Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word on Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2020-21 Stanley Cup pick. Today the series continues with the 2020-21 Dallas Stars.
2020-21 Dallas Stars
Charles Dickins’ quote “it was the best of times, it was the worst of times” may as well have been written about the Stars last season. The team sputtered out of the gate by losing eight of their first nine games. Then, the team won seven straight and appeared to be rounding into form. But on December 10, 2019, head coach Jim Montgomery was fired for “unprofessional conduct.” Under interim coach Rick Bowness, the team had a 17-8-3 record at the end of February. But the wheels came off once again in March, and the Stars limped into the pandemic with a 2-5-2 record in March, including a six-game losing streak.
The Stars still managed to claim the fourth seed in the Western Conference and upset the #1 seed St. Louis Blues 2-1 in a shootout to face the #6 Calgary Flames. With netminder Ben Bishop sidelined with a knee injury, the Stars rode a hot Anton Khudobin to the Stanley Cup Final. The veteran backup played 25 playoff games and had a 2.69 goals-against-average and a .917 save percentage. The Stars took care of the Flames in six games, stunned the second seeded Colorado Avalanche in seven games, and routed first seeded Vegas Golden Knights in five games. The Cinderella story would end at the hands of the formidable Tampa Bay Lightning, losing in six games to the Stanley Cup Champions.
Centre Tyler Seguin had another solid regular season for the Stars, earning his sixth All-Star Game appearance and his 50 points leading the way for the Stars. Defenceman Miro Heiskanen took a step forward in his development. The 20-year-old surpassed his rookie season total while playing 14 fewer games due to the pandemic. Fellow blueliner John Klingberg also had another productive season on offence. However, the production of Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov dropped off from their at-or-near point-per-game pace.
The Stars focused more on retaining what they have rather than adding new faces. Veteran defenceman Andrej Sekera was inked to a two-year, $3 million extension. In the days leading up to free agency, Khudobin agreed to a three-year, $10 million deal to remain in Dallas. Unrestricted free agent forwards Mattias Janmark and Corey Perry would not return, with Janmark signing with the Chicago Blackhawks and Perry still unsigned. Goaltender Landon Bow also re-signed, despite not being tendered.
The Stars did dip into the free-agent market for one signing. Florida Panthers defenceman Mark Pysyk signed a one-year, $750,000 deal. Pysyk actually alternated between forward and defence for the Florida Panthers in 2019-20, ending with nine goals and nine assists in 58 games.
Radek Faksa was one of three Stars’ three young forward restricted free agents re-signed to new deals. He inked a five-year deal worth $16.25 million. Denis Gurianov agreed to a two-year, $5.1 million contract. Roope Hintz signed a three-year deal worth $9.45 million in November.
Oh, and the Stars unveiled those blackout jerseys.
Back in black 💪 pic.twitter.com/WNeqXHso1n
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) October 28, 2020
Jamie Benn – Joe Pavelski – Alexander Radulov
Jason Robertson – Roope Hintz – Denis Gurianov
There’s one glaring omission from the lineups: Seguin. The Stars’ leading scorer last season suffered a torn labrum in his hip during the 2020 playoffs. He had surgery during the offseason and will miss the start of the season. The veteran Pavelski centered Benn and Radulov during the playoffs and will likely get that assignment again on the Stars’ top line. Pavelski’s point totals sagged in the regular season, but a solid 13-goal, six-assist performance in 27 playoff games restored faith in “Captain America.” Benn also woke up a bit in the playoffs, with eight goals and 11 assists in 27 games. That’s about half of his total production in 69 regular-season games. Same for Radulov, who tallied eight goals and 10 assists in the playoffs.
Gurianov is another Stars’ forward whose production surged in the playoffs. After scoring 20 goals and tallying nine assists in the regular season, the 23-year-old had nine goals and eight assists. With Radulov and Benn getting older, will Gurianov see first-line minutes before long? With Hintz locked down, he’s also expected to provide a scoring punch. He broke out last season with a 19-goal, 14-assist campaign. He became more of a playmaker in the playoffs, with 11 assists and two goals in 25 games. Seguin’s injury opens up a chance for the 21-year-old Robinson. The 2017 second round pick showed a deft scoring touch in the OHL and adjusted quickly to the AHL, netting 25 goals and 22 assists in 60 games for the Texas Stars.
Cogliano is a 13-year NHL veteran not far removed from productive offensive seasons with the Anaheim Ducks. He can play centre when needed, but that job goes to Faksa, a two-way centre who’s been good for double-digit goals the last four seasons, even in the shortened pandemic season. Dickinson has been a Stars’ regular the last couple of seasons who might actually end up as the fourth-line centre. Kiviranta became the darling of the playoffs with a hat-trick against the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference semifinals. That should earn the unheralded Finn more than an 11-game cup of coffee this season. Comeau is a veteran grinder who could play a third-line role if Dickinson dips to the fourth line. Dowling is a career minor leaguer looking to get a chance with Seguin’s injury.
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Jamie Oleksiak – Miro Heiskanen
Andrej Sekera – Mark Pysyk
After being a weakness for many years, the Stars’ defence is their strength. Klingberg and Heiskanen drive the offence for their respective pairings, as both are excellent puck movers and offensive producers. Both had over 30 points in the regular season and over 20 points in the playoffs, with Heiskanen leading the team with 26.
Heiskanen also continues to round out his defensive game. In fact, Heiskanen and “Big Rig” Oleksiak posted an elite 1.14 GA/60 last season, the best in the NHL. These four eat up the majority of defensive time for the Stars, with Klingberg, Lindell, and Heiskanen averaging 22 or more minutes per game.
Sekera returns for his 14th NHL season and still averages about 18 minutes of ice time. However, he does have some relief at the ready, with the newly-signed Pysyk and returning Stephen Johns competing for ice time in the bottom pairing. Johns missed about 22 months because of post-traumatic headaches. He’s a physical defender who is just as willing to hit as he is to block a shot. Pysyk is a two-way defender who might even see some forward time if the Stars find themselves in a pinch.
Just like the forwards, there’s a glaring omission here: Ben Bishop. The 34-year-old veteran will be out for at least the first two months of the season, after surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his right knee. When healthy, Bishop is one of the league’s elite, sporting GAAs no higher than 2.50 and save percentage no lower than .916 during his time in Dallas.
Luckily for the 2020-21 Dallas Stars, they have an elite backup in Khudobin. He’s sparkled behind the solid Stars defense in two seasons, with his GAA improving from 2.57 to 2.22 last season and his save percentage shooting up to .930. When Bishop was unavailable, Khudobin was more than up to the task. He backstopped the Stars all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, with a 2.69 GAA and .917 save percentage.
Former 1st round pick Oettinger is expected to be Khudobin’s backup when the season starts. The 2017 1st rounder was Khudobin’s backup during the 2020 NHL Playoffs, appearing briefly in two games. Oettinger stayed at Boston University after being drafted. In his first full season with the AHL’s Stars, he tallied a 2.57 GAA and .917 save percentage in 38 games. Landon Bow could also see some time this year. The 25-year-old had a 3.31 GAA and .895 save percentage for the AHL’s Stars last season.
Players to Watch
How long until Heiskanen becomes the Stars’ #1 defenceman? At 21-years-old, he could still have a lot of room to grow as an elite NHL player. He surpassed his 2018-19 production in 14 fewer games, flipped his +/- from -14 to +14, and even got some Norris consideration. However, he appears to be benefitting from Oleksiak’s defensive influence, as he continues to improve in his own zone. Betonline.ag has Heiskanen at 12/1 odds to win the Norris and will be in the conversation for best Western Conference defenceman with the likes of Quinn Hughes and Cale Makar for the next decade.
One player we haven’t mentioned thus far is Julius Honka. The 25-year-old spent last season (and the start of this season) in Finland. Honka is a 14th overall pick who’s had some NHL time but hasn’t established himself yet. He’s back on a one-way deal. He could be in the mix for third-pairing minutes and could find his way on the 2020-21 Dallas Stars’ taxi squad. But the clock is ticking on him, and it’ll be worth watching to see if Honka can establish himself in the NHL or if he could find himself on another team.
Prediction for 2020-21 Dallas Stars
In the game of Pacific Division musical chairs, the Stars remained in the Central while division mates Minnesota and St. Louis went west. That means they’ll get at least eight cracks at the Tampa Bay Lightning team that kept the Stars two wins away from lifting the Cup. Besides the Lightning, the Stars face a tough road to the playoffs. The Carolina Hurricanes, Columbus Blue Jackets, Nashville Predators, and Pittsburgh Penguins will compete with the Stars for three spots. The Stars have one of the best and deepest defensive corps in the league. When Bishop and Seguin return, they’ll also form very formidable goalie and forward groups, respectively. It’ll be a challenge, but Dallas fans should be optimistic about the 2020-21 Dallas Stars. They should make it to the Stanley Cup playoffs again and are more than capable of making another riveting run to the finals.