For this week’s edition of Around the Stars universe (apparently it has become a weekly thing at this point) I’ve decided to cover two very different question marks regarding the Dallas Stars. The first one is seemingly more important, as it directly affects the on-ice performance of a single player. The second one is mostly fun.
So let’s get right to the first one:
In hockey, and especially in the salary cap era, performance of a player is specifically tied to what he is making, or to be more precise, how much he counts against the cap. You’re paid like a star player but not producing enough? Well, there’s a problem. You’re a fourth line replacement level player but making only the league minimum salary? Hop on board, you’re welcome here.
Not only is this because teams like to save as much money as possible, but also because you can assign that kind of player to the minor leagues without any cap cost to your NHL team. But then there are players who are paid more than what they actually bring on the ice. Yes, I hear you Jamie Benn naysayers, but even you have to admit the captain has been on fire the last couple of weeks. No, we’re not going to talk about the big deals of Tyler Seguin or Benn … at least not today. They are paid like superstars because they were legitimate superstars upon signing their respective contracts and still show flashes of it.
We’re going to focus on what I tend to call the mushy middle. And one player in particular.
If you’d have to choose one player who has not benefited from the Stars coaching change this season yet, it has to be Radek Faksa. During the first 12 games this season, he is the only forward who has not yet scored a goal and has just one point, an assist in a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs. He is also the second-least used skater on the ice, just a smidge more than Joel Kiviranta. But his impact, or rather lack thereof, is better demonstrated when looking a bit underneath the scoresheet.
Ever since 2017-18, his underlying metrics have been trending in a negative way, yet he was signed to a 5-year deal worth $3.25 million in annual average value in the fall of 2020. Despite the start of a worrying trend, the deal was still seen as a safe bet at that time for a player who was hitting the 30-point mark pretty regularly up until that point and also had been a key cog on the penalty kill.
Unfortunately for the Stars, Faksa has not lived up to even those modest expectations and has become a rather pricey fourth line option for the team. With the resurgence of Joel Kiviranta and up-and-comer Ty Dellandrea, who has been nothing but exceptional on the penalty kill, you could make a case for Radek Faksa being expendable at this point. Especially when you consider Riley Damiani is waiting for his NHL opportunity in the minors and the same goes for Matej Blumel or even Marián Studenič.
Moreover, they all seem to be better suited for a playing style that Pete DeBoer and his staff prefer than Faksa at this point, who was even moved to the wing and switched spots with Luke Glendening within their line. Yes, hockey is trending towards a position-less state pretty rapidly so there’s not that much to it. Faksa still takes important face-offs on the left dot as a reverse-handed option to Glendening, but he is clearly not an option for DeBoer when talking his overall usage and ice-time into the account.
The new coach does not have the same opinion of Radek Faksa as the old coach. pic.twitter.com/rL58sYInIN— Micah Blake McCurdy (@IneffectiveMath) November 7, 2022
Even Radek Faksa himself expected a growth in his production and on-ice deliverables thanks to a coaching change as he expressed in a pre-season interview. However, the question remains if he actually has anything to offer offense-wise in any system. I remember him playing as a second line center for Czechia during the World Championships in 2018 and the results were dismal. He was really quickly demoted to the checking line, where he felt much more comfortable.
So, how could Dallas see him as an option in the future? Dallas is tight against the cap and any relief could come in handy, as it would allow them to carry more extra skaters and possibly be more active on the trade deadline front. But Faksa is also an insurance policy of some sort as he is a very experienced veteran, and that could prove effective come playoff time. We’ll see. Pete DeBoer hinted that one of the most difficult cuts after the pre-season was over was Riley Damiani and that he was certainly going back to the NHL at some point this season. One could mull over who will be the odd man out.
The bottom line here is that Radek Faksa is currently way overpaid for what he actually brings on the ice and the Stars have plenty of cheap, young and internal possible replacements that could potentially make an even greater impact than the 28-year-old Czech native. The questionable thing is whether there are any takers on him in the current flat-cap NHL era. Pete DeBoer has shown us he’s not afraid to utilize young talents if they are performing up to his standard, so it remains to be solved how that affects Radek Faksa.
For a bit of a lighter topic, I want to talk briefly about Stars jersey numbers. I’ve mentioned before on my Substack that I’m a bit of a jersey aficionado, as they say. I like to go beyond the typical “this number was given to me so I’ll stick with it” type of mantras and I wanted to highlight some key question marks regarding some Stars player’s jersey selections and what I’d want them to wear instead or how the jersey number progression should continue. You might say it’s a bit irrelevant and you might have a point. But it’s also a fun and harmless discussion so why don’t we have some of those as well, right?
What I like about Jim Nill is that he’s some sort of a traditionalist and wants to keep lower numbers for defensemen. We can also assume the role a player will have on the team if he’s assigned a single-digit number, like Nils Lundkvist was when Nill traded for him and he was immediately assigned number 5. This gave us a small hint they were not planning to marinate him in the minors any longer.
Miro Heiskanen was immediately given number 4 and make no mistake, that jersey will be going to the rafters sometime in the 2030s. Julius Honka, another highly touted prospect was given 6, while Jamie Oleksiak was given 5 initially and then switched to 2 after his short tenure with Pittsburgh. John Klingberg was immediately handed a number 3 and really lived up to its expectations.
It doesn’t also mean the lower the number is, the higher the expectations are. Numbers from 7 to 9 are obviously retired, as well as 19, 26 and 56 now. But strictly speaking, if you’re handed numbers 2 to 6 for the Dallas Stars, the management group thinks highly of you, especially if you’re a young player or a draftee. For example, writing is on the wall that number 6 is quietly waiting for Christian Kyrou, despite the fact it was just recently given to Colin Miller, who has been an ideal partner for Miro Heiskanen, in my opinion. He also has 2 years on his deal and the Stars are likely counting Kyrou might need two years at minimum to be NHL ready. He could be their desired number 6 that Honka never was.
I also think number 2 is waiting for Artem Grushnikov, once Jani Hakanpaa’s contract is up, because in Dallas, it just symbolizes big body presence on their D – all the way from current Hakanpaa’s predecessor in Oleksiak to the Derian Hatcher era. Grushnikov also uses number 2 in his Instagram handle and there’s a good reason to believe it’s his favourite number to wear – as he dons it for the Hamilton Bulldogs and for the Russian national teams, too
Another strong candidate for number 2 could be Lian Bichsel. I’ve been keeping close tabs on Lian Bichsel this season so far and he’s been wearing number 20. This number is worn by Ryan Suter and it isn’t totally out of the grasp to think these two players could interchange that number given their respective career trajectories. Bichsel could be NHL ready probably by the time Suter’s deal expires and he can continue to wear number 20, especially if all of the other single digit numbers are taken. This is how I foresee jersey numbers assigned for Stars defensemen in three years.
You might have noticed Thomas Harley with a brand new number. For a while, I was a fan of him wearing a big number, as number 55 really looks cool on the jersey. But then, a certain teenager by the name of Wyatt Johnston burst onto the scene and his current jersey number is somewhat odd, as he wears 53. He was wearing number 55 during his junior year and according to a fan, he was known as a “dub55” since his elementary school years. First I thought they have number 18 waiting for him as it’s currently not taken by anyone but then I reconsidered. While 18 would still look cool on Johnston and it’s a great hockey number, I low-key want him to switch to 55 instead while letting Harley take the old Klingberg number.
Why? Because then you can get a perfect symmetry of double digit numbers for the Stars future generation like this.
Logan Stankoven has been wearing number 11 throughout his tenure in Kamloops and is projected to enter the Stars line-up as soon as the next season. He could probably have done that this year as well, but Stars management and ownership opted to loan him back to juniors for one extra year. Luckily for him, number 11 will probably be his to take as current owner of that jersey number, Luke Glendening will be an UFA and at this point it’s rather questionable if the Stars bring him back for one more year. Either way, I think there is a way paved for Stankoven to wear number 11 in the future – which is a jersey I’d buy yesterday, honestly.
As for Bourque and number 22, I was surprised a bit that the Stars handed number 22 to Matej Blumel at the start of the Traverse City tournament and it stuck with him also during his brief call-up this season. I thought they were saving that number for Mavrik Bourque, who has been wearing it for all his junior years with Shawanigan and also has it as his Instagram handle. Blumel on the other hand was wearing number 23 for Dynamo Pardubice in Czech League and 95 for the Czech national team, so he has no connection to 22, but I digress. If he continues to impress, he could be a sleeper candidate for a number 18, as that would really fit him well in my opinion.
And the last thing.
Is it just me or that number 30 would look just perfect on Jake Oettinger? He wore number 29 in his first year in Boston in the NCAA only to switch to 30 and played with that until he turned pro. His Instagram handle? Jake30Oettinger. You could even make the case for him to make this his own personal brand and lose the letter for the numbers.
My thoughts before the season went both ways. Number 29 is legitimately a good goalie number with the likes of Ken Dryden or more recently Marc-Andre Fleury donning it rather successfully. And I also get the sentiment that fans have already paid for his jersey with 29 and he had some success with it, too. But he wouldn’t be the first one to change it. Nylander did a nice gesture, in which he paid for re-stitching his fans’ jerseys to a new number. There are always ways to go about these things.
At this point I like that he’s sticking to the 29 as it feels more unique than 30 but I also think that given his close connection to Ben Bishop, he’ll eventually make the change – and his marketing advisors might be telling him the same thing. Maybe as soon as the next season, given Bishop’s imminent return to the Stars’ front office.
It’s funny how the jersey number might mean literally nothing to somebody, yet there is a guy like Jack Campbell, whose early career and his choice to wear number 1 was reasonably affected by it. He wanted to be the Stars number one goalie so badly he even chose to be his number. Only a trade to the LA Kings and his subsequent change to number 36 gave him a fresh mental start that he obviously needed so much.
And that’s what I love about jersey numbers, that they in many cases symbolize something the same way, the jersey color or logo does. It’s the part (or at least it should be) of the DNA when constructing a brand for a player and I feel there are still ways to go for teams in the NHL to take advantage of that hidden potential. Even player agent Allan Walsh criticized the NHL for not doing enough to promote singular players and take the example from the NBA.
A jersey number could certainly help in doing that. You just have to look behind the numbers.