Welcome to the hockey season, Dallas Stars fans.
The wait is nearly over. In just one more sleep, the team will play a game that means something once again in what is anticipated to be the closest thing to a “normal” season yet since the league shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic over 18 months ago. After a season in which teams only played divisional opponents (in a geographically-jigged alignment, to boot), Stars fans will be able to watch some of the biggest names in hockey once again at the American Airlines Center.
Today, we break down all the storylines you need to know as the season gets underway as a companion to this excellent statistical breakdown of the Stars this year that you should definitely go read.
STORYLINES TO WATCH
New Division, Who Dis?
The Stars return to some old friends, playing in the same division as the Chicago Blackhawks, Colorado Avalanche, Minnesota Wild, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, and Winnipeg Jets. With the addition of the Seattle Kraken to the Western Conference’s Pacific Division, the Arizona Coyotes find themselves in the thick of things here in the Central.
The Stars will play four games versus Arizona, Minnesota, Nashville, St. Louis and Winnipeg while they’ll play only three games versus Chicago and Colorado. Among those divisional teams, none appear to be a truly “easy out” on the schedule. Chicago improved, especially after acquiring goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. St. Louis’ system will always give Dallas fits. Colorado is a Stanley Cup favorite, though their goaltending looks a little sus, y’all. Winnipeg is a dark horse favorite Stanley Cup pick (at least among Canadian media, anyway.) Arizona’s competitiveness might depend on how long Phil Kessel remains a Yote, and Nashville is trying to do something called a “competitive rebuild” which we all know turns out really well.
Goaltending, Goaltending, Goaltending
The Stars have a lot of question marks when it comes to goaltending, and part of that is because they appear to have a number of options in net. Braden Holtby won a spot on the NHL roster after a favorable preseason performance. Anton Khudobin is not far removed from an unexpected Stanley Cup final run with the Stars. Jake Oettinger looked really good last year and made a case to be in the NHL full time, and Ben Bishop is rehabbing from a knee injury with the stated goal of playing for Dallas this season.
So, how will Dallas manage the crowded crease? A lot of it hinges on when Bishop returns - and in what shape he returns in. If you can get Vezina-quality Bishop back in the net, you figure out a way to make room for him. With all the other options available, the Stars and Bishop have the luxury of time to get him back to 100% confidently.
As they do, Rick Bowness and company can ride the hot hand as they come along, whether that’s with Holtby or Khudobin. If either falters, Oettinger is in the wings getting big minutes down in the AHL and will get an opportunity to come in and grasp the crease as his. If he does, and one of Holtby or Khudobin are putting up serviceable-to-good backup performances, the goaltending position could become a trade chip for general manager Jim Nill at the trade deadline.
But that’s a lot of ifs and coulds.
Health and Finish in the Time of Scoring
The biggest factor of success for the Stars will be whether or not the forwards can stay healthy enough to find some finish in the scoring department. In theory, the returns of Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov, and a fully-healthy and un-impaired Roope Hintz should provide a big boost to the forward group. Mix in a defense that has a healthy ability to move the puck, and that should equate to more goal scoring for a team that’s struggled in that department.
But. (There’s always a but.)
The Stars aren’t getting any younger. The team is the oldest, on average, in the league. They’re playing under a coach that has systematically struggled to generate scoring consistently over the past two-plus seasons. The finish ability among the forward core has been a topic of much discussion over that time too.
The clock is ticking down on how to fix all of those things for another chance at a Stanley Cup run. Hopefully, healthy players translates to better finishing and scoring this year. The front office has basically bet on it doing just that for this season.
PLAYER TO WATCH
Jason Robertson is our chosen “player to watch.” Entering his second season, and playing as a top six forward in the league in which the video is out on him could lead to some adjustment time for Robertson. The Stars can’t afford for him to struggle to make those adjustments for too long if they hope to make the playoffs and go on a long run once there. Robertson is a key piece of the top six forward group in Dallas and the team’s ability to roll out balanced scoring lines.
The Stars have a very eclectic mix of players on the roster. Among active players as of Wednesday, the nationality of the Dallas roster breaks down as follows:
That’s eight different countries represented across 23 players. Canada, USA, and Finland are tied with five players apiece. Considering there are only approximately 40 total Finnish players across all 32 teams in the league, Dallas just might be on its way to being the favorite team of the Nordic country here soon.
There’s always a predictions aspect of a season preview, and this will be no different. I’m going to pick two - one that is reasonable, and one that is just wild enough that it just might work.
For the reasonable take, I’ll say that I fully anticipate the Dallas Stars to be a playoff team at the end of the year. The defense looks to be one of the best units in the league and a rejuvenated Seguin is primed to lead the Stars back to the promise land. Combined with a schedule featuring actual rest and practice time, I think the Stars have a lot going for them.
But enough reasoning. Let’s get wild.
I think Holtby is going to have a renaissance season. As in, a Vezina buzz-worthy return to form. The defensive structure of the Stars and the drive to be part of another potential Stanley Cup winner will combine to give Holtby the environment necessary to rebound quite nicely after a few erratic seasons behind the Vancouver Canucks squad.
As Dallas has been one of the top five teams in goals-against average as a team the last few years, maybe this isn’t all that far-fetched after all.
HOW TO WATCH THIS YEAR
Of the 82 games this season, the team will appear on five different channels.
ESPN+ - 5 TIMES: October 22 (vs LAK), November 16 (vs DET), November 23 (vs EDM), December 17 (@ STL), January 25 (@ NJD)
ESPN - 3 TIMES: March 24 (@ CAR), April 12 (vs TBL) April 14 (vs MIN)
TNT - 3 TIMES: December 8 (@ VGK), December 29 (@ COL), March 6 (@ MIN)
Bally Sports Southwest (47 TIMES) and Bally Sports Southwest PLUS (24 TIMES) get the remainder of the slate. You can get a full line-up of the broadcast schedule here.
If you don’t have a ESPN+ account, you can sign up here. You’ll have access to a NHL game almost every day of the season, plus get access to all sorts of insider written hockey content from the likes of Emily Kaplan as well as other unique NHL features. ESPN+ takes the place of NHL Center Ice, and at about $7 per month versus the $25-plus of the old streaming service, is a hell of a deal for hockey fans.