Continuing on with the series of a look at the moves made by the Colorado Avalanche’s direct competition in the Central Division, now is a time to focus on the Dallas Stars who share many similarities to the Avalanche and are likely vying for the same spot in the playoffs.
The Dallas Stars are usually seen as a team on the rise ready to take the next step with their potent offense and brilliant GM at the helm. The reality is that they have struggled to find the next step and only qualified for the playoffs twice in the last ten years with one playoff series win in that span. The Avalanche are much in the same boat as well having only participated in three playoff series themselves in that time frame. What the Stars haven’t done like the Avalanche is bottom out and therefore only selected once in the top ten since 2009 and that is when they won the lottery slot of third overall in 2017 when they selected Miro Heiskanen.
First task for the Stars to get over the hump is to improve their offense beyond their potent top line of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov. Helping chip in from the backend is John Klingberg and Radek Faksa is an underrated complimentary piece who just finished seventh in Selke voting but the Stars need more help, sound familiar? Their task to is raise their goal output from the 2017-18 season from 235 without sacrificing the gains made on improving keeping pucks out of their net which went from 262 down to 225 last year.
Enter new head coach Jim Montgomery, who replaces Ken Hitchcock after one season behind the bench in what was his second stint with the team. Montgomery begins his first coaching opportunity in professional hockey after a successful five year career as the head coach at the University of Denver. Montgomery will be tasked with finding that balance between offense and defense plus pushing the Stars to a team who isn’t simply gunning for a wild card spot every year. How successful he will be and how fast is anyone’s guess but the Stars are likely glad to have a fresh perspective at the helm. The Stars need to find a renaissance in Jason Spezza much like Carl Soderberg got a new lease on life last season.
A big key in the Stars finding success is integrating youth. The Avalanche got a fresh start boost with this in the 2017-18 season and the Stars should be looking to implement the same strategy with similar results. Oddly enough the Stars were the only team last season in which a player under 21 years of age did not record a point. Twenty-two year old defenseman Julius Honka only scored four points in 42 games so the Stars are going to need more contribution from him and other youngsters on the roster including the return of 23 year-old and former 10th overall pick winger Valeri Nichushkin after a two-yer sabbatical to the KHL. The linchpin to this new youth movement will be how the aforementioned star defenseman in the making Miro Heiskanen transitions to his North American professional career and what kind of impact he can make on the the Stars right way.
Also following in similar vein to the Avalanche, the Stars opted to take a less splashy approach to the offseason by filling roster holes with depth players. Roman Polak was brought in on a conservative one-year deal. The Stars traded out backup goaltenders swapping Kari Lehtonen for Anton Khudobin. No greater irony is the fact that Dallas’ biggest free agent acquisition was a three-year deal for former Avalanche depth forward Blake Comeau. It is clear the Stars are banking on the same type of internal improvement with development and bounce back efforts from their existing players. It is a sensible approach but one that might not be enough to get a serious leg up on the strong competition in the Central Division
Obviously any improvement from a divisional foe is going to create that much longer of a path that the Avalanche need to navigate in order to get ahead of their competition. Where the Avalanche might have a leg up on Dallas is that they began their fresh start and refocus “rebuild” one year prior with a playoff berth and if they play their cards right can remain a step ahead. It is difficult to constantly improve without set-backs and that will be the Avalanche’s greatest task moving forward.