Despite the early setback of positive COVID-19 cases within the Dallas Stars dressing room, the club will eventually take the ice to officially start the truncated 2021 season. However, when they do, the team will be missing a vital piece in top-line center Tyler Seguin.
For a quick recap, Seguin played the entirety of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs with torn ligaments in his knee and a torn hip labrum that was so bad he had to take injections to even dress. Glorifying injuries has become a key marker in hockey, and however anyone feels about that fact, it is quite remarkable that Seguin played even one game with a right leg that was basically no longer functioning.
Given the injury situation that Seguin fought through, his production throughout the playoffs is perfectly explainable. The code of the NHL did him no favors on social media, but with the injury coming to light, so does perspective. There is also perspective in that the Stars with Seguin on the ice, healthy or not, are a better team. Period.
Over the years Seguin has become less of a one trick player, rounding himself into a centerman who can play well in his own end, win key face-offs, and still provide a scoring punch. After-all, we are only two years removed from a thirty-three goal season in 2018-19. That campaign saw Seguin score twenty-four goals at even strength, while recording nine on the power play. Of course, 2019-2020 was a season that the forward would like to forget from a personal statistic standpoint. In sixty-nine games, Seguin recorded seventeen goals and thirty-three assists for fifty points. His fourteen goals at even strength were his lowest since 2016-17, and his three power play goals were his lowest since his rookie campaign in 2010-11. Take in account his shooting percentage of 6.9%, and we see a player who was suffering a career-worst year.
Not exactly world beating numbers for a player who the Stars just committed a substantial amount of money to.
In what may be a minority opinion, Tyler Seguin might be a player who is being unfairly judged for a campaign that didn’t live up to his contract. After all, Seguin did show spurts during the regular season where he simply took over games on certain nights. Did he do it as much as some would expect? No.
But are the Stars really built as a team for one player to have to take over a game on any given night? If the Stars are relying on a player to take over a game, it means that the team is probably having an off night from a system standpoint. How else can you explain the team wide sag in offense? It simply wasn’t a system designed to generate a ton of offense to begin with. The players and Tyler Seguin seem to be OK with that fact. (Something about defenses winning championships....)
They did make the Stanley Cup Finals lest we forget.
This isn’t to completely explain away Seguin’s lack of production. It just seems too simple an argument to say a guy should be thrown on the trash heap after one year. It also goes to show that not many people in the hockey world actively pay attention to Dallas Stars hockey. The national media did just rate Miro Heiskanen as the 13th best young player in the league.
As established, the Stars are a better team with Tyler Seguin in the line-up. Partner a system that looks friendlier to offense based on what was put in place by head coach Rick Bowness in the playoffs, it’s perfectly reasonable for the Stars to see a bump in production. However, that theory will be put to the test in March and for now looking at the next man up is what is most important to the Stars.
Judging by how the Stars would like to play, it can be argued that the coaching staff could opt to throw veteran Joe Pavelski on the top line. He is a proven top line center, performed very well for the Stars in the playoffs, and is perfectly capable of playing with interchangeable pieces.
However, is that really what the Stars are looking for?
The Stars, even with a system carryover from the playoffs, are still going to be looking for consistent offense. That fact didn’t simply disappear with essentially the same team running it back in 2021. There is a right answer to this question and it isn’t Joe Pavelski, who would benefit on a second line with Alexander Radulov quite frankly.
No, the answer is Roope Hintz.
Tyler Seguin missing from the lineup for an extended period of time is the perfect time for the franchise to take a look at the young Finnish center. After a break out playoffs in 2019, Hintz followed lofty expectations with a season that saw him score nineteen goals, fourteen of which came at five on five. All told, Hintz is pretty much perfect for this role as well when it comes to the way he plays the game.
Hintz is a north/south player, who uses his speed to blitz the zone and catch defenders cheating in their gaps. Couple Hintz with Denis Gurianov and the Stars have a top line that just screams straight line speed. With Jamie Benn looking like the third forward on this line, the Stars could have a trio that looks lethal on the majority of its shifts. Hintz at center also allows the pressure to ease a bit, as Benn and Gurianov have tools to compliment Hintz. For instance, throwing Hintz on the second line would be asking him to carry a line by himself.
It’s not that Hintz isn’t capable of carrying a line at some point, but he probably isn’t there yet.
Hintz as the top line center would also allow him to become more comfortable floating around the offensive zone. Hintz seemed to figure out how to score while in the zone late in the season, into the playoffs, and the Stars will need that to continue. This would also help Gurianov, as Jamie Benn is obviously the F1 on this line digging the pucks out of corners. A top line of these three players should lead to an increase in production from all three players.
This isn’t even mentioning power play time that Hintz will surely be seeing more of in 2021.
Lastly, the question remains what the Stars do with the rest of their lineup with Hintz at center.
Honestly, it seems that the lineup is set to have Hintz at the top line center spot. The Stars are going to have rely on supplemental offense while Seguin is out and Hintz carries that punch and can surpass much of what Seguin does speed wise. Are the Stars losing some aspects from Hintz as compared to a player like Pavelski and Seguin?
Seguin possesses a natural snipers mindset, able to shoot the puck from anywhere in the zone. Time will tell if Hintz can add a fraction of that luxury. Hintz is also going to be asked to take tough face-offs, but the team can shelter him a bit by asking Benn to step in from time to time. Pavelski is also a better play in all three zones, but this season can be a season where the Stars are asking Hintz to figure out on the fly and see what happens.
After all, Hintz is part of the Stars’ long-term plans while Pavelski is only signed through the end of next season.
For the rest of the lineup, the Stars can roll Pavelski as the number two center, offering up a formidable first two lines, with Radek Faksa sliding back into the third line with the rest of the FCC trio. The fourth line is where things become interesting for the coaching staff, but probably not with Jason Dickinson sitting there and proving himself a flexible depth player. While Hintz slides well into the first spot and deserves the look, the role comes with the expectation that it’s his until it isn’t when Seguin comes back.
It really shouldn’t be understated that the Stars are going to miss Seguin in the lineup. That’s simply fact.
Even with the recent devaluation of the Stars’ highest paid player, it could still stand as fact that the Stars aren’t going to the Finals without Seguin on one leg. He takes the top matchups on most nights, freeing up his teammates. With that luxury gone, the Stars’ current forwards are going to have to earn their money and prove the forced youth movement is worth it.
Anything less could mark a long winter and spring for the defending Western Conference champions.