Ahem…Has anyone noticed what is happening in Texas this summer? I mean, seriously, has anyone at all raised their hand and went…big D is really big? Terrible puns aside, the Dallas Stars and general manager Jim Nill have had one of the best summers with a team that was already geared-up to mature. The additions of established players coupled with young players that are emerging into big-time NHL stars means we have a real contender.
Let me explain what I mean, and may I just note that if you are a Dallas Stars fan, you can probably close the page because this is not written for you, it is written for the fans who probably have ignored the Stars as some Westcoast has-been living and existing on memories of Mike Modano and the like.
First, we have to mention that Dallas Stars were never a horrid team that liked to dwell around the bottom of the fish bowl, but instead have always nibbled on the almost but not quite made the playoffs portion of the standings. Last year, we saw the team finally break the five year playoff-free hockey streak and give it a go. The go was not all terrible, but the more mature and some say more top heavy Anahiem Ducks proved a bit hard to roast. The Dallas Stars only had one loss that was not decided by 1 goal and in games two and five you can argue that they even carried the play. What really brought the Stars down to earth was their kind of awful power play. They only scored three times on 29 attempts in six games and if my math is good that is about only 10%.
So, what is different this year?
Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky that’s what!
While Spezza and Hemsky might be on the tail end of their careers, I would disagree with that statement though most will not, because they can still produce at a very solid NHL pace. The best thing about these two players is how good they are on the power play. Both players have excellent vision and both can finish. Hemsky, for example, has only had one season where his shooting % dipped below 9% and Spezza’s never dipped below 10% in his entire career. This situational maturity in the appropriate times is what can help improve a power play that was ranked 23rd in the NHL. Both of these signings are a clear statement to help push this team forward. Imagine having Seguin, Jamie Benn, Hemsky, Spezza, and Alex Goligoski on the same unit.
Dallas Stars fans need to stop drooling immediately.
What I really like about this team is that they also have an excellent mixture of speed and size. By what I currently see, this team has only one player under 6’0″ upfront and the back-end is quite heavy with guys like Jordie Benn, Brenden Dillon, Kevin Connauton, and even Trevor Daley has a lot of meat on his bones for a 5’11” gentleman. It gets even better with two monsters that got some playing time last year in Patrik Nemeth and Jamie Oleksiak. I am not sure how much of an impact these two players will have this year, as I really did not catch their performances last year, but they are both very young and extra seasoning never hurt a young defenseman breaking into NHL.
My point is that this team is fast and big. Size and speed is a key attribute these days and if you add skill to the mix with two, already, big stars in Benn and Seguin, you have a cup contender.
My favorite part of the new Dallas team is also chemistry. Teams dream of line combinations that click as if the players were twins playing together since birth to form a dominant combination that could never be stopped no matter how much John Tortorella wanted it to happen. Dallas has now two lines with this kind of chemistry, or love-making as I like to call it. You already saw how Seguin felt playing with Benn, but what you may have missed was the connection between Hemsky and Spezza. I mean who could resist that laugh, amIright?
Hemsky had 17 points in 20 games for the Ottawa Senators last year and Spezza shared the scoresheet for 10 of those points. You see what I am getting at? I mean Spezza and Hemsky drove the scoring on that line no matter who lined up next to them. Replace Erik Karlsson with Goligoski on the PP and you call it a day. This is a brilliant addition of two players that obviously have chemistry and both are very talented. Oh and imagine if they have a little kid like Valeri Nichuskin play with them? I can see Spezza flirt with 30 goals and Valeri netting 20 to 25 easy.
Speaking of goals.
Dallas does have a questionable defense, but I am okay with this. Because they have Kari Lehtonen. This guy eats pucks up. He is one of those goalies that likes to be involved in the game and face more shots than not. The good thing about Kari is that he is 6’4″ and is 30 years old, which to me is the really sweet spot for goalies. The only knock on him is that he is very injury prone, but even so is still a very solid choice. Last year Lehtonen only had one month where his SAV% dipped below .914 and that was a stretch of seven games where he only saw 22 shots per game on average. I cherry picked this period, but my point here is that this guy is a really good goalie that is sometimes just a victim of not such great defense.
It is true that Dallas has a rather questionable defense, but what better defense than a really good offense?
Seguins and Benn are locks for 30 goals and Jason Spezza is a possible third to hit that number, with Hemsky, Valeri Nichushkin, and Ryan Garbutt getting 20 goals, you have a team that got such great depth that it could be the envy of the West. LA Kings had nine players who scored 10 or more goals last year, while Dallas had eight and they could have 10 this year. How badly would the New York Rangers kill for to be able to have two number one centers and both as big as these two?
The advance stat game points to more success as well. Dallas as a team last year had a PDO of 1002 and ranked as the 9th best team in the Fenwick For % category with 51.9%. This means that this team was no fluke and can still find ways to improve with added scoring. There have been signs of immaturity or the young guns effect, where a team gets a bit lazy with the lead, as their Fenwick For % drops to 46.6% in that situation. Overall team consistency was lacking as well, but this comes with a team that has leadership that is that young. There is also the question of back up goaltending that was simply awful last year.
Who can say what happens during a long NHL season with random injuries and other surprises, yet there really is a lot to like about this new Dallas Stars team and while I am painting a perfect picture here, sometimes stars due align and magic happens.
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