Once again the Dallas Stars have failed to live up to the lofty expectations set up not only by NHL fans and analysts, but by themselves as well. During the offseason the Stars loaded up with talent by acquiring giant goaltender Ben Bishop, signing Russian sniper Alex Radulov and re-hiring legendary head coach Ken Hitchcock. The result: same old, same old.
A late season collapse, during which the team has gone 2-6-2 over their past 10 games, has cost the Stars a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season, despite improving their point total from a year ago. You may remember the Stars’ breakout campaign during the 2015-16 season in which they busted out for 50 wins, a 109 point total and a first round playoff victory over the Minnesota Wild. The following season the Stars fell flat on their face though, falling well short of the playoffs with a dreadful 79 points. They ended up selecting 3rd overall at the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and nabbing talented Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen.
This season, big things were expected of the Stars. With stable goaltending and the leadership of Hitchcock behind the bench, the Stars were expected to be a Stanley Cup contender in the NHL’s Western Conference. But then the puck dropped on 2017-18 and things started to slowly slip away from the supremely talented squad. Things hit rock bottom last night when the team was mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Another wasted season in Dallas.
So, what’s next for this team? General manager Jim Nill has already gone to great lengths to makeover his team’s roster the past few seasons. He played the “coach card” last season with former coach Lindy Ruff’s dismissal and Hitchcock’s hiring… what’s next up his sleeve? Does he himself even have the approval of team ownership?
In his latest article for The Athletic, Stars insider Sean Shapiro outlines some drastic changes for the team moving forward:
- Make a decision on defense. Is Julius Honka part of the plan? Is Greg Pateryn? Does that change with Heiskanen coming over? Figure that out and create some continuity heading into training camp.
- Find a new home for Jason Spezza. I think Spezza still has tread on his tires, but it's obvious that it's not going to happen in Dallas. Whether it's a buyout or a team willing to eat salary in a deal, find a way to move on from the veteran center.
- Build a second line. This is much easier said than done, but through both free agency and trades the Stars have cap space to take some of the burden off the top line. Maybe trade for Mark Stone at the draft.
- Be willing to trust the kids. This isn't an off-season move, but it's a mantra that needs to be adopted. Teams that win Stanley Cups in today's game get contributions from young players that have a chance to prove themselves in a better opportunity.
Wow… all of that seems like a case of “easier said than done.” Who’s going to want a 35 year old Spezza at $7.5 million per season? Unless the Stars eat at least half of his salary in a trade, they’re stuck with the big center.
Also… “maybe trade for Mark Stone”? Talk about easier said than done. Stone is arguably the best player on a rebuilding Ottawa Senators squad. Stone isn’t likely to go anywhere unless a team is willing to overpay by a HUGE amount.
Don't kid yourselves, Stars fans... this isn't going to be an easy makeover.
The good news is that the Stars will have some significant money coming off the books this upcoming offseason with Dan Hamhuis’ $3.75 million deal and Kari Lehtonen’s $5.9 million deal both expiring. Neither veteran is expected to return to the team next season. The problem is that superstar Tyler Seguin is eligible for a contract extension and he’s going to get PAID LARGE. Depending on what happens with Seguin, the Stars could be tight up against the NHL’s expected $80 million salary cap.
One thing’s for sure: times are changing in Big D. Do they re-load, rebuild or re-cycle this upcoming offseason? Time will tell.