Dallas Stars Scattershooting - Splitting Up Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin; Central's Biggest All-Star Snubs
A newsy Wednesday may have some interesting fallout for the Stars today and beyond as we take a swing around the Central Division's big stories.
It was a newsy sort of day in the NHL on Wednesday, so in honor of the great retired columnist and editor Blackie Sherrod, instead of spending 1,000 words on one topic, let's go around the horn a bit.
Stars Line Shakeup
The Dallas Stars returned home from a disappointing trip to the Big Apple with some interesting changes to the forward lineup, at least in practice.
Now, everything that follows should be caveated by the fact that Lindy Ruff sometimes tries line combinations in practice just for giggles rather than as indicative of anything permanent. But it makes everyone sit up and take notice when Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin aren't on the same line.
For practice at least, Benn skated with Jason Spezza and Val Nichushkin while Tyler Seguin centered Patrick Sharp and Mattias Janmark. The lower lines stayed mostly the same, with the early 20s trio staying together as the third line and Travis Moen and Radek Faksa rotating alongside Vernon Fiddler and Patrick Eaves on the fourth line.
When both players are healthy and in the lineup, Benn and Seguin have been practically attached at the hip since Seguin arrived in Dallas, but there is a certain logic to the lines as Ruff mixed them on Wednesday. Benn played very well with Spezza last season when Seguin was out with his knee sprain, and Seguin and Sharp had obvious chemistry in the pre-season.
Offense hasn't been a huge problem in the Stars recent little slump, but the forward shakeup may be designed as much to inject energy back into the lineup. Dallas is in the midst of a 9 games in 15 days (having played seven games in 11 nights as of Tuesday) and looked fatigued at times in the losses in New York.
In order to preserve more energy, Ruff said the team will not take a morning skate today to prepare for the Winnipeg Jets and hinted that fresh players, such as Faksa or reserve defensemen Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth, may get back into the lineup.
Central Division Snubs
The NHL's new all-star game format is problematic in the best of times.
After all, a format that limits teams to just 11 players per division and over-represents goalies while under-representing skill players is going to cause problems before you get into some of the talent disparities that cycle through the league. After all, when the Pacific Division is forced to send a backup goalie with all of 12 starts, there are issues.
But those issues could be limited by strategic selection, which the NHL in it's great wisdom chose to ignore. The biggest issue to my mind are the puzzling inclusions of Pekka Rinne and Jonathan Toews.
Devan Dubnyk hasn't gotten a ton of attention compared to two more highly touted Central Division starters Corey Crawford and Jake Allen, but with a 2.28 goals against average and a 0.921 save percentage, he's has very comparable statistics. Rinne, quite frankly, doesn't, ranking 35th in the NHL with a 0.907 save percentage and 20th 2.43 GAA. For a Stars comparison, that's Kari Lehtonen's save percentage with Antti Niemi's GAA, and neither are having all-star seasons.
Toews, who entered Wednesday's games 77th in the league in scoring, is clearly a legacy selection in a division that has too many players for too few spots. The St. Louis Blues, who until recently were second in the division, have only one representative, and Blake Wheeler, seventh in the league in scoring, is left out. Heck, from the Stars alone, Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp have significantly outscored Toews this season. Artemi Paranin is a better Hawks candidate, as is Alex Steen from the Blues.
And of course, there's the fact that the second-highest scoring defenseman in the league, John Klingberg, is also staying home since Wheeler isn't the Jets proper representative and Dustin Byfuglien has to suck up his 3-on-3 hatred to go instead.
Nashville's Center Shakeup
Just when you thought the Central Division was ridiculous enough, it went and got tougher Wednesday as the Nashville Predators acquired center Ryan Johansen from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for DFW raised defenseman Seth Jones.
It's a bold move from the Predators, who were spurred by Jason Spezza the last time they went out to try and find a true No. 1 center. They have been solid at shot suppression (though average to slightly below at goals against) but have really struggled to produce on offense at times.
Johansen should theoretically help address that, though he has struggled in the goal scoring department this season both before and after the Jackets hired John Tortorella. He's been a 70-point player in the past and is only 23 years old, so he's a potent weapon to have in the arsenal.
The loss of Jones is far from insignificant, though. He has been the Predators best possession defenseman this season, though he plays sheltered minutes as one might expect of a 21-year-old in his third year. He also contributed a solid amount of offense from the blueline which the team will definitely miss.
Dallas plays Nashville four more times this season but not again until the middle of February, so it will be a while until the Stars get a shot at the new-look Preds.
TradeCentre in January?
For all the personnel moves the NHL general managers hadn't made so far this season, they certainly had a sense of urgency on Wednesday.
In addition to the Johansen-for-Jones swap, the Washington Capitals signed Mike Richards (yes, that Mike Richards) to a pro-rated, one-year contract, and the Los Angeles Kings acquired Vincent Lecavalier and Luke Schenn from the Philadelphia Flyers for prospect Jordan Weal and a third-round draft pick.
If that last clause made you blink, you're not alone. The Flyers are retaining half of the salary of both players involved, which does open up a little space for other moves, and they got out from under the contract weight.
What are the Kings getting out of it? Well, Schenn is in the final year of his contract. Lecavalier has two seasons remaining, but apparently there is a promise that he will retire at the end of this season. That seems CBA non-complaint to me, or at least against the spirit of the thing, but the NHL approved the trade so it's apparently all kosher.
Remember when Lecavalier was the Stars primary target for a No. 1 center in the summer of 2013? And when it didn't work out, new general manager Jim Nill swung the deal for Tyler Seguin? Thank you, hindsight, for that lovely bit of fortune.