Everything Else

A loss in double overtime in a Game 7. There is supposed to be glory about it. A beautiful death. Honorable defeat. Going out on your shield. Something to earmark and build upon. A loss, but one you can still hold your head high after when the cloud of shock and disappointment clear.

The thing is, that kind of glow requires that you actually try to win the game in the first 60 minutes, not have five Buddhas out there grinning childishly sitting on their collective ass while their goalie is fending off all sorts of threats and creatures by the minute. But that was the Dallas Stars method, who both tried to rope-a-dope and be-a-dope method last night and then were beaten by perhaps the biggest dope on offer, Pat Maroon.

It was all there for the Stars, whose entire style is basically push the dude over after he punches himself out. And there is no more push-over-able dude in the league than the St. Louis Blues. Game 7 at home and finding every way to not score, you could feel the DrinkScotch/Enterprise/Blue Live Matter Center accept their fate. They were going to lose after more than doubling the Stars in shots and almost tripling them in attempts. This was the way it had to be. This was nature. They could barely lift their arms anymore, struggling to breathe as most of their fans do.

But the push never came, as the Stars became so infatuated with short shifts they didn’t bother to do much other than just change on the fly. One player would hop over the boards, maybe get get to within touching distance of the middle of the ice, and then go fleeing back to the bench like a small child seeing how far away he can get from mom before he gets yelled at. Oh sure, they had their chances to win, but that’s the buy-in from the Blues.

So even in a double-OT Game 7 loss, you’d be hard-pressed to remember anything else about the series, the Stars playoff run, or the Stars as a whole. I’m fairly sure their coach is bald. That’s about all I can tell you. Because the Stars essentially became the energy vampires of the Western Conference and happily so. They straight up admitted to copying Barry Trotz’s system and then removing all the whimsy from that.

I guess this is what you do when your GM has had six years to get secondary scoring and has come up empty each time. Perhaps by sheer dumb idiot luck secondary scoring has landed on him through Dickinson, Zuccarello, and Hintz, but let’s not be too hasty. There are a raft of names before them that flashed being able to finally support the top troika of Radulov, Seguin, and Benn and his case of reverse-fear of heights. But they all slink back into the ether, unrecognizable from the other, trailing in Jason Spezza’s apologetic and wheezing wake. Which is how you end up with four goals in 10.5 periods over the last three games and packing for the summer. Which is pretty much how the Stars wanted it, fearing crossing the red line as if it was No Man’s Land. Happy in our trench are we, sang the green-clad throng.

Speaking of Jamie “The Retort To The Downward Spiral” Benn, you have to whisper this because he’s earned such gravitas with the hockey world thanks to always looking like the garbage bag busted all over his kitchen floor, but he’s starting his slide into Future Lucic state. Two goals in 13 playoff games, 53 points in a souped-up league, the lowest amount of shots in eight seasons. He’ll turn 30 over the summer, and the aging curve for power forwards looks akin to drunk dick. The cliff is coming for Jamie, and we know how he feels about going down. Soon he’ll have no choice. Dive for the crevice, Jamie.

The Stars will be confident is being right back here next season, with their hopes built in the sand of a 6-6 goaltender with various hip and leg problems who hasn’t taken a full slate of starts in four seasons. Seems real sturdy, that. Radulov will be 33, and even Seguin is starting to slide out of his prime years.

None of this might matter, as Jim Montgomery continues to abandon his principles to play a system that’s essentially singing campfire songs in a bomb shelter. The margins become so thin, and any long-term injury to THE BISHOP! can undo it all. The Stars could change this if they had any puck-movers on the back end…oh I know what you’re going to say, but it can’t be long before Monty’s system and Texas itself kills the spirit of Klingberg and Heiskanen. Didn’t they fire Hitchcock for this very reason?

This is about as good as it’s gotten for the Stars, and probably as good as it will. Two playoff series wins in 10 years, and both followed by Game 7 spit-ups. One conference final appearance in 20 years. Even the Blues have more, Dallas. Think about that for a second.

The Stars will continue their seeming never-ending journey to/occupation of the middle, that team you stumble upon on NHL Center Ice on a Thursday night and are surprised you haven’t checked in on in a while. Then after 10 minutes you remember exactly why that is. You will merely be intermission acts for Luka Doncic from here on out. Just like you were for Dirk. Maybe you can drop Hintz’s stretcher one day to get anyone to take notice of you.

It was there for you, Stars. Next time, try.

Everything Else

None of our Dallas friends wanted to talk to us. So here’s what Logan Stark had to say a month ago when the Hawks were in Dallas. (@LoganStark)

Let’s get this out of the way up top. While the CEO swearing about the team’s two stars is good for comedic value out here, isn’t it nonsensical as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are just about the only reason the Stars are anything? (not to mention Benn’s long-standing place with the team and fans)
– First of all, Bishop and Khudobin have been absolute brick walls this season. They’re a large factor of why the Stars are still in a playoff position this late in the season. Second, Miro Heiskanen is a godsend for this team, especially when half the blue line was injured during the first half of the season. Okay, on to the real question. CEO Lites’ comments were beyond nonsensical. Not only did the tirade tarnish the team’s reputation around the league (what high-profile player would want to sign with the team now?), but it also made them a laughing stock. Benn and Seguin have proved Lites wrong with their on-ice performance, but those comments are continuing to hang over them and the team almost two months after they rocked hockey Twitter. Benn and Seguin are the faces of the franchise and are fan-favorites, and they were definitely fan-favorites for their classy responses to the comments. In the end, Lites’ comments backfired, I think, landing egg on his face – while getting some good splatter on the team that will come off with time. CEOs come and go, but Benn and Seguin are here to stay for a long, long time. In the end, it’s their on-ice performance and leadership in the locker room that matters the most. The team and coaching staff still support them, so why should fans do any different?
Why has Julius Honka not worked? The pedigree is there, he seems to have a coach that wants to play faster, and yet four points is four points…
– Do we have time for me to draft a graduate dissertation on why Honka hasn’t worked? No? Okay, let’s give this a shot: The yo-yo effect under Hitchcock last season did absolutely nothing for Honka. Not only was he bounced between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but he was bounced with such frequency that he never had a chance to settle into the lineup and make a real impact. When Honka did spend time in Dallas, it was most often as a healthy scratch or with sub-par ice time. None of that helped his development and can only have hurt his confidence on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on the ice, but not this season. He’s been a healthy scratch with regularity under Montgomery, which leads me to believe that Montgomery doesn’t know where to slot him in within the current lineup. There’s just not room in the lines for a player struggling to produce (hush, let’s not talk about Nichushkin) and who needs time on the ice to get his skates back under him, so to speak. At this point, I would say it’s time to trade Honka, use him to bring in fresh talent that’s capable of producing at a steady rate.
Jim Nill has gotten three coaches. At what point does the cannon point at him?
– If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this spring, I think there’s going to be a turnover in the front office. It’s pretty clear that management expects this roster to be a repeat contender, yet they’ve failed to make a real postseason splash. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs (or fail to make it past the first round), I would place good money on Nill being let go. The lack of postseason performances and his lackluster record at the draft table would definitely be grounds for his exit from the team. At a certain point, it’s not about the coaches, but about the guy in the front office saddling said coaches with questionable trades, picks, and players.
What are the Stars gong to do before the deadline (assuming they don’t do anything before we print this, in which case I’ll just switch whatever you said to what they did and make you look like geniuses)?
– Nill has gone on record saying they’re looking for offensive power and depth at the deadline, and Dallas scouts have been checking out Zuccarello and Panarin (they got Zuc, and then he got hurt-ED). I would keep an eye out for the Stars to make a move for either of them on a rental basis (with an extension option on the table). One thing to watch for: the picks and/or players they send the opposite way. Just what is the front office willing to part with in exchange for a player that just might help the Stars get to the playoffs? In the past, Nill has been pretty good about not giving up first round picks or developing players that will aid the team. However, the Stars are getting desperate to make that playoff push this year, so is this the year Nill finally parts with the golden ticket of a first round pick?

 

 

 

Game #81 Preview Suite

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Douchebag Du Jour

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Lineups & How Teams Were Built

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Logan Stark is an editor at DefendingBigD.com. You can follow her @LoganStarkBooks. Hey…Stark on the Stars. We just thought of that! Anyway, here’s the Q&A we did with her two weeks ago when the Stars were here

Let’s get this out of the way up top. While the CEO swearing about the team’s two stars is good for comedic value out here, isn’t it nonsensical as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are just about the only reason the Stars are anything? (not to mention Benn’s long-standing place with the team and fans)
– First of all, Bishop and Khudobin have been absolute brick walls this season. They’re a large factor of why the Stars are still in a playoff position this late in the season. Second, Miro Heiskanen is a godsend for this team, especially when half the blue line was injured during the first half of the season. Okay, on to the real question. CEO Lites’ comments were beyond nonsensical. Not only did the tirade tarnish the team’s reputation around the league (what high-profile player would want to sign with the team now?), but it also made them a laughing stock. Benn and Seguin have proved Lites wrong with their on-ice performance, but those comments are continuing to hang over them and the team almost two months after they rocked hockey Twitter. Benn and Seguin are the faces of the franchise and are fan-favorites, and they were definitely fan-favorites for their classy responses to the comments. In the end, Lites’ comments backfired, I think, landing egg on his face – while getting some good splatter on the team that will come off with time. CEOs come and go, but Benn and Seguin are here to stay for a long, long time. In the end, it’s their on-ice performance and leadership in the locker room that matters the most. The team and coaching staff still support them, so why should fans do any different?
Why has Julius Honka not worked? The pedigree is there, he seems to have a coach that wants to play faster, and yet four points is four points…
– Do we have time for me to draft a graduate dissertation on why Honka hasn’t worked? No? Okay, let’s give this a shot: The yo-yo effect under Hitchcock last season did absolutely nothing for Honka. Not only was he bounced between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but he was bounced with such frequency that he never had a chance to settle into the lineup and make a real impact. When Honka did spend time in Dallas, it was most often as a healthy scratch or with sub-par ice time. None of that helped his development and can only have hurt his confidence on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on the ice, but not this season. He’s been a healthy scratch with regularity under Montgomery, which leads me to believe that Montgomery doesn’t know where to slot him in within the current lineup. There’s just not room in the lines for a player struggling to produce (hush, let’s not talk about Nichushkin) and who needs time on the ice to get his skates back under him, so to speak. At this point, I would say it’s time to trade Honka, use him to bring in fresh talent that’s capable of producing at a steady rate.
Jim Nill has gotten three coaches. At what point does the cannon point at him?
– If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this spring, I think there’s going to be a turnover in the front office. It’s pretty clear that management expects this roster to be a repeat contender, yet they’ve failed to make a real postseason splash. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs (or fail to make it past the first round), I would place good money on Nill being let go. The lack of postseason performances and his lackluster record at the draft table would definitely be grounds for his exit from the team. At a certain point, it’s not about the coaches, but about the guy in the front office saddling said coaches with questionable trades, picks, and players.
What are the Stars gong to do before the deadline (assuming they don’t do anything before we print this, in which case I’ll just switch whatever you said to what they did and make you look like geniuses)?
– Nill has gone on record saying they’re looking for offensive power and depth at the deadline, and Dallas scouts have been checking out Zuccarello and Panarin (they got Zuc, and then he got hurt-ED). I would keep an eye out for the Stars to make a move for either of them on a rental basis (with an extension option on the table). One thing to watch for: the picks and/or players they send the opposite way. Just what is the front office willing to part with in exchange for a player that just might help the Stars get to the playoffs? In the past, Nill has been pretty good about not giving up first round picks or developing players that will aid the team. However, the Stars are getting desperate to make that playoff push this year, so is this the year Nill finally parts with the golden ticket of a first round pick?

 

 

Game #68 Preview Suite

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Logan Stark is a contributor at DefendingBigD.com. You can follow her @LoganStarkBook. Hey…Stark on the Stars. We just thought of that!

Let’s get this out of the way up top. While the CEO swearing about the team’s two stars is good for comedic value out here, isn’t it nonsensical as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are just about the only reason the Stars are anything? (not to mention Benn’s long-standing place with the team and fans)
– First of all, Bishop and Khudobin have been absolute brick walls this season. They’re a large factor of why the Stars are still in a playoff position this late in the season. Second, Miro Heiskanen is a godsend for this team, especially when half the blue line was injured during the first half of the season. Okay, on to the real question. CEO Lites’ comments were beyond nonsensical. Not only did the tirade tarnish the team’s reputation around the league (what high-profile player would want to sign with the team now?), but it also made them a laughing stock. Benn and Seguin have proved Lites wrong with their on-ice performance, but those comments are continuing to hang over them and the team almost two months after they rocked hockey Twitter. Benn and Seguin are the faces of the franchise and are fan-favorites, and they were definitely fan-favorites for their classy responses to the comments. In the end, Lites’ comments backfired, I think, landing egg on his face – while getting some good splatter on the team that will come off with time. CEOs come and go, but Benn and Seguin are here to stay for a long, long time. In the end, it’s their on-ice performance and leadership in the locker room that matters the most. The team and coaching staff still support them, so why should fans do any different?
Why has Julius Honka not worked? The pedigree is there, he seems to have a coach that wants to play faster, and yet four points is four points…
– Do we have time for me to draft a graduate dissertation on why Honka hasn’t worked? No? Okay, let’s give this a shot: The yo-yo effect under Hitchcock last season did absolutely nothing for Honka. Not only was he bounced between the Dallas Stars and their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, but he was bounced with such frequency that he never had a chance to settle into the lineup and make a real impact. When Honka did spend time in Dallas, it was most often as a healthy scratch or with sub-par ice time. None of that helped his development and can only have hurt his confidence on the ice. We’ve seen flashes of his brilliance on the ice, but not this season. He’s been a healthy scratch with regularity under Montgomery, which leads me to believe that Montgomery doesn’t know where to slot him in within the current lineup. There’s just not room in the lines for a player struggling to produce (hush, let’s not talk about Nichushkin) and who needs time on the ice to get his skates back under him, so to speak. At this point, I would say it’s time to trade Honka, use him to bring in fresh talent that’s capable of producing at a steady rate.
Jim Nill has gotten three coaches. At what point does the cannon point at him?
– If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this spring, I think there’s going to be a turnover in the front office. It’s pretty clear that management expects this roster to be a repeat contender, yet they’ve failed to make a real postseason splash. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs (or fail to make it past the first round), I would place good money on Nill being let go. The lack of postseason performances and his lackluster record at the draft table would definitely be grounds for his exit from the team. At a certain point, it’s not about the coaches, but about the guy in the front office saddling said coaches with questionable trades, picks, and players.
What are the Stars gong to do before the deadline (assuming they don’t do anything before we print this, in which case I’ll just switch whatever you said to what they did and make you look like geniuses)?
– Nill has gone on record saying they’re looking for offensive power and depth at the deadline, and Dallas scouts have been checking out Zuccarello and Panarin. I would keep an eye out for the Stars to make a move for either of them on a rental basis (with an extension option on the table). One thing to watch for: the picks and/or players they send the opposite way. Just what is the front office willing to part with in exchange for a player that just might help the Stars get to the playoffs? In the past, Nill has been pretty good about not giving up first round picks or developing players that will aid the team. However, the Stars are getting desperate to make that playoff push this year, so is this the year Nill finally parts with the golden ticket of a first round pick?

 

Game #63 Preview Suite

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That’s probably not fair. Because for once, Jim Nill and the Dallas Stars didn’t do something in the summer that had every hockey writer falling off their chairs and onto a Timbo’s wrapper(s). That’s usually been the M.O. in Texas. Whether it was signing Ben Bishop or trading for Jason Spezza or Tyler Seguin or whatever draft pick it was this time, it felt like very summer they were telling us the Dallas Stars had “arrived.” Arrived at what exactly I couldn’t tell you, because they’ve won one playoff series in 10 years. At least no one is expecting them to do that again.

I’ll give them this, I’m really all for teams hiring coaches from outside the normal, old-boys, well-I-drank-with-him-in-an-airport-bar-in-Manitoba crew. Jim Montgomery turned Denver into one of the premier hockey programs in the country, clearly has a knack for developing players, and it’s worth a shot. Sure, it hasn’t gone all that well with David Hakstol in Philly, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth a try.

What’s he got in his team? Let’s do the scooping.

20170-2018: 42-32-8 92 points  235 GF 225 GA 51.0 CF% 53.5 xGF% 7.6 SH% .927 SV%

Goalies: THE BISHOP! We was too late…

We’re only two years removed from Ben Bishop being a Vezina finalist, and deservedly so. But the intervening years have just kind of been “meh,”with a .910 split between Tampa and LA and a just a tick above league average .916 in Dallas last year. If he were truly special, one has to wonder if the Lightning would have been so happy to turn the job over to Andrei Vasilevskiy.

Bishop will turn 32 this season, so he’s not ancient. He’s had groin problems the past few seasons, which for a goalie who is 6-6 isn’t ideal. It’s very unlikely that Bishop will sink this team, and there’s still a chance that he finds that Vezina finalist form he’s produced on two different occasions. Though this isn’t the Lightning he’s behind, and it’s a pretty leaky defense, now that Ken Hitchcock isn’t prioritizing it.

Backing him up is Anton Khudobin, Khubes was more than serviceable as Tuukka Rask’s backup last year, and he’s actually the last goalie to not turn into masticated potatoes in Carolina, all the way back in 2014. He’s never been a guy you want to turn a whole season over to, but if Bishop gets hurt for a few weeks he can get you out of it. And he can certainly give you the 20-25 starts needed to keep the starter fresh through the season. Sadly, this is not the Niemi-Lehtonen Axis Of Confusion it was before at the American Airlines Center.

Defense: It’s the same defense as it’s been, except they added Roman Polak to it, which is not something anyone would do if you were trying to make it better. It will be anchored by Esa Lindell and John Klingberg’s moderately-poor-man’s Erik Karlsson act. It’s been a few years now where Klingberg has dominated possession and put up a fine collection of points, so we have to concede he is one of the league’s best even though you can go games without noticing him. His style is just kind of understated, and yet he remains perhaps the best passer from the back end in the league today.

Stephen Johns and Marc Methot will be the second pairing, at least until some part on Methot goes “TWANG!” which it always does. The underlyings haven’t been kind to Johns, but it is he who both Lindy Ruff and Hitch trusted with the tougher shifts than Klingberg, and Montgomery probably won’t be different. He provides the platform for Klingberg, much like Vlasic and Braun did for Burns in San Jose until this season. He’s also been paired with a collection of stiffs since he arrived.

The third pairing is where it gets ugly, and literally so, as that’s where Polak and youngster Dillon Heatherington reside. These are both monoliths, and in Polak’s case one that can’t move. If Montgomery is smart he’ll play the other two pairings 25 minutes a night and try and keep these doofuses off the ice as much as possible. But if Methot gets hurt, which he will, one of these heavy bags is going to have to take harder shifts with Johns, and that’s where it might go balls-up for this team.

It’s not a bad blue line, it’s just awfully thin. They have to stay healthy. And why isn’t Julius Honka part of this? If they replace one of the security guys on the third pairing with Honka and let him run wild, then this has a chance to be a real strength of the team.

Forwards: Montgomery is going to have the same problem the two veteran coaches had before him. There’s a great top line here in Jamie Benn (and his fear of all things southern), Tyler Seguin, and Alex Radulov. But below that there’s borderline mummy in Jason Spezza and a raft of younger players who have just been “not quite” their whole careers. Matthias Janmark, Radek Faksa, Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie are names we’ve heard for a while who promise to break through this time because now they get it, and then April rolls around and they all have 35 points and the Stars are out of it again. Let’s just say they have to prove it to be nice.

Valeri Nichushkin, who in his rookie year looked like he was going to tear the sky off the world at times and then just was kind of there, has returned from a sabbatical in the KHL. Injuries didn’t help him, as he missed a whole season in his first go. He didn’t really do dick in Russia either, so counting on him to be the secondary scoring the Stars have been crying out for for three seasons is probably folly.

Outlook: The Stars didn’t miss out by much last year. You can squint and see where things might improve for them. Maybe Bishop has one more brilliant season in him. Maybe being free of Hitchcock-shackles turns the defensive corps into more of a weapon, especially if Honka flowers. Maybe those kids just were too suppressed under Hitch (and you can easily see why). But they had their chance under Ruff too and never did quite enough.

The top line will score. Klingberg will be great. If they can get one or two others in on the fun, they could sneak back into the playoffs. If anyone important gets hurt, they’ll be sunk.

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For the entire length of our existence, a valuable trait has been schadenfreude. We haven’t always needed it, but when we have the Canucks, or Blues, or Detroit, or Canucks again, then the Blues again, have always provided a hearty laugh. We’ve had other targets, but no matter how bad things get for the Hawks or how laughable they are for others, we can redirect that to someone else and have a good chuckle and go on about our day with a bounce in our step.

So let’s spend some time chortling at the existence of the Dallas Stars.

They’ve been in our crosshairs for a few years now. Mostly because for about three or four offseasons, there’s a legion of hockey writers who can’t wait to declare them and GM Jim Nill “winners of the offseason.” It’s like clockwork. One trade, or one signing, and suddenly there’s a puddle around hockey media members as they race to to be the first to decree, “THIS TIME THE STARS GOT IT RIGHT! CAN’T WAIT FOR SOME TEXAS BBQ IN JUNE!” Mostly, I’m guessing, because deep down all Canadian hockey writers are shit-kickers who just want an excuse to break out the cowboy hat and boots they keep in the closet and are desperate to wear outside of one week in Calgary.

Five seasons later, and just one playoff series win, and here they are, likely to not even get a chance to win a playoff series. But how could that happen when they hired noted genius Ken Hitchcock? Certainly the planets must be totally out of line for such a thing to happen! He was the final piece! Everyone said so! Because the Stars did an exhaustive coaching search, y’see, and they oh so creatively came up with, “Hey what about that guy who won here that one time like 15 years ago?”

So how did it end up here, five points out with five games to play even after last night’s OT win over the Flyera? Well, you probably have to start with the goaltending, which has put up a combined .902 SV% in March. That’s not going to win you a lot, as you probably know around here.

And really, who could have seen Ben Bishop’s .911 last year, his .905 in March of last season, and that Tampa was so fond of him they couldn’t wait to shove the job to Andrei Vasilevskiy at the first opening to do so, and conclude that maybe Bishop didn’t have it anymore? Certainly not Jim Nill! And look, the guy who spent three years fucking over the Stars by ignoring the goaltending situation has fucked it over by actually paying attention to it! It just gets better!

Like all Hitchcock teams, the Stars definitely keep it tight in their own end but are hardly expansive in the other. While they’re second best in terms of expected goals per 60 against, they’re 16th in expected goals for. That’s a team with one of the best top lines in the league and hardly bereft of talent farther down the lineup with Spezza (though old), Faksa, Janmark, Shore, and a couple others. At least that’s what they’ve told us season upon season now. And yet past the top line there isn’t a forward with more than 40 points. Hmmmm…who’s the GM who drafted and/or keeps this young talent they keep bleating about that keeps getting them beat, I wonder?

So as always with Hitch’s teams, keeping it so close means your goalie had better match your defensive leanings, and probably be better. Just like Jay Gallon in St. Louis, when the bottom drops out on that there is no answer. Because they’re certainly not filling it enough to counteract some wonky goaltending. At least Lindy Ruff managed that once.

Boy, I can’t wait to see how Nill wins this offseason.

-As we nearer the end, and the broadcast keeps shitting on Brandon Saad because he seems like the easy target (or Adam Burish threatens to fight him, which I’m sure would end with Saad turning Burish’s face into silly putty), I have this really uneasy feeling the Hawks will trade him and get to use “cap relief” as the reason to keep anyone from looking at it with any measure of scrutiny.

Let me just share this with you. When it comes to individual even-strength scoring chances per 60 minutes, Brandon Saad is 12th among forwards. 13th on that list? CONNOR FUCKING MCDAVID. Brandon Saad, himself, is getting slightly more chances per 60 minutes than the best player on the planet. When it comes to high-danger chances per 60 minutes, Saad ranks 10th among all forwards. 9th on the list? TAYLOR FUCKING HALL. A very likely Hart finalist is only slightly outdoing Brandon Saad when it comes to getting really good chances.

Now, it would be folly to suggest that “finish” is purely luck. It is not, but it’s too simple to say, “He’s not scoring enough,” when we can dig deeper and see why he might not be scoring enough. As we’ve said all season, Saad’s shooting percentage has bottomed out, Even a return to last year’s 11.4%, instead of this year’s 7.9, would see Saad with 25 goals right now. And assuming the power play could ever get the toad out of its ass it might be closer to 30.

Saad could simply repeat this season, process-wise, have his SH% spike to 13 or 14% because he got to see a couple more hungover goalies than this season, and be a 30-35-goal guy and then we’d get all these “redemption” stories.

Trading Saad when his value would be at its lowest, unless a monster return, would be monumentally stupid. Remember this when the Hawks now invariably do so.

Everything Else

The level of our bile for the way the Detroit Red Wings are covered is no secret. It also spreads to those who come from the Red Wings/Ken Holland tree, even though it’s been well-proven by now that Holland is something of a blithering idiot. So because the hockey press has to apply that gloss to someone for fear it would go bad, it goes to Jim Nill. Because he was Holland’s assistant and got lucky in a couple drafts.

Let’s be clear: Nill’s Stars have won one playoff round since he showed up. It’s nine playoff wins in four seasons. And yet every time Nill does something in the summer, there’s a rush to the payphones (we assume the Canadian media still uses payphones) to declare the Stars the big winner of the offseason.

Yes, the Tyler Seguin trade was a good one. Hiring Lindy Ruff was not. Trading for Antti Niemi was not. Trading for Shawn Horcoff was not. Jason Spezza sort of worked out. Ales Hemsky most certainly didn’t. Trading for Stephen Johns was a decent move, even if Patrick Sharp came with because he didn’t give up anything. Signing Johnny Oduya… baddy McBad. Ben Bishop might work out, though it has to be this year.

Moreover, Nill’s drafting record is pretty spotty. Of his picks, only Julius Honka and Valeri Nichushkin have made an impact. The former might sit for Marc Methot (another brilliant move) and Nichushkin in back in Russia. Faksa, Shore, and Ritchie were all picks of his predecessors.

Nill might make up for it this year. Hitchcock has given the Stars some structure and the Central hasn’t been all that impressive. A first-matchup with Winnipeg or St. Louis would be inviting. Nashville less so. But it still screams second round, and then whatever move he makes this summer will once again be crowned “Offseason Champs!” Maybe they can call the Capitals to find out where to get useless banners made.

 

Game #54 Preview

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We give Dallas GM Jim Nill a lot of shit for a lot of things. The way he completely ignored his goaltending situation the past three years or so. Or when he did try to remedy it he ended up with Antti Niemi. And then ended up with Ben Bishop, which might only be a slight upgrade. The way he stuck by Lindy Ruff when it was clear that his defense-less ways were never going to allow the Stars to go anywhere. Or the way he “wins” every offseason according to the hockey media, and then the Stars are still not around when the calendar gets to May. Or they miss the playoff altogether.

We’ve spent so much time going over all that we’ve missed his Martin Hanzal signing. And this one might really suck. It might be one of the worst of the summer, actually.

Before we get to what Martin Hanzal is, let’s get to what he was. Martin Hanzal has scored over 40 points exactly twice in his 10-year career. And never more than 41. He’s never scored more than 16 goals in a season. Connected to that, he’s only played more than 70 games in a season four times, and three of them were in his first three seasons. He gets hurt, and he doesn’t score much when he’s actually on the ice.

And Jim Nill gave him $4.7 million for the next three years.

Here are some centers making around the same money. Bryan Little makes the same, as far as cap hit. When he signed that deal, he was coming off 32 points in 48 games in 2013. He then backed it up with a 64 point seasons and a 52-point season. Vincent Trocheck makes the same cap hit. He has two 50-point seasons and has been a point-per-game this year. Artem Anisimov’s cap hit is slightly less, and it’s probably not a good contract, but he’s about to gather his third-straight 20-goal season. Nazem Kadri makes $4.5 per year, and he’s got three 50-point season and is going to add a fourth this year. Other names are Marcus Johansson, Valtieri Fillpula, Tyler Johnson, Alex Galchenyuk, Jori Lehtera. Make of that what you will, which is probably there are some really dumb GMs around.

Hanzal has five points this year. He’s also been a possession black hole, which given his just-shit-myself skating style on a team that can get-up-and-go isn’t a huge surprise. His relative-Corsi is -5.37 and his -10.3 relative xGF% is one of the worst in the league.

Nill will get away with it because Kari Lehtonen’s $5.9 million hit and Dan Hamhuis’s $3.7 million hit come off the books this year. Even with Roussel, Johns, Shore, Elie, Janmark, Smith to re-sign. Then again, they’ll only have 11-14 million to do all that with. The following year Tyler Seguin is going to get his, but Jason Spezza’s hit comes off the books. So Nill might dodge the damage that could come along with such an oversized mistake.

To be fair to Hanzal, Jabba The Hitch has used him exclusively as a checking-line center. He starts only 32% of his shifts in the offensive zone, so of course his metrics are going to be low. Still, if you want merely a punching bag who sucks up defensive zone draws, you can probably find one for cheaper than $4.7 million per year.

More genius. You gotta love it.

Game #34 Preview

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For the second time in two weeks or so, we go and bother Taylor Baird from DefendingBigD.com. Follow her on Twitter @TaylorBaird.

The Stars are one of the lowest event teams in the league, which is something of a Hitchcock specialty. But given how this roster is built, is that really conducive to success? Is that why the record has been a touch wonky?
I think they’re still trying to figure out the balance between structure and suppressing chances against while being creative offensively. When they won five games straight right after Thanksgiving, they scored an average of 4.4 goals per game (excluding shootouts/empty netters) and they only allowed 2.2 goals per game on average. That’s a terrific recipe for success, and now they’ve shown they can do it. The trick is finding the consistency to put it into place each night while still adjusting to new linemates/system/coaching/etc. Sometimes that takes longer to put together than fans would like, but I think they’re capable.
The Stars traded Jamie Oleksiak, which seems to be a vote of confidence for Julius Honka. Why are Stars fans so excited about him? 
He’s mobile and very creative with the puck in flashes in games he played last season, something the Stars have lacked at times from their blueline. Stars fans are excited that Dallas could have two of the offensive defensemen style blueliners in the lineup and believe it will help improve the transition game immensely. And while these kinds of players come with inherent risks, Honka has shown that he has the speed to be able to recover from his mistakes, something that Oleksiak struggled with in Dallas. It’s not that people felt Oleksiak was a pylon, but for many fans his defensive shortcomings when he wasn’t providing much in the way of possession/scoring was tough to swallow.
Martin Hanzal, five points, some of the worst metrics on the team. This has not gone well so far, has it?
The better penalty kill from the terribad one last season might say otherwise. He doesn’t look good statistically, but he has had flashes in games this season when healthy of doing all the little things that help maintain possession or cycle in the offensive zone that has created the environment for goal scoring by the next line on the ice. I’d say it’s more likely an “incomplete” grade at this point in the season, especially given that he’s missed games due to injury.
Marc Methot is returning from injury soon. What kind of difference will that make?
I think it will really solidify a top six, and maybe the Stars can stop the bottom four merry-go-round that they’ve run searching for the right combinations. If they can get a group in consistently for a stretch, I’d expect the team as a whole will look much better in general.
What will the Stars need to pick up to lock down a playoff spot this year?
Most likely a top six forward, as the Stars haven’t found the right answer to have a consistent second line threat without breaking up the dynamite grouping of Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov. It doesn’t seem to be ready to be answered from inside the system today, so acquiring that will probably be a top target for Jim Nill at the trade deadline (or sooner) this season.
Everything Else

There have been plenty of reasons to laugh at Stars GM Jim Nill. Every offseason, he’s the darling of the hockey world because he’s always doing SOMETHING. But as Dan McNeil once told us, “Don’t mistake activity for achievement.” Or if you prefer, Nill has had quite the Shakesperean time as GM, full of sound and fury but signifying nothing.

The biggest failing of Nill’s has been the way he has completely mangled the Stars goaltending. To be fair to him, it was his predecessor Joe Nieuwendyk who signed Kari Lehtonen to a purely insane five-year extension for $5.9 million per year, a deal that Nill will get out from under after this season. Let-One-In had only one year of being anything above average before that extension, but Nieuwendyk bit anyway and saddled Nill with a Finnish millstone.

That didn’t mean Nill had to compile the mistake, but there’s nothing he can’t go overkill on if you let him. So he decided that paying one middling goalie an exorbitant salary was so much fun, he’d pay a bad one an exorbitant salary as well, but this time he’d get to pick it! So in came Antti Niemi, who proceeded to almost single-handedly torpedo their division-winning team in the postseason two years ago and then basically all of last year. Lehtonen certainly wasn’t going to bail them out, as you don’t try and put out a fire by throwing a dead cat at it.

Nill didn’t help matters by having Lindy Ruff as coach, whom always employs a system that leaves goalies exposed, helpless, lonely, and longing for the abyss. Even good goalies struggle with it, and you need look no further than Ryan Miller as evidence. So when Ken Hitchcock was hired, you best believe he was assured that Nill would improve the goaltending. Jabba The Hitch isn’t going to have his genius undermined by leaky goaltending, you’d best believe. That certainly never happened in St. Louis. Nope, nosiree bob.

The question then becomes is Ben Bishop really the answer? On the surface you’d be inclined to say yes, with two Vezina finalist seasons in three from ’14-’16. But those are the only standout seasons on Bishop’s resume, and even then they might be a touch misleading.

Hockey in general struggles for a tried and true system or way to evaluate goaltenders, which is quite strange considering their outsized importance to teams. Still, comparing a player’s save-percentage and their expected save-percentage at least gives us some idea of how much they’re lifting their teams and how much they’re benefitting from the team in front of them. And Bishop’s ’15-’16 was only ok in that department, with a difference between the two of +0.22. But that doesn’t put him near the elite. For example, Corey Crawford’s difference averages +1.2 over the past five years. Sergei Bobrovsky has been above +1.8 the past couple years, which is why he’s carrying hardware. Braden Holtby has been over +1.0 the past two years. Matt Murray was +1.6 last year.

Even Bishop’s first Vezina-finalist season of ’13-’14 he was only +0.5, so the Lightning were doing some work for him in front of him. Work this Stars roster is almost certainly not capable of no matter what elixir Hitch is cooking up in the cauldron in his office. Yes, he almost certainly has a cauldron and you know it.

There are other concerns with Bishop. He had groin-injury problems in the previous couple of seasons, and at 31 and at 6-7 those don’t figure to get much better. Signing him until he’s 37 wasn’t exactly the stroke of genius. A $4.9 million hit isn’t going to cause anyone to reach for an oxygen mask, but it’s not brilliant either. It could be in two years that Nill is going to have to once again pay for two starting goalies, if not sooner. Which is how they got into this mess in the first place.

Still, it’s not like there were tons of options for Nill. Scott Darling was out there but the Hawks might have been antsy trading him within the division and hence would have probably asked the Stars for way more than they got from Carolina for just the right to negotiate with him. Brian Elliot? Steve Mason? Trade for Mike Smith? These are not franchise turners.

If Bishop doesn’t work out, Nill is probably going to pay with his job. Goalies are the new quarterbacks it would seem. And Bishop is good enough to not let you down. It’s just that he might not rise a team up to a level it might not quite deserve. And that’s probably what this Stars squad needs.

Game #25 Preview

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