The time is now.
Jim Nill has been building toward this moment for quite some time. In 2013 he acquired one of the best centers in the game in Tyler Seguin, put a former star in Jason Spezza behind him, and now he’s added a shutdown center in Hanzal, a top winger in Radulov, a fantastic goalie in Ben Bishop, and a solid complementary top-4 defenseman in Marc Methot.
Atta boy, Jim.
The Central Division will be a tight one. But offensively this team has excellent depth combined with star power, a solid defense group that is still maturing, and a goaltender that has proven capable of bringing a team to the Stanley Cup Finals, as Bishop did with Tampa in 2014. Even better, they jumped to the third overall pick in June and selected a left handed defender in Miro Heiskanen who could be the perfect complement to John Klingberg down the road – and maybe even in a year or two.
I’m sure most Stars fans are pretty excited for this season.
Offensive Rating + Formula
Each player will have two ratings: a Current and Potential rating.
Radek Faksa, for example, is a 3+, 2. This means currently he is an defensively oriented top-9 forward, but has the potential to be a second line center contributing at both ends of the rink.
Benn F+, F+ – Seguin F+, F+ – Radulov 1, F?
Shore 3+, 2 – Spezza 1, 1 – Ritchie 3+, 2
Roussel 3+, 3+ – Hanzal 2, 2 – Pitlick 3, 3+
Janmark 3+, 3+ – Faksa 3v, 2 – Cracknell 4, 4
Elie 4, 3+ – McKenzie 4, 3
Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are some of the best talents in the game. Where the Stars look really impressive, though, is reading those four centermen: Seguin, Spezza, Hanzal, and Faksa.
Even if they didn’t get Hanzal this year, Radek Faksa would have looked quite nice in the 3rd spot. Faksa, 23, plays the game with astute defensive awareness and has enough skill to keep up with talented linemates. You can ask the Chicago Blackhawks how important it is to have young talent that can play a variety of roles.
Speaking of which, the Stars also have a few prospects that have developed into NHL contributors with near perfect timing.
Devin Shore had 3 excellent years of college, and scored 15 goals in 23 games two years ago for the Texas Stars of the AHL. Last year he played his first full season in the NHL and built a solid foundation, contributing 13 goals and 33 points.
Brett Ritchie’s last season of junior saw him score 41 goals in 53 games, and he followed it up with promising AHL development, amassing 101 points in 141 games. His first full NHL season last year saw 16 goals and 24 points in 78 games, continuing his trend of placing pucks into the back of hockey nets. He’ll be able to slide all over the lineup.
Those two most certainly do not project as elite options. But at 23 and 24 years old, they’re the exact type of players the Stars will need to keep developing to complement the star studded core they’ve assembled.
The versatility Ken Hitchcock will have building line combinations should enable the Stars plenty of options to attack with.
Forward Ranking: Strong (8th of 31)
Defense Rating + Formula
Methot 1, 1 – Klingberg F, F
Hamhuis 2, 2 – Johns 3, 3
Lindell 2, 1? – Honka 3, 1?
Oleksiak 3, 3
John Klingberg and Stephen Johns are 25 years old. Esa Lindell is 23, and Julius Honka is 21.
The Stars have built an excellent stable of homegrown defensemen. They traded for Johns when they acquired Patrick Sharp in 2015, but Klingberg, Lindell, and Honka will represent a core of top-4 defenders that over time should be able to chew up big minutes. Klingberg is locked up until 2022, and the Stars should have control over Lindell and Honka for the foreseeable future.
Then, Marc Methot and Dan Hamhuis are both defense-first options that complement the puck moving skills their younger defenders have. To be clear, it was challenging to give Methot a 1, and I might break his heart one day and lower it to a 2. But after thriving alongside Erik Karlsson last year, it seems the physical defender is capable of not just playing with offensive stars, but supporting them to near perfection.
If the Stars can avoid injury, their back line looks ready to complement that beautiful looking offense.
Defense Rating: Solid (18th of 31)
Goaltending Rating + Formula
Bishop F, F – Lehtonen 2, 2
Jim Nill has never been shy of aggression in the trade market, and that once again came to fruition. Nill was lookin’ pretty intelligent when Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi launched the Stars out of the gate to a playoff appearance in 2015. But all good things must come to an end.
Unfortunately, last season’s B-level goaltending combined with a plethora of injuries up front presented a hill no team could climb.
Jim wasn’t going to let that happen again.
With a simple conversation, Dallas had a franchise caliber goaltender. For a measly 4th round pick.
Nice play, Jim.
Goaltender Rating: Strong (12th of 31)
Let’s get right to Alex Radulov. He put up 54 points with a Montreal team last year that had just an okay offense. Pacioretty was around, Galchenyuk was around, and they had good defensemen to move the puck, but overall he was the 2nd best offensive player on the team.
Scroll up and look at Dallas’ depth chart.
Ken Hitchcock is going to have a great time building lineups this year. Radulov will now be perhaps the third most valuable offensive player, depending if you rank him higher than Spezza.
Let’s look at Montreal and Dallas’ depth charts, and compare Radulov-sandwiches:
That second one looks pretty tasty. The talent above Radulov in Dallas is better, the talent below Radulov in Dallas is better, and because of that I’ll be praising this signing for quite some time. He set a 54-point benchmark with the Habs last year. What will it be with the Stars?
5 Most Valuable Assets
Jamie Benn F+, F+
Tyler Seguin F+, F+
Ben Bishop F, F
John Klingberg F, F
Miro Heiskanen D, F?
Top 3 Prospects
Miro Heiskanen 3, F
Julius Honka 3, 1?
Denis Gurianov 4, 1?
Dallas not only should return to the playoffs, but they should also expect to start a serious run of consecutive playoff appearances. They must supplant Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville, Minnesota, and out-rise Winnipeg to make it happen, but with elite talent in place and developing youngsters at forward and defense, the Stars look set to contend for the foreseeable future while playing an exciting brand of hockey. Unless, of course, Hitch has something to say about that.
Their forward group ranks in the top 10, their defense is solid with an elite puck mover, and their goaltending is the best it’s been since Marty Turco back in the early/mid-2000s.
Looks good to me, right?
Offense: Strong (8th of 31)
Defense: Solid (18th of 31)
Goaltending: Strong (12th of 31)
Verdict: 3rd in the Central Division.
Playoffs: This year, next year, the year after, and the year after that one. Then we’ll see.