return makes him very valuable in pressuring the puck. This was evident on the penalty kill this season where he was very effective, due to his pure speed and smart positioning, at closing out and disrupting players as they retrieved the puck. Shore never really had that pure speed that Cogliano possesses and was more of an all-around support player. Cogliano better fit the bill and with his time in Dallas this past season has brought important qualities that the coaching staff like to see: possession and pressure with speed.
On Monday, the Stars announced a trade for Ryan Hartman by way of sending Tyler Pitlick to the Philadelphia Flyers. Again, at first glance this is a depth player for a depth player. But it’s the underlying qualities of Hartman that better reflect how Montgomery wants to shape his team to be going forward. Out of 338 forwards, Hartman ranked 14th in the league in penalties drawn. He was described by hockey media online as a cheaper Antoine Roussel that hounds the puck and gets shots on net. His 8.22 shots per hour would have put him second on the Stars this past season, just above Alexander Radulov’s 8.03. Again, equal players in Pitlick and Hartman, but Hartman more closely embodies what Montgomery wants out of his players — being able to pressure the puck. Hartman also has the quality as a shooter for one of Montgomery’s lines (puck possession/playmaker, shooter, and puck pressure/two-way player), which is something the Stars desperately lack.
Shooter, Puck Possession, Puck Pressure
As mentioned above, this is how Montgomery wants each of his lines to synergize. Let’s look at what the Stars now have in the forward roster to get an understanding of where Montgomery & Co. may be looking this offseason to fill some of the voids.
Some of these can surely be debated, such as Roope Hintz being considered more of a possession player, or Dickinson as a playmaker. However, this gives a pretty consolidated look at what Montgomery has to work with in regards to making lines of three instead of a duo plus an extra player. The obvious voids are another shooter in the top six and more skill in the bottom six.
I expect Nill and the front office to be active this summer and to continue shaping the roster to his new coach’s vision. Cogliano and Hartman are excellent steps in creating that team and I’d be shocked if it stops there. It’s been rumored that Mats Zuccarello may not return to the Stars. Besides the fact it would cost a first-round pick, the Stars clearly need another proven shooter on the team. Someone like Joe Pavelski or Anders Lee would be a nice add to the top-six “shooter” category. Finding solid bottom-nine skill in a player lke Andre Burakovsky or Joonas Donskoi would give Montgomery some options in adding puck possession/playmakers up and down the lineup. Whatever the moves end up being, there’s a lot to be excited about in Jim Montgomery’s coaching style and the future of the Dallas Stars.