The Dallas Stars Need to Make a Move
No more grading on a curve, no more just happy to be here. The Stars are slumping in a way that threatens to undermine incredible progress. They're also well-stocked on the farm and well-managed against the cap. It's time to make the tough decisions to make this team better.
It's time to do something.
It was time last night, even before the Dallas Stars took the ice against San Jose. Really, it was time even before the roadtrip to the West Coast kicked off. This Stars team has accomplished a great deal, and seems poised to accomplish a great deal more. Poised, as in, teetering or wavering. We're still at the could portion with these Dallas Stars, and with each passing game, it seems clearer and clearer they need a nudge.
Not that I know what the move is supposed to be. There are ten million reasons goaltending is unlikely to change, but that's not the only area to improve. Recent struggles have revived longstanding questions about the Stars' (in)ability to defend when it counts. Yes, they're better, but if we're going to be asked to treat this team like a contender, it's time to stop being satisfied by transitions from awful to meh.
Even offensively, which is this team's supposed calling card, we're seeing an overall result bolstered by a handful of superfluous performers. Give a good coach, a playoff coach, seven games against a one-line team and see how quickly the goals dry up.
Either Jamie Oleksiak or Patrik Nemeth has to go, if not both. The Stars have wasted half a season already, and neither "prospect" seems any more likely to play now than they did three months ago. Neither player is adding value as an asset, and the presence of two defenders in the press box every night is limiting flexibility elsewhere on the roster.
Time for honesty. If either player was going to break into this lineup, it would have happened by now. As someone who watched the Texas Stars march to their first Calder Cup Championship that's a hard thing to say, but it's true.
Furthermore, let's #realtalk about Esa Lindell, Stephen Johns, and Julius Honka. Something needs to be done. I don't mean something in the sense that all three must be called up and inserted immediately into the every-night lineup. I just mean it's time for the Stars to look at a defensive system that has gone from deep to clogged and make some tough decisions about the long-term future.
Jyrki Jokipakka, Jason Demers, Alex Goligoski, Jordie Benn, Esa Lindell, Stephen Johns, Julius Honka, Oleksiak, and Nemeth. If the plan is to let the veterans (Demers and Goligoski) walk in the offseason, fine. That's two spots outright plus hedging against regression from Jordie or Kevin. Flexibility is a luxury. Then again, doesn't it seem unlikely the Stars will let Demers go? Goligoski has also been excellent as John Klingberg's wingman since the young Swede got to Dallas.
So we're left with something like seven players for two and a half roster spots. The situation is both untenable and short-sighted. In the past two seasons Tyler Myers has been traded, so has Seth Jones, and Dougie Hamilton's contract got moved. Teams league-wide are hungry for defensive help, rabid, really. It's time for GM Jim Nill to fleece somebody, or if not, at least pivot to a more balanced pipeline.
Because, honestly, the Stars could use the help up top. Yes, we have the pleasure of watching an "all-time" offense most nights, but there's more to life than sick dangles. How different would the overall unit look without a pair of MVP candidates in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin? Heaven forbid what might happen to the power play should Klingberg succumb to slump or injury. Patrick Sharp and Jason Spezza have been consistent, but both are on the side of the bell curve where expectations begin to diminish.
Ales Hemsky is still going to have nights, but those nights are often months apart. There are interesting younger players, but neither Valeri Nichushkin nor Mattias Janmark have demonstrated an ability to generate NHL-level offense on a nightly basis. Think about Joel Quennville armed with Brent Seabrook and last change in a tight series. Think as well about the Stars' lone Stanley Cup. Mike Modano was superb that year, but Joe Nieuwendyk wont he Conn Smythe. This team needs one more weapon, at least.
It's not just about scoring, either. Vernon Fiddler plays less than thirteen highly specialized minutes a night. He is invaluable depth, but that's it. Cody Eakin, frustrating Cody Eakin, is as likely to line up with Seguin and Benn as he is with Colton Sceviour and Patrick Eaves. Furthermore, so much positional inconsistency cannot be helpful to a still-young forward trying to learn where he fits at the NHL level. If this team had to win a game tomorrow, what would the lines look like?
I wrote about Marcus Kruger and Jori Lehtera last week. Those are the types of players you can snag with prestige prospects like Lindell or Nemeth. They're not flashy, but they win games like the one Dallas lost last night. This team could use a guy like Chris Kelly or Tyler Toffoli. Not just energy on the bottom lines, but energy that can be harnessed. Upside wouldn't be the worst thing in the world either.
The job the Stars have done accumulating assets is impressive. It's also half-done. Losses like Anaheim, like last night, like the last month, serve as reminders that this squad has won little more than our admiration. They're close, it's time to cash in a few chips and push them closer.