After signing Roope Hintz to a new contract on Monday, the Dallas Stars now have less than $300,000 in salary cap space remaining per CapFriendly. Although the Stars will likely put Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop on Long-Term Injured Reserve (LTIR), they won’t receive any cap relief until the regular season starts.
That means that, barring any trades, the Stars’ roster is set for the 2020-21 NHL season. Now all that’s left to do is figure out where everyone fits into the depth chart, which I’ve decided to tackle today.
A couple of housekeeping items before we begin. First of all, we’re looking at the bigger picture for the 2020-21 season, not just an opening night lineup. That means that no “the Stars will give <insert prospect name here> a few games to see if they’re capable” or anything like that — the roster will consist of people who both made the initial cut and stuck around.
Secondly, I’m going to do my best to project what I think head coach Rick Bowness will do, not necessarily what I want him to do. So if you’re upset that <insert prospect name here> didn’t make the cut, don’t blame me — blame the imaginary Rick Bowness who lives inside my head.
Okay, enough of that nonsense — on with the show!
Jamie Benn — Roope Hintz — Denis Gurianov
Jason Robertson — Joe Pavelski — Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano — Radek Faksa — Blake Comeau
Joel Kiviranta — Jason Dickinson — Joel L’Esperance
The only certainty here is that the Stars won’t break up the “FCC” lineup consisting of Faksa, Cogliano, and Comeau. It’s also worth pointing out that while they’re listed as a traditional third line, they’ll be near the top of the forwards in terms of time on ice. This will hold especially true with the absence of Seguin, who led all forwards last year in average time on ice by a healthy margin (2:13).
Seguin’s injury will also open up a spot in the Stars’ top six, and while Dallas could choose to shift a player such as Dickinson or Kiviranta up, Bowness has traditionally emphasized the importance of player roles when determining who gets the call-up. That leads me to believe that the Stars will give the job to Jason Robertson, who, as a rookie, led the Texas Stars in scoring last year with 47 points in 60 games. Pairing him with Pavelski gives him a playmaker to help fully capitalize on his scoring prowess, while Radulov will be there to drive possession and create opportunities.
Meanwhile, the Stars will hope to rekindle Hintz and Gurianov’s magic from their AHL days and that their youthful energy will bring out the best in Benn. Much has been said about the lack of ice time for both Hintz and Gurianov, but with Seguin out for the forseeable future, Bowness won’t have much choice but to place his faith in them.
That leaves Dickinson and Kiviranta for the fourth line, with the final spot a contest between L’Esperance, Dowling, Nicholas Caamano, and Ty Dellandrea. In a normal year, the Stars might consider giving Dellandrea the job of fourth-line center to run with, or having a rotating cast between the first three. But as we discussed in our 2021 Expansion Draft primer a few weeks back, the Stars need another eligible forward under contract for the 2021-22 season with 40 games played this year in order to meet exposure requirements.
As L’Esperance is the only one currently under contract past this season, I penciled him in for a full-time role with Dowling as the 13th forward. Caamano and Dellandrea will meanwhile spend the season in the AHL, with Dellandrea likely the first call-up option.
And yes, you read that right — the Stars will only have 13 forwards. And you all know what that means...
Esa Lindell — John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak — Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera — Stephen Johns
Mark Pysyk — Taylor Fedun
...Dallas will carry eight defensemen!
Okay, well that’s only partially true. Pysyk has played forward in the past, which means it’s more like a 13.25/7.75 split. But regardless, the Stars’ mantra under GM Jim Nill has been that you can never have too many defensemen, which they’ll stick with this upcoming season.
Although Heiskanen is the Stars’ undisputed best player, historically the media lists Klingberg (the team’s other No. 1 defenseman) and Lindell as the first defensive pair. Oleksiak rounds out the top four, and Sekera is a lock-in for the third pairing.
For the final spot, I’m going to assume Stephen Johns will be playing until we hear otherwise. That leaves Pysyk and Fedun as the extras, with my wager being that Pysysk would be the seventh defenseman. In case of excessive injuries, I imagine Joel Hanley would be the next man up, followed by Ben Gleason.
With Bishop out, the Stars’ situation in net remains the same from last year’s playoffs — Khudobin is the starter, Oettinger is the backup, and Landon Bow is the No. 3 in case of injury.
But remember, we’re looking at the bigger picture here, so there are some additional things to consider. For starters, the NHL will be playing a heavily condensed schedule, meaning more back-to-backs and similar situations than usual. This fatigue tends to affect goaltenders more than skaters as they are on the ice for the full 60 minutes, which is why you rarely see the same goaltender start both games in a back-to-back.
The Stars also have a vested interest in getting Oettinger as much playing time as possible, given his status as the team’s netminder of the future. That’s especially pertinent given the fact that Khudobin is the most likely expansion draft casualty next off-season. If that’s the case, Oettinger could very well be forced into a starting role next year if Bishop is injured again.
For those reasons, I expect that the Khudobin/Oettinger tandem will be less of a traditional starter/backup dynamic and more along the lines of a 1A/1B, similar to how Bishop and Khudobin have operated in the past. I would expect Khudobin to get roughly 60% of the starts until Bishop returns from injury, although that may change depending on how well Oettinger performs.
So that’s how I think the Stars’ lineup will pan out this season. Or at least that’s what it will look like before Rick Bowness switches on Dallas’s patented line blender.
On paper, it’s set to be yet another defensively stout team that struggles to score, especially with Seguin out of the lineup. But there will be plenty of opportunity for some of the Stars’ younger players to drive offense and make their case for more playing time.
Will this year’s squad be able to live up to the high expectations they set for themselves this past summer? Only time will tell.