Under previous head coach Jim Montgomery, the Dallas Stars often shuffled their lines around, particularly with the forward group. The logic was so that each player would build chemistry with all of their teammates, not just a select few, giving the team maximum flexibility toward the end of the season and during the playoffs.
That practice more or less remained the same under interim head coach Rick Bowness, but so far in training camp, the Stars have iced an identical lineup for several days in a row:
Stars lines this morning:— Matthew DeFranks (@MDeFranks) July 21, 2020
By giving players consistent linemates throughout practices, the Stars’ coaching staff are no doubt making it easier for their players to get back up to full playing speed. And while some fans might bemoan the lack of young prospects such as Jason Robertson or Thomas Harley, the lineup as it currently stands looks like it has a lot of potential.
So let’s take an in-depth look at what very well might be the Stars’ go-to lineup this postseason.
First off, the “top line” of Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, and Denis Gurianov looks like an absolute powerhouse. All three players are among the Stars’ best offensive forwards, and you could easily make the argument that they are the three best.
There is also a solid foundation of chemistry between the players already. Seguin and Gurianov in particular have been excellent when paired together this season, whereas Gurianov and Hintz previously found success together back in the AHL with the Texas Stars. All together, this line has the potential to be one of the most deadly in the West.
As far as the other lines are concerned, the “FCC” line consisting of Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau, and Andrew Cogliano has been stellar all season. And Sean Shapiro wrote last week about why Mattias Janmark and Alexander Radulov might be the perfect teammates for Joe Pavelski:
[Radulov and Janmark] protect pucks and buy time. They allow Pavelski to play his game more similarly to his time in San Jose, though, so when the trio is together, good things tend to happen and the Stars typically spend more time in the offensive zone.
If there’s one forward line that I’m iffy about, it’s Jamie Benn, Jason Dickinson, and Corey Perry. The Benn-Perry pairing has been touted long since the season even began due to their success in the 2014 Winter Olympics, but Perry has been a disappointment in Dallas, and Benn, while finishing second in scoring on the team during the regular season, has continued to decline in offensive prowess.
At its best, the trio has the potential to be a solid two-way line similar to the “FCC” line, only with a much higher offensive upside. At its worst, however, it might be rather forgettable, and a lack of success could spur the coaches to break up some of the other forward lines to try to get the most out of Benn.
Although Roman Polak has opted out of the NHL postseason, the Stars’ defensive pairings have been left largely unaffected. Instead of alternating games with Polak, Andrej Sekera appears to have become the de facto sixth defenseman, with Taylor Fedun resuming his role as the seventh.
Esa Lindell and John Klingberg naturally remain together as they have for the past several seasons. While the reports of Klingberg’s defensive deficiencies have been greatly exaggerated, Lindell’s strong defensive acumen makes him a solid partner. The “fancy stats” aren’t so kind to the pairing, suggesting that Klingberg is actually better without Lindell (both offensively and defensively), but the duo has been nonetheless successful.
The only real change of note on the blue line has been the reuniting of Jamie Oleksiak and Miro Heiskanen on the second pair. In my unbiased opinion, Heiskanen is perhaps the Stars’ best player overall, forwards included, with a team-leading average ice time of 23:46 to show for it. Oleksiak meanwhile has sneakily been very good this season, and even leads the team in CF% with 53.4% per Hockey-Reference.
The consequence of this pairing, unfortunately, is going to be less ice time for Stephen Johns, who has been solid since returning to action this season after missing nearly two years due to post-traumatic headaches. However, by moving Johns down the lineup, the Stars now have a puck-moving defenseman on each of their defensive pairings. Matthew DeFranks recently wrote a piece detailing just how important that can be for the Stars’ offense.
In summary, the Stars’s lineup has the same basic blueprint of the same defensive-minded team they’ve been for the past several seasons. What stands out, however, are the subtle changes that should lead to better offensive production.
Of course, practice and execution are two very different things. Sure, Hintz and Gurianov might get more playing time by being paired with Seguin. But if Bowness and the coaching staff continue to default to Faksa and Co. in tough situations, their overall impact might not be as grand as one would hope.
Furthermore, there’s no guarantee that this lineup is the same throughout the round robin games. The Stars might choose to go back to experimenting with different lineups while winning isn’t as important as an actual playoff series. Or perhaps the Stars will try to stick with their guns but the lines just don’t hold up against actual competition.
All of which is to simply echo the unofficial slogan of the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs — “We don’t know what will happen.” But nonetheless, the Stars’ depth chart looks very solid on paper. Perhaps it’ll be good enough in execution for a deep playoff run.