Opening night is less than one week away, when the Dallas Stars kick off the 2019-20 season against the Boston Bruins. The Bruins made the Stanley Cup Final last season, but ultimately fell to the St. Louis Blues, who coincidentally are the Stars’ second opponent of the new season.
The Stars have a good enough team to make the playoffs, but they’ll need some players to step up if they want to make a deep run like the Blues or Bruins. Last week, we talked about some potential “breakout” candidates on the rise. Today, let’s look at a few “bounce back” candidates — players who had disappointing 2018-19 campaigns that should improve this year.
We’ll exclude Corey Perry and Andrej Sekera from the list, considering the reason Dallas signed them in the first place was hoping/expecting they could bounce back from injury troubles. Instead, we’ll focus on three more familiar players, each of whom has been in Dallas for several seasons.
We’ll start Mattias Janmark, who would have been considered a “breakout” candidate a year ago. After scoring 34 points despite missing the entire previous season due to injury, Janmark looked like a potential second-line forward on the rise. Instead, he trended in the opposite direction, dropping to a career-low 25 points.
Like Faksa, Janmark likely saw a dip in performance due to a change in usage. He was deployed in the offensive zone just 42.9% of the time, compared to 53% in his other two NHL seasons. He also went from having regular power play time to being used primarily as a penalty-killer, further hurting his potential offensive production.
Given the Stars’ improvements at the top end of the roster, it’s unlikely Janmark sees his offensive usage increase. But with another year of experience under his belt, it’s reasonable to expect his numbers to trend back upwards. Janmark should shape up to be one of the Stars’ stronger bottom-six forwards, as well as a potential plug-in for the top six when injuries inevitably hit.
In 2017-18 under former head coach Ken Hitchock, Radek Faksa was crowned as one of the best emerging defensive forwards in the league. He finished seventh in Selke voting, and would have likely fared better had he score more than 33 points.
But last season, Faksa took a step back. He was about the same offensively with 30 points, but he went from a plus/minus of 21 to a -3. If #fancystats are more your thing, his CF% and FF% dropped to 45.9 and 45.8 respectively according to Hockey-Reference — only Brett Ritchie and Denis Gurianov were worse in both categories out of forwards who played at least 20 games.
That all being said, Faksa also started his shifts in the defensive zone 73.1% of the time, a ridiculous team-leading number. Last year felt like a case of the coaching staff asking Faksa to do too much, and he seemed to buckle as a result. If head coach Jim Montgomery eases up his defensive workload, then there’s no reason Faksa can’t bounce back and look more like the dark horse Selke candidate from two seasons ago.
We’ll finish with Jamie Benn, who’s inclusion on this list should come as no surprise. His 53 points in 78 games last season were his worst offensive output since his rookie season in 2009-10. His average ice time also dropped by about a 1:35 down to 18:14 — by far his lowest since 2011-12 — while his linemates, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov, played roughly the same amount.
So by all accounts, Benn had a rough year. And given his age (30) and playing style, he’s almost certainly past his peak. But that doesn’t mean it’s all downhill from here — there’s multiple reasons to believe 2019-20 will fare much better for the Dallas captain.
I wrote about this a couple weeks back, but to summarize — the Stars should have a strong second line this season, which will open up scoring opportunities for the Benn-Seguin-Radulov trio. In addition, Joe Pavelski will replace Benn as the “net-front” guy on the power play, moving him back into a shooting position. A big reason for Benn’s low point totals last season was because he scored only eight goals and three(!) assists on the power play.
Add all those factors in, and it’s easy to imagine Benn breaking 70-plus points, potentially more. And if the captain is playing well, you can bet that the rest of the team will follow suit.