Analysis: Returning Veteran Forwards Ready for Stanley Cup Push
They’re a year older, they’ve had the summer off, and there are contracts coming off of the books at the end of the year. Is the upcoming season Stanley Cup or bust for the Dallas Stars?
With the Dallas Stars defense and goaltenders for the upcoming season, there are fundamental questions that need to be answered headed into the 2021-2022 season. Who are the two NHL netminders and who partners with Miro Heiskanen being the largest outstanding issues.
The forward group, on the other hand, is primarily set. Sure, the team may bring in a mid-level free agent, and there is still an unknown regarding what happens with Jason Dickinson, Radek Faksa and anyone else that the Seattle Kraken may take in the upcoming expansion draft. In the end, however, the core group is set and the job is primarily mixing and matching the pieces in a way that produces more goals than are given up.
In many ways, the upcoming season presents as a changing of the guard. There are the older, reliable names who have been key to victories in prior campaigns, there is a small group of players on the cusp of leadership, and then there are a handful of prospects who have shown bursts of growth and potential.
The focus for now would seem to be a final push within the framework of an older, but still highly productive forward group to see how far they can carry each other in a quest for the Stanley Cup.
After this year, bets are off. Head Coach Rick Bowness’ contract is up, as are sizable contracts for Alexander Radulov and Joe Pavelski. A year from now, the team could easily be contemplating issues surrounding the team’s identity and who fits into those plans, but right now the focus is and needs to be how to squeeze every last bit out of a team that has seen some success but has never pulled everything together to win a championship.
Jamie Benn (31 years old, LW/C, 4 years at $9.5 million)
Benn isn’t the force that he once was, but in addition to leadership and a physical game, he can also still score and distribute the puck. Power forwards in their early thirties usually don’t age well, but given proper time management, Benn should be a vital piece for the coming year.
Tyler Seguin (29 years old, C/RW, 6 years at $9.85 million)
Seguin missed most of last year, but rest and rehabilitation should have him in a good spot for the start of the season. His scoring is down a bit, but he could still hit the 30 goal mark as either the first or second line center for the team. Seguin has matured into a solid two-way center.
Joe Pavelski (37 years old, C/RW, 1 year at $7 million)
Pavelski was the team’s most valuable offensive player last year, and he was able to maintain consistent offense with a variety of players and line combinations. He and Radulov dominated at the start of the season, but by the end of the year, it was his work with Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz that got the most notice. Pavelski and John Klingberg together finally started to show some chemistry.
Alexander Radulov (35 years old, RW, 1 year at $6.25 million)
When he was on the ice, Radulov played well. He causes chaos on the forecheck, and brings an energy that is contagious. Radulov is also one of the best passers on a team that has difficultly creating offense.
Blake Comeau (35 years old, LW/RW, 1 year at $1 million)
Comeau’s offense can be frustrating, but he is one of the few remaining physical players on the Stars’ front line. The question is ice time. Comeau as a 12 minute per game player is likely better than Comeau as a 16 minute per game player. He will be a mainstay on the penalty kill.
In all, these five take $33.6 million in cap space and should see ice time whenever they are available.
The New Core
Roope Hintz (24 years old, LW/C, 2 years at $3.15 million, then restricted free agent)
Hintz is the centerpiece of the new Stars. He has expanded his offensive capabilities, adding a lethal mid-range game to his rush attack. He adds speed to the lineup, while maintaining defensive responsibilities. Once predominantly a goal scorer, he has developed into a more rounded offensive threat.
Denis Gurianov (24 years old, LW/RW, 1 year at $2.55 million, then restricted free agent)
Gurianov’s goal numbers were down last year, but his assists were up. After leading the team in goal’s during the 2019/2020 season, he found himself shuffled through various lines last year and he was never able to find chemistry with any particular line. Finding a way to make Gurianov more of a contributor needs to be a team focus if the team is going to make a playoff push.
Jason Robertson (21 years old, LW, 1 year at $797,000 ELC, then restricted free agent)
Robertson finished second in the Calder Trophy voting and was by all measures that best rookie at 5x5 offense. He passes, is sneaky good on the forecheck, and above all else finishes when given the opportunity. Robertson fills a hole in the Stars top six, bringing needed offense at an entry level pricetag.
Joel Kiviranta (25 years old, LW/RW), restricted free agent)
Kiviranta isn’t signed, but the expected cost is in the $1 million range. There are holes in his game, and he makes some mistakes, but the team has given him breathing room to work his way through the issues (a playoff hat trick may have had something to do with that). Nothing really stands out with Kiviranta’s game, but he somehow finds his way to open ice and scores. He also seems to find a way to blend in with a line in a way that allows him to contribute.
In all, these four take up under $7 million in cap space and should see most of their time on the top three lines.
Radek Faksa (27 years old, C, 4 years at $3.25 million) and Jason Dickinson (26 years old, LW/C, restricted free agent, projected at 3 years at $2.8 million)
It is likely that either Faksa or Dickinson will be exposed to the Seattle Kraken in the upcoming expansion draft. In many ways, the players are similar - they both have limited offensive production, but are defensive oriented and play heavy penalty kill minutes. Faksa is coming off of a wrist injury, which may have thrown off his metrics from last year. The expectation is that the role of either on the team would be similar.
There is also a chance that Seattle picks Anton Khudobin or a prospect such as Adam Mascherin. If that happens, the Stars will fit both Faksa and Dickinson into the lineup, probably eliminating a roster spot for either a free agent signing or a prospect call up.
For salary cap purposes, this leaves $3 million or so on the books, but if the Kraken select a prospect, a full $6 million would be left.
Dallas has several options, all of which cost on the order of $750,000. Tanner Kero and Rhett Gardner both recently signed two year contracts and are on the roster. Joel L’Esperance has one year left on his two year deal, in the same range. Nick Caamano is a restricted free agent, but will likely sign in the same price range, probably a one year deal, but maybe two years.
Riley Damiani and Adam Mascherin will probably both be given a chance to make the team out of camp, as will Ty Dellandrea. In any event, two or three of these prospects should be on the team at any given time. Damiani and Mascherin were dominant in the AHL last season, while Dellandrea saw limited action with Dallas.
The Texas Stars this coming year will showcase several draft picks from prior years who are finally finding their way out of Europe. The AHL team will also feature college signee Jordan Kawaguchi, plus slowly improving Riley Tufte and Tye Felhaber. Right now, it’s hard to judge the quality of the last several draft classes, but this year should go a long way in answering any outstanding questions.
Unless Faksa and Dickinson both remain with the team after the expansion draft, the team should have about $5 million, plus or minus a million, to work with to sign a forward. This would handle a three or four year deal for Blake Coleman, but nothing extravagant beyond that. At this point, its hard to see how Dallas can do anything without knowing what Seattle is going to do, the health of Ben Bishop in net, or what happens with the free agency of Jamie Oleksiak.
Whatever Dallas does, the focus should be on building on the current core group of forwards, in anticipation of a push for the Stanley Cup. Beyond this year, the direction of this team is unclear, and the changes could be drastic. But that is a story for next year.
Things are quiet for now, but expect fireworks toward the end of the month.
Projected Lineup (for fun/food for thought)
Jason Robertson - Roope Hintz - Joe Pavelski
Joel Kiviranta - Tyler Seguin - Alexander Radulov
Blake Comeau - Jamie Benn - Denis Gurianov
Adam Mascherin - Faksa/Dickinson - Riley Damiani
Tanner Kero - Nick Caamano
If Dallas brings in Coleman, drop Kiviranta to the fourth line.