It’s been 124 days since the Dallas Stars last took the ice. The team was in the midst of a 0-4-2 stretch when the season was paused as a result of the global pandemic, leaving a negative impression on the team’s performance for most fans.
Luckily, the strong middle of the season was enough to set the Stars up to finish the season as the fourth seed in the West as a result of their winning percentage. That allows the Stars to compete in a seeding round instead of having to compete in the play-in round to qualify for the playoffs.
In a season in which nothing was “normal” for the Stars, it feels fitting that the postseason is one of the weirdest in NHL history. It’s just another wrinkle the Stars will have to roll with this season. Hopefully, the resiliency they’ve shown throughout the season will set them up for success here.
As the team shakes the rust off on the ice, shaking off the rust of the long delay, so too are those that cover the team (or, maybe, are desperate for sports and will follow along with the playoff when they wouldn’t normally.) Here’s where the Stars roster was in their last regular season game:
Jamie Benn - Tyler Seguin - Corey Perry
Denis Gurianov - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Andrew Cogliano - Justin Dowling - Mattias Janmark
Jason Dickinson - Radek Faksa - Blake Comeau
Alexander Radulov was out with illness in March, having missed the last two games prior to the season pause. It was later reported that he had not tested positive for COVID-19, after some speculation to the contrary. It was a run-of-the-mill cold/flu that tends to make its way through locker rooms each season.
Esa Lindell - John Klingberg
Miro Heiskanen - Stephen Johns
Jamie Oleksiak - Andrej Sekera
Roman Polak and Taylor Fedun were healthy scratches on the blueline. Polak and Sekera had alternated starts after Stephen Johns returned to the NHL in January. As reported last month, Polak opted-out of the Return to Play and will not be an option for the Stars in the postseason.
For the second straight season, the Stars’ goaltending tandem finished second in the league in combined goals against average (2.52 goals against per game), behind the Boston Bruins (2.39 goals against per game).
Where are the potential battles?
The Stars are bringing into camp several exciting prospects, including RW Jason Robertson, D Thomas Harley, and C Ty Dellandrea. With teams allowed a maximum of 31 players traveling to the bubble city, and 35 players in camp, a number of cuts will need to be made in the next two weeks.
Who makes the ultimate travel roster as potential depth players and injury replacements are going to depend on a couple of factors, including positional depth, injuries in training camp, training camp performance, and staff preferences.
Knowing general manager Jim Nill’s penchant for carrying eight defenseman, and Polak’s opt-out, it stands to reason at least one blueline spot could be up for grabs on the starting roster depth chart. Given his performance in the preseason, and his potential impact on the mobility of the blueline, it feels like this spot would be Thomas Harley’s to lose right now. Assuming he made a Cale Makar-esque playoff NHL debut, the Stars could potentially roll out a defense that looks something like this:
That could give the Stars a very mobile, young defense, which would be a key component in potentially improving the offense — something that will be a focus for the Stars in this short training camp window. However, that’s a relatively small defense as well, and the Stars may prefer to slot in someone that can clear the crease into that eighth position.
On offense, the Stars could look to insert some youth if they will help with the offensive side of things. However, it may take a stellar showing to force their way onto the starting roster. However, guys like Robertson would be good injury insurance if a top-six forward goes down with something, while Dellandrea would likely be a good injury backup for a bottom-six spot. Which players end up going to Edmonton as part of the “taxi squad” will likely be weighted heavily towards those that do well in the training camp when it comes to the forward groupings.
Lastly, the Stars will likely travel with a third goalie for practices while in the bubble. It seems like this will be a battle between Landon Bow and Jake Oettinger to see which one goes to Edmonton in this position. With the long delay, you would think that Bishop and Khudobin will return healthy and refreshed for the postseason, but there is always the chance of injury in a short, intense tournament as the playoff is setup this year.