As the NHL returns to action, the Dallas Stars prepare for more and better challenges ahead. They’ve lost key players, at least for the nonce, and their aging roster will have a steep hill to climb in a new, temporary divisional realignment. What are the chances they can summit the Stanley Cup mountain this year?
Analytics maven and national NHL reporter Dom Luszczyszyn took the measure of the Stars for a new piece in The Athletic. Perhaps unsurprisingly, he can see heartbreak on the horizon. He reckons the losses of Tyler Seguin and Ben Bishop for the beginning of the season have dropped their chances of making the playoffs a full 12 points, from 78 to 66 percent. But he also can see a team that has learned how to win when it counts:
If the team does make the postseason, the odds will be stacked against them making a return to the final.... To be fair, the odds were stacked against them last year too and they found a way with timely scoring to go with their stingy defense, but doing that all again will be a challenge. The team is on the elder side of the league which means a natural decline is to be expected and they were a bit fortunate during last year’s run too. Plus, divisional playoffs mean getting through Tampa Bay who remains one of the league’s best teams, even without Nikita Kucherov.
It’s a daunting path, but that’s not unfamiliar territory for these Stars who finally learned what it takes to win in the playoffs last season. There may have been some luck on the way, sure, but there always is for either team that makes it to the final. They earned every inch each game and have the horses capable of winning playoff hockey. The roster may not seem all that imposing when looking at player point totals, but there’s a fair bit of talent here in spite of that. This team won’t be an easy out.
One reason for this cautious optimism is the fact that the returning Anton Khudobin found about four new gears during the 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs:
Most teams would be in absolute shambles with their starting goaltender out, especially a team whose entire identity is built around having such a strong presence in between the pipes. Bishop is rated as one of the league’s best goalies by this model after two strong back-to-back seasons.... Dallas isn’t most teams though and that’s [because] the team’s backup goaltender Anton Khudobin is … also elite. Over the last two seasons he’s saved 14 goals above expected (in 19 fewer games than Bishop) which ranks sixth league-wide. His .926 save percentage is only a shade under Bishop’s .927. The duo ranks first and third in that regard, and while that’s partially on the defense in front of them, it’s also very much because of their own ability too.
Khudobin is a major reason the team was able to soldier on through the postseason without Bishop and it’s because the drop-off between the two really isn’t that substantial. Though Khudobin “only” had a .916 save percentage in the playoffs, he still saved almost 10 goals above expected in just 24 games which is an incredible rate. Interestingly, his goals saved above average was actually zero, a large disconnect that points to a porous Stars’ defense. That’s seriously off-brand for this team, but may in fact be what drove the team to such lofty heights.
Dom’s full season preview is behind the paywall. [The Athletic]
Happy first day of training camp! Saad Yousuf has your storylines here, as well as a new installment in the ongoing slap fight between Sinclair Broadcast Group and...everyone else.
We'll get to a lot of the regular season stuff over the next couple of weeks but get your self ready for training camp storylines here (including stuff on the FSSW crap) https://t.co/TWX3c5to29— Saad Yousuf (@SaadYousuf126) January 4, 2021
And there’s already a bit of opening-day drama.
Around The Leagues
As the NHL starts stretching out and warming up, let’s not forget that there is world-class hockey being played in anger even as we speak.
It’s #WorldJuniors Semifinal GAME DAY on TSN!— TSN Hockey (@TSNHockey) January 4, 2021
Canada Russia - 5:30pm et/2:30pm pt
Finland USA - 9:30pm et/6:30pm pt
You can also watch LIVE on the #TSN App & TSN Direct : https://t.co/3PTSwVFR94#TSNHockey pic.twitter.com/ulXiNSUCKW
Outdoor games on Lake Tahoe could turn the whole “no fans” problem into a stunning advantage. It certainly has the potential to be must-see TV.
Four teams — Boston, Colorado, Philadelphia and Vegas — are headed to Lake Tahoe in February: https://t.co/GDFc633pVD— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 1, 2021
How much does Zdeno Chara have left in the tank? The Washington Capitals are willing to find out.
OFFICIAL! BIG Z TO DC!— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) December 30, 2020
The Washington Capitals have agreed to terms with defenseman Zdeno Chara to a one-year, $795,000 contract.
Full Details: https://t.co/1Pqb61mP5q#ALLCAPS pic.twitter.com/Ad50bX7LvA
At the other end of the career spectrum, RFA forward Dylan Strome has arrived at a bridge deal with the Chicago Blackhawks.
Dylan Strome signed a two-year, $6 million contract with the Blackhawks on Sunday. It has an average annual value of $3 million. The restricted free agent forward scored 38 points in 58 games for the Blackhawks last season. https://t.co/Aqek9CZqpm— NHL.com (@NHLdotcom) January 3, 2021
Meanwhile, Mathew Barzal has reported to a New York Islanders camp in which he can’t take part...for now.
Interesting to see Mathew Barzal’s name on the Islanders camp roster. Contract discussions continue between Barzal and the Isles. He checked in. Had his physical, but can’t participate in a scrimmage without a contract. https://t.co/jT5wTegM2E— Darren Dreger (@DarrenDreger) January 4, 2021
There’s no getting away from “Tiger King” – even on the ice. Enjoy.