By all accounts, the Dallas Stars were poised to make the playoffs last season given their explosive offense. The underlying question of whether they could score enough to make up for all of the defensive miscues and subpar goaltending was answered when the Stars outperformed most expectations, finishing first in the West and second in the league behind the Washington Capitals in both points and goal differential.
Instead of clawing with the St. Louis Blues for the bottom two seeds of the three guaranteed playoff spots in the Central Division, the Stars leap-frogged both the Blues and, even more surprisingly, the Chicago Blackhawks to win arguably the toughest division in the league. The questions about goaltending came back to roost, however, when the Stars blew up in tremendous fashion in a Game 7 versus the Blues in the second round of the playoffs.
While this offseason saw several departures on defense, and a protracted negotiation with RFA forward Valeri Nichushkin that ultimately ended with him signing a two-year contract in the KHL, the Stars return their offensive unit mostly intact. The expectation this season is that the Stars will get younger (and slightly bigger) on the blue line and will allow John Klingberg to take over as the BMOC of the defense. The questions about goaltending persist, and after a year of splitting time as starters, the hope is that Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi will be more comfortable in net this year. A spate of injuries to several key forwards will test the Stars’ depth at center early in the season and the forward corps will rely on young prospects in the system to step up in their absence.
Ultimately, the Stars play the most exciting brand of hockey in the league. Sometimes, that means that scores end up being more of the 5-4 variety than the 2-1 variety, but at the end of the season they don’t ask how you win -- just how many.
Can the Stars be legitimate contenders with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi in net?
Will the defense be improved over last season even though the blue line is now younger and less experienced?
BEST CASE SCENARIO
For the Stars, the best case scenario for this season is to make the playoffs and win at least two rounds. While it’s unlikely they will repeat the level of success they had last season given the turnover on the blue line, the offense should keep them competitive in the Central Division. GM Jim Nill is patient but also unafraid to pull the trigger on a move that makes the team better. It’s likely that a move is made to improve the goaltending at some point in the season if (when) the opportunity presents itself.
WORST CASE SCENARIO
The preseason run of luck continues and the Stars suffer long-term injuries to key players that are too much to overcome. The run-and-gun style that is not conducive to sound defensive play loses some of its firepower, and the green defense and porous goaltending can’t keep the puck out of the net enough to get the wins the Stars need to compete in the Central Division.