How The Stars Rank Among Depth Scoring in the NHL

After the Stars’ CEO publicly aired his thoughts about Benn and Seguin not performing well enough, a lot was left unsaid about the lack of depth on the roster. Today, we look into the data to compare depth scoring around the league.

Let’s this article off with two quotes from the Dallas Stars’ front office. One from GM Jim Nill at the start of the season and one from CEO Jim Lites in the last few days. One of the biggest question marks about the team at the start of the season was depth scoring. Mike Heika asked Jim Nill about the depth scoring at the beginning of the season and if he was worried about it. GM Jim Nill’s response:

I know a lot of people are worried about it. I’m not worried about it. It’s not a big issue for me. I think (Jason) Spezza is going to have a better year, (Mattias) Janmark is going to have a better year, (Devin) Shore is going to have a better year. There are a lot of players who can do more, and if everyone adds three or five goals apiece, it adds up. Then you start adding players like Nichuskin and (Blake) Comeau, and I like what we have here.

Then amongst the multiple newsworthy soundbites from last week, there is this absolute gem of a quote from Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites:

If 14 and 91 don’t lead, we will not be successful. ...I think this is the most talented and deep team we’ve had in years here. Certainly, this is the best team that we’ve put together from a talent perspective since Tom Gaglardi’s owned the franchise.

I want to assure everyone that today is January 2 and not actually April Fool’s Day. These are real quotes from two very important front office figures. To summarize, Nill at the beginning of the season had no worries about the Stars’ depth and believed that adding Blake Comeau and Valeri Nichushkin would help solve some of the offensive depth woes. Jim Lites wants you to know this is the best team they’ve put together, talent-wise, since 2011. Keep this in mind as you continue through the analysis below.

Star’s Depth Scoring — “Talented”

It felt like Christmas morning; I couldn’t wait to dig into the numbers to look at the “most talented Dallas Stars team in the past eight years.” I wouldn’t say there is a concrete definition of what qualifies as a team’s depth. For me, and I assume not everyone, I look at a roster in three parts — the core three offensive forwards as determined by points (Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov), the two mid-tier forwards (Jason Spezza and Devin Shore), and the depth (any roster forward below the top five scoring forwards). For what it’s worth, I don’t believe Shore should be in the mid-tier scoring; he’s a fine depth scorer. This is why the Stars desperately need someone to fill that void of second line scoring threat. Don’t bother trying to tell either of the Jims that, though. This is the most deep team the Stars have had in years.

Below is the data for each team’s depth scoring and total goals:

I was told this was the most talented team the Stars’ front office has assembled since 2011? Twenty-fifth in total depth points and 23rd in total goals? With games in hand, might I add. If I had written this article a few days later, those 25th and 23rd ranks could easily drop to 27th and 25th. It’s not good. However, Lites believes that this season is struggling because of Benn and Seguin. He believes that there’s nothing to worry about with this depth. Lites is showing fans this data and saying “this is the most talented roster we’ve put together since Tom joined in 2011.” For what it’s worth, fans probably saw this coming. There was a lot of recognition that the Stars did not having enough scoring threats in the depth. Nill then signed Comeau and Nichushkin, while doubling down on Brett Ritchie finally hit twenty goals and for Mattias Janmark to prove himself as a solidified second-line scorer.

Another thing to take away from this chart is Nashville. I’m sure there are other better examples out there as well, but this caught my eye. In an earlier article, I wrote about each team’s core scoring and the Nashville Predators were surprisingly low. I understand Filip Forsberg and others have been injured, but nonetheless, they were low on the charts. However, look how well their depth has performed in the absence of core scoring. That is a roster built to last and built to compete. If the core scorers get injured, have just average scoring years, or hit the post more than anyone in the league, it’s important to have depth guys that can come in and produce. The Stars do not have that in this roster.

Depth Usage

Just because your team has bad depth doesn’t mean you have to give them prominent ice time. If your bottom guys aren’t great or if they aren’t scoring goals, then give more time to your core or mid-tier scorers. That makes sense, right? Well, we’ve already established that the Stars’ depth is struggling. So maybe the Stars’ coaching staff is sheltering them and letting Benn, Seguin, and company get more ice time. I’ve averaged each team’s depth time on ice to get an idea about who plays their bottom guys more or less per game.

The depth players for the Stars average 12:42 of ice time per game. That is good for — wait for it — 10th in the league. The closer to the bottom right of the chart the team is, the more they’re icing depth players who aren’t scoring points. So not only does Dallas have one of the worst bottom forward units in the NHL, they ice them more than most teams in the league. And fans are questioning why the Stars are near the bottom in goals per game? There’s a lot of Stars hockey being played by guys who aren’t scoring with the data right there to prove it.

“Not good enough”

A lot of blame has been put on Benn and Seguin this season while fighting for a playoff spot. Alright, bad wording... for not performing as well as usual? Let’s consider that their main linemate, Radulov, has missed 25% of the season and Klingberg has only played in 20 games this year. Their power play has lacked output and Seguin is getting bad luck on shooting so far this year with most posts hit in the league. Yet, all things considered, Benn is on pace for 34 goals and that’s “embarrassing”? Seguin is on pace for 70 points and that’s nothing to sneeze at. It’s not great, but it certainly isn’t terrible with all things considered — or worth calling it “horsesh*t” to the media.

How about stepping away from Benn’s projected 34 goal season and Seguin’s 70 point-paced season (despite the worst shooting luck of his career) to look into the mirror? What about the rest of the offensive roster? Yes, the one that is nearly bottom-five in both points and goals. The same roster from last year that was 30th in depth scoring and was supposed to be fixed by signing Comeau and bringing back Nichushkin. Who else on the current roster is supposed to score 20 goals besides the first line? Seriously, someone tell me in the comment sections. There has been 41 combined seasons by the depth players and only in two of those years has there been a 20-goal scorer: Martin Hanzal in 2016 and Blake Comeau in 2010.

In a league with as much parity as the NHL, you have to min/max and you have to always look to improve the roster. Depth scoring was an issue last year and it’s proven to be just as big this year. Yet, here we are near the halfway point of the season and zero trades have been made to try to spark the depth. Jeff Skinner, Max Pacioretty, Tomas Tatar, Max Domi are all guys that could have come in to at least give some more versatility in the lineup.

So far, it’s been another year and another season with little-to-no depth scoring. But here fans are at the halfway point being told by the CEO that the 25th worst depth group in the league is “nothing to worry about.” Fans have been told that the 25th worst depth in the league is “the most talented and deep this team has been in years,” while the top two players are to blame for being in a playoff spot being mediocre, despite the stats proving otherwise.

If there’s anything that is horsesh*t, it’s that.