Reasons to Believe: Four Thoughts on the 2014/2015 Dallas Stars

Just like Jessie Spano, I'm so excited about the upcoming Dallas Stars' season I had to share. A revamped offense and legitimate goaltending depth have the Stars poised to make a big noise this year. All we can do now is wait eagerly for the puck to drop.

Last week I shared a few deep, dark fears about the coming season. Nasty, worst case stuff that left me an emotional wreck. Now, it’s time to climb out of the shelter and list a few things I’m excited about.

1 – Seguin, Benn, AND Spezza

Let’s start with two fun factoids. First, the Dallas Stars finished 15th last season in total scoring, exactly average in a 30 team league. Second, Dallas placed two players in the league’s top 10 individual scorers: Tyler Seguin (4th, 84 points) and Jamie Benn (T-8th, 79 points). Way to go guys.

Now two more, and I promise there’s a point coming. On average, the difference between a team’s 2nd and 3rd leading scorer last season was about 6 points (6.67 if you want to be a jerk about it). For Dallas, the gap between Benn and Alex Goligoski was 37 points (79 points vs 42 points). That happens to be the largest gap in the league (Anaheim was second at 33 points), and paints a pretty grim picture of over-reliance. It’s frightening to think about how exposed the offense was to risk.

The acquisition of Jason Spezza (and to a somewhat lesser degree Ales Hemsky) addresses a glaring weakness, and makes the calculus of a second consecutive playoff run much simpler. Maybe Spezza dominates mismatched secondary defenders, maybe Benn and Seguin benefit from not having to be "the guys" 100% of the time, maybe the deal allows other pieces to slide into more appropriate places in the Dallas lineup. Maybe it’s some or all of the above.

It’s one thing to expect a pair of young superstars to continue to improve/evolve/dominate, it’s entirely different for them to HAVE to. I’ve always been big on downside planning, on how things work when everything goes wrong. Last year’s Stars were vulnerable. Take Seguin out of the lineup for a couple of months and they’re sunk, ditto Jamie Benn. Now? Not so much.

2 – Valeri Nichushkin

Wasn’t season one a whole lot of fun to watch? The 18-year old Russian stepped directly into the Stars’ lineup last season, and seemed instantly to justify his considerable pre-draft hype. There were ups and downs, certainly, but 14 goals and 20 assists are excellent offensive omens. Meanwhile, positive possession numbers (50.6% Corsi, 51.3% Fenwick, both 5v5) suggest the kid can be trusted with an expanding role on the team. He played well by any metric under conditions far more difficult than he should expect this year.

Then there’s the eye test. Teenagers aren’t supposed to be as strong along the wall, nor are they supposed to fit perfectly with two of the most dynamic forwards in the NHL. The kid looked like a top-6 NHL player, and by the end of the season, it felt like Lindy was moving Nuke from line to line as the offensive solution, rather than the problem. Would it be so crazy to see 25-30 goals next season?

Just please, please let him learn to lift the puck.

3 – The Offense

Just for kicks, let’s bring up the Stars’ offense one more time. They were a perfectly fine unit last season. A shade under 3 goals per game (2.82), more shots for per game (31.7) than against (30.4), and their best players are 24, 22, and 19 years old. Those are good boxes to check.

Instead of standing still, Jim Nill added a point-per-game center in Spezza (687 points in 686 games) and another proven scoring winger in Ales Hemsky (494 points in 672 games). Proven is a key word, here. I think those two signings make the powerplay (an ugly 15%) much more effective. I think as well the entire unit will benefit from being a more complicated defensive matchup.

In a lot of ways, Lindy had to coach with one hand tied behind his back last season, everybody knew Seguin and Benn were coming over the boards. Despite that, they made the playoffs. What happens now that the cuffs are off?

4 – Jack Campbell

I think the kid is legit. Including playoffs, he lost three games in regulation last season. Three! He won 12, including four via shutout. Opponents failed to score against Campbell in 25% of the regular season games he started last season. Those are stunning numbers.

He’s going to start the year in the AHL, and given his injury history probably should. It’s even possible the Lindback / Rynnas combination keeps him there a while, but I don’t think it lasts. He’s too good, and goaltending has been a problematic position for too long. By season’s end, the dynamic young stopper will be Kari’s full-time backup, and a formidable obstacle all on his own. I say that as someone who thinks Kari Lehtonen is a superb goaltender. He just needs more rest.

After all, the Stars are going to make a serious run this year.