30 IN 30 - DALLAS STARS (24th place)
The Dallas Stars fell back to Earth after demolishing their regular season competition in 2015-16. With porous goaltending and a lacklustre defensive unit, expectations should have been a bit more realistic this year. You can't win games consistently with the sole expectation that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin will shoot the lights out on a nightly basis. Eventually teams will figure out your offensive 'strategy'; coaches aren't dumb. With goaltending hopefully now addressed after the Ben Bishop deal, the Stars will have to turn their attention to defence in order to protect him from getting shelled every night. Youth on the back-end will be partially relied upon to make the professional jump this season, but the addition of a stable veteran force is desperately needed. With the expansion draft looming, the Stars' defence could be another man weaker come June 20th.
- Benn (*NMC)
- Spezza (*NMC)
- Bishop (*NMC)
Up front, the Stars have a pretty easy selection with all 7 forward spots filled by prominent roster cogs - young and old. Veterans previously in the lineup have the convenient status of free agency, allowing for players such as Brett Ritchie and Radek Faksa to be protected without much deliberation. On the outside looking in is Curtis McKenzie. The former Miami RedHawk has performed at an alarmingly productive rate at the AHL level but has failed to see that translate into NHL success. When stacked up against the 7 in front of him he appears to be the most expendable of the group and will likely miss list selection.
The real story for the Stars will be on defence. Allowing Vegas to snatch one of the 7 aforementioned forwards is unrealistic, meaning the ability to protect more than 3 defencemen is out of the question. Ignoring the potential chess moves Jim Nill might play with his D-selections, let's break down his player options.
WHO ARE THE TOP 3?
Ranking the top 3 defencemen on this roster is a convoluted task. Consideration must be given to factors such as age, contract, point production, and possession-based impact. At first glance, it's painstakingly evident that John Klingberg is the #1 in this group, but after him we need to look a little deeper.
Dan Hamhuis may be the popular choice as the next man up, but his age and contract are a concern. His strong possession numbers are undoubtedly a positive that cannot be ignored, as he year-in-year-out manages to uphold above average Corsi stats against top flight opponents. Anyone that can crack the Canadian Olympic team roster and win Gold has to be doing something right. However, his asset value for a process such as expansion will remain relatively low with an ability to leave via free agency in a year's time at the tender age of 35. The pieces are in place to sway him to stay and push into playoffs, but realistically how many seasons does he have left in him? It's tough to say for player's in their mid-30's. So as Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban would say on Shark Tank - "and for that reason I'm out."
Esa Lindell surprisingly (for some at least) spots up as our 2nd D-man in this group. He shouldered a lot of responsibility this year and logged A TON of minutes for a rookie (1597 mins played to be exact) against increasingly tougher competition. His possession numbers are amongst the worst in this group but his goal differential, along with defensive stats like on-ice save percentage, speak to a player that has allowed on average weaker quality chances against. At 22 and having just completed his first full season with the big club, his potential for growth greatly outweighs that of an aging veteran on the last year of his contract.
The long term investment Dallas made with their 2011 draft day decision of Jamie Oleksiak carried with it the expectation of growing pains. With middle of the pack possession numbers and a lower than ideal GF%, his game hasn't fully turned the corner just yet. But earmarked for a shut-down role, his effectiveness may be measured more accurately through zone-adjusted Corsi, on ice save percentage, and first pass transition numbers. Considering 6'7'' 255lb defencemen don't grow on trees (...because they are trees), you can't afford to give one up for nothing. Therefore, with the hope that he develops into 'Chara-lite', Oleksiak draws in as our 3rd protection list selection.
The remaining defencemen from the 2016-17 Stars roster are cheap bottom pair options. Greg Pateryn recently signed for a ridiculously low $800K/year; Patrik Nemeth will likely extend for $1.5M or below; and Stephen Johns bottoms out the group with a $725K cap hit. Up and coming prospect Julius Honka is also bound to nab a roster spot next season, meaning the Stars could see themselves paying Jamie Benn ($9.5M) more than their entire defensive core combined. With so much cap space, don't be surprised if you see Jim Nill make a big free agency splash or take on a big contract via trade.
Young, old or Russian
The Vegas selection will likely depend upon the decision by Dallas mentioned above with respect to their top 3 defensemen. Leaving a player like Dan Hamhuis available would be advantageous for the Golden Knights day 1, but his long-term worth is well below both Jamie Oleksiak and Esa Lindell. In our analysis, Dallas goes with youth in their top 3 and hangs Hamhuis out to dry on expansion day. This, however, does not guarantee his selection by Vegas, as they may turn to a younger but slightly inconsistent option in Patrik Nemeth or Stephen Johns. Both have been in and out of the lineup with variable levels of success and disappointment. Where they fully project is still up in the air as a small body of work between them distorts our ability to pin down an average output for either. But what we can utilize in our objective assessment is the current contract situation of both players. Johns holds a contract through next season, allowing for Vegas to select him without burning one of their limited 10 unsigned RFA/UFA selections in the draft. Nemeth would cost them in this regard and frankly I'm not sure his level of play warrants such a selection.
The real wild-card option from the Dallas organization is Valeri Nichushkin... yeah, remember him? He chose to play in Russian this past season for CSKA Moscow alongside a bunch of guys whose names end in 'ov' instead of the Lone Star State. After McPhee's success signing Vadim Shipachyov and potentially his teammate Evgeni Dadonov, would it be completely out of the question to see him attempting another Washington-esque Russian revival? Probably not. but whatever odds he gives himself in convincing another KHLer to join the Grey and Gold, they better be higher than the odds of Johns or Nemeth panning out as top-4 defensemen.
Ultimately our selection will be safely spent on the 6'4'' 230lb right shot D-man, Stephen Johns.
Dallas has something a lot teams wish they had: bona fide All-Stars in Benn & Seguin. The window for these two is now, so there should be some organizational urgency in surrounding them with a cast of valuable contributors for the next 2-3 years. The appeal for a free agent to sign in Dallas is low in comparison to other hockey markets with lower than ideal fan support and a brutal travel schedule. Honestly if I had the choice between taking a train or bus to away games vs a 3 hour flight, without the benefit of a beach to go home to, I'm taking the door number 1 every single time. My point being, this team will likely only get better by way of trade or through the entry draft, so they will have to be thorough in their player evaluations.
Also, finding a taker for either Kari Lehtonen or Anti Niemi will be tough. It is well within reason to buy out the tender they rank the lowest.
Next up: Florida Panthers