Welcome to our latest series here at Last Word on Hockey. The Puck Drop Preview series takes you through each team as the season is fast approaching. The preview will focus on the narratives surrounding the team ending last year, during the offseason, and heading into the 2021-22 season. Puck Drop Preview also focuses on what the season has in store for each team from a roster and expectations perspective. Join us, as we look at all 32 teams before the season starts. Today, we take a look at the 2021-22 Dallas Stars.
2021-22 Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars are coming off a disappointing season where they failed to make the playoffs after reaching the Final the year before. A season hampered by injuries to star players, Seguin, Radulov, and Bishop, could not end fast enough for the team. The players pushed through and the fans stuck by their club but everyone knew a shot at the Cup was not written in the stars, pardon the pun. This team was going to fall well short of expectations and the only silver lining was that the season was a shortened one. It would be back to the drawing board for management trying to right this ship.
Despite the lack of season success, the Stars had a relatively quiet offseason. Instead of hitting the panic button, management reflected on the past season to decide which of their previous two seasons was the “one-off.” Was their run to the Cup the real deal or was this last injury-riddled season, exposing a lack of depth in the organization, a more accurate reflection on the state of the team? After observing the offseason moves, or lack thereof, made by management, it’s clear to see that General manager Jim Nill believes last season was the one-off.
This offseason saw the departure of towering defenceman Jamie Oleksiak. The 6’7” Oleksiak was a prize selection for the expansion Seattle Kraken. His steady, stay-at-home style of play awarded him a lucrative five-year deal worth $23 million. Other notables that would leave the Lone Star State include versatile depth player Mark Pysyk, iron-man Andrew Cogliano, forward Jason Dickinson, and rental defenceman Sami Vatanen, whom the team elected not to resign.
General manager Jim Nill didn’t want to tinker much with his roster as he firmly believes in his club. Let’s not forget these same Stars knocked off the Avalanche and Golden Knights in the playoffs just two years ago. The Stars went out and bolstered their blueline by signing the recently bought-out Ryan Suter to a four-year deal worth $3.65 million per year. It was interesting to see Jim Nill give that kind of term to a 36-year-old defenceman. Whatever your stance on the term, we can agree that Suter has some game left in him and will help anchor Dallas’ top-four pairing and play an important role throughout the season.
To round out the last pairing on their blueline, the Stars signed former Hurricane Jani Hakanpaa. Hakanpaa signed a cap-friendly deal of three years at $1.5 million per year. Hakanpaa is a solid veteran who can log big minutes when needed while bringing a level of consistency and poise to the game. He is smart with the puck and does all the ‘little things’ right, which will surely keep him in coach Rick Bowness’s good graces.
Nill added some size to his bottom-six forward group with the signing of depth players Michael Raffl and Luke Glendening. Raffl spent the last eight seasons with the Flyers organization but comes over from the Capitals after a brief stop in the U.S. capital as a rental player.
Luke Glendening has spent his entire eight-year career in Detroit where he played mostly bottom-six minutes. A versatile forward who can play either wing, as well as centre, he’ll hold down that fourth line for Dallas. He’ll also provide Rick Bowness with options up and down the lineup should they find themselves in injury trouble again.
Lastly, the Stars signed netminder Braden Holtby. It’s an odd signing as the depth on the goalie chart is already deep. There is still uncertainty about Ben Bishop’s health and whether he will play again. But if he’s not available, there is still Anton Khudobin — a proven starter — and rookie Jake Oettinger, who looks ready to step into the NHL full-time. This seems to be an insurance move more than anything, and it won’t come as a surprise if one of these veteran goalies is moved out to make room for the young Oettinger.
The top six in this forward group are a force to be reckoned with. Joe Pavelski must be on the same training regiment as Alex Ovechkin, as he continues to defy Father Time. Pavelski, who turned 37 in July, put up 25 goals in 56 games last year. A pace that would have had him reach the 30+ goal plateau for the fifth time in his career. That goal success was in large part due to the efficiency of the Dallas power play. The power play operated at 23.5 percent, good enough for fifth-best in the league, and contributed to 13 of Pavelski’s 25 goals. A healthy Tyler Seguin returns to the lineup, which will only strengthen an already lethal power play, one that has been 20 percent or better each year with Boweness at the helm.
Jason Robertson is coming off a brilliant rookie campaign where he amassed 45 points in 51 games. Robertson (drafted 39th overall) was part of a strong draft class in 2017 where Dallas also selected Miro Heiskanen (3rd) and Jake Oettinger (26th). He will look to pick up where he left off and line up alongside Pavelski and Roope Hintz on the right side of that top line.
Despite their forwards being hit with the injury bug last year, the Stars scored at a higher Goals For/Game rate (2.82) than they did the year they went to the Stanley Cup Final (2.61). If Dallas remains healthy, they can roll two top-heavy lines that are packed with high-end skill, speed, and size. They will no doubt frustrate and wear down defences and will provide ample scoring to provide relief for a goaltending situation that still requires figuring out.
Outside of Denis Gurianov, the bottom-six group for the Stars lacks offensive ability. Overall, they are not that exciting and won’t be relied on to provide consistent depth scoring. Radek Faska and Blake Comeau were a couple of “minus factories” last year, finishing the season -15 and -13 respectively. New additions Raffl and Glendening aren’t quite known for their shutdown abilities either but Glendening did improve from being -29 in the 2019-20 season to a +3 last season. Not a bad improvement, given he played for the lowly Red Wings. That being said, if at any point Rick Bowness’s top two lines go through a cold stretch, it could spell disaster for the Stars.
The additions of Suter and Hakanpaa on the blueline have established the Stars backend as one of the deepest in the league. Suter is slated to play alongside the newly extended young star Miro Heiskanen. Heiskanen has flourished during his short time in the NHL. With another year under his belt playing on the top pairing—letting his game mature—Heiskanen will be heavily relied on to shut down opposing teams’ top forwards while providing offensive by quarterbacking the Dallas power play.
The second pairing of Lindell and Klingberg will provide an excellent 1-2 punch. Lindell has emerged as a reliable defenceman for the Stars and Klingberg continues to provide secondary scoring and playmaking ability from the backend. It will be worth keeping an eye on this pairing throughout the season as Klingberg may be on the move. A UFA next season, Klingberg still hasn’t worked out an extension with the Stars. He’s making 4.25 million per year but will be due for a substantial raise.
Klingberg’s Future With Dallas
A slew of signings by defencemen around the league this offseason has set the new bar for its position. Darnell Nurse and Seth Jones were awarded deals north of nine million per year. Cale Makar signed for nine million and teammate Heiskanen signed for 8.45. Klingberg’s offensive numbers are in the same range as these players but he doesn’t play the same top pairing minutes. It wouldn’t be out of line for Klingberg’s camp to expect a contract around the seven million dollar mark.
With the extension to Heiskanen and an extra 9.45 million committed to Lindell and Suter, the Stars may have no choice but to move on from Klingberg. Pavelski and Radulov’s contract will be off the books next year, but there are already talks that Pavelski and his camp are nearing a team-friendly extension. Jim Nill will surely like to keep Klingberg but there may not be enough wiggle room under the cap to give Klingberg his much deserved raise.
Newly brought in Jani Hakanpaa will breathe in new life into the final pairing. Sekera has seen his offensive numbers plummet since his time in Edmonton, which led to his buyout from the club only three years into his six-year deal. Hakanpaa plays a strong stay-at-home game and seemingly found his stride at the NHL level at the end of last season with the Hurricanes. These two will be relied on as a shutdown pair as opposed to the offence that the top four will bring.
(Injured) Ben Bishop
After the offseason signing of Braden Holtby, the depth chart for Dallas’ goalies is deep. With no clear timetable for Bishop’s return, Jim Nill felt the need to add some insurance into their crease. Rookie goalie Jake Oettinger had 29 starts last year and put together a respectable 2.36 GAA and .911SV%. The Holtby signing must come as a surprise to Stars fans as they believed Oettinger proved he was ready to take a full-time role in the NHL, splitting starts with Khudobin. With Oettinger becoming an RFA next season, Nill will want to get his young goalie into more games and have a larger evaluation of him before going into contract negotiations next summer. It won’t come as a surprise if either Holtby or Khudobin is moved this season, sooner than later, to make room for the young Oettinger up with the big club.
Players to Watch
All eyes will be on Seguin this year. Brought in back in 2013 to be “the guy” in Dallas, pressure is mounting for him to deliver a championship. Dallas has iced some great rosters during Seguin’s time here. But their window to compete is closing with this ageing forward group. Seguin and Benn were criticized openly by CEO Jim Lites in 2018 for their lack of effort and for failing to live up to their contracts. Frustration is growing for the club and this year could be boom or bust. Seguin returns for the 2021-22 season healthy and hungry to capture his first ring. There’s also the added incentive of working his way back onto the Team Canada Olympic roster.
Let’s turn the attention over to another player, long-time Dallas Stars captain, Jamie Benn. Benn shares the same pressure, if not more, as fellow lineman Seguin. Jamie’s offensive numbers have dipped over the last two seasons. He has averaged 0.61 points per game compared to his five seasons prior, where he averaged 0.94 points per game.
Rick Bowness will be relying on his captain to drive the offence and push his line-mates to be a scoring machine in the Central Division. Once they reach the playoffs no one will question what sort of compete level Benn will bring. He has a career average of 0.83PP/G in the playoffs.
Prediction for the 2021-22 Dallas Stars
The Dallas Stars have the benefit of playing in arguably the weakest division in hockey. It’s expected that the Colorado Avalanche will run away with this division. Dallas is easily the most complete team, next to the Avs. They’ll separate themselves from the rest of the mediocre teams this division boasts. Despite their moves to improve this offseason the Hawks, Wild, Blues, and Jets still have plenty of work to do to be considered a Cup threat. Make sure to continue following the Puck Drop Preview series to see see how the rest of the Central Division teams are shaping up and whether you think any team can take the second seed from Dallas.
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