The Dallas Stars have developed a defensive-oriented identity the last couple of years.
In the 2018-2019 season, the Stars ranked 2nd in the league in goals against per game average (2.44 GAA), 5th in penalty killing efficiency (82.8% of penalties killed), and 2nd in shorthanded goals against (2). This past season, the Stars once again had some sparkling defensive statistics as a team: 2.52 goals against per game average (ranked 2nd in the league), 79.7% of penalties killed (ranked 17th in the league), and four shorthanded goals against (ranked 4th in the league).
A key part of the Stars’ penalty kill success of late has been the reliability of the forwards tasked with taking on the bulk of those hard minutes. In the previous season, Blake Comeau (2:05 per game), Radek Faksa (1:37 per game), Mattias Janmark (1:30 per game), and Jason Dickinson (1:28 per game) were the top forwards tasked with killing penalties. This season looked pretty similar: Dickinson killed 2:10 per game, Comeau killed 2:04 per game, Janmark killed 1:38 per game, and Faksa killed 1:27 per game.
One constant has been Janmark’s fixture on the second unit. As a result of the Stars’ salary cap situation, Janmark’s free agent status, and the need to make space for some young prospects for full-time NHL duty, Janmark departed the roster to sign a new contract with the Chicago Blackhawks this offseason. That leaves one big question for the Stars heading into next year: which forward is going to step into the penalty kill and be able to handle Janmark’s minutes consistently?
Andrew Cogliano was utilized on the PK throughout the year to sneak into the top forward in time on ice, with 1:28 killed per game this year. Though he wasn’t in the top forward units in the previous season in Dallas, Cogliano has a history of penalty killing on his resume. He was a key part of the Anaheim Ducks’ PK for a number of years. In fact, Cogliano’s average shorthanded time on ice in Dallas the past two seasons has been the lowest of his career since the 2010 season.
There’s also the fact that Cogliano has been stuck to Faksa’s wing for over a season now. The two have good chemistry and are effective at even strength, and that should benefit the team when both are playing shorthanded.
In the playoffs, Joe Pavelski was also utilized on the penalty kill. Often called into duty as a result of one of the penalty killers committing a misdemeanor of their own, Pavelski killed 1:17 on average per game. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn have effectively killed penalties in the past, though both have seen those numbers reduced the last few seasons so as to keep them fresh for play at even strength and on the power play. Roope Hintz has killed penalties too, though it seems like he has a tendency to take some huge shots in the feet when PKing, and injuries would not do the Stars any favors for that whole “scoring more than the other team” thing hockey teams need to do to win games.
Dallas has a number of options at their disposal. Cogliano is the most likely candidate to take on more PK responsibility next season, with some minutes given to younger players to gain experience needed to grow them into the next key role players for the Stars. Players such as Rhett Gardner, Nicholas Caamano, and ones not even in the system yet could play these key minutes in the future for the franchise. In the interim, they’ve got options at their fingertips today.
(Of course, the argument could be made that the Stars need to not take so many penalties so as to reduce the time spent on the kill and alleviate the need for PKers that can take on such heavy minutes, but that’s a topic for another day.)