Everything Else

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.

Previous Team Previews

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Everything Else

This will be the third year we do this. It’s because the trade of Stephen Johns still stings a bit. It’s the trade that the acquisition of Connor Murphy is basically trying to make up for. It’s easy to just say that the punting of Johns simply to get rid of Patrick Sharp’s salary crippled the Hawks blue line to its current state. But is that really true?

Johns has been skating third pairing minutes in Dallas, though he’s flipped at times with Greg Pateryn for second pairing time with Dan Hamhuis. Lately, Ken Hitchcock has found a comfort level with Pateryn and Hamhuis, though he’s not been shy about giving Johns and Honka just about as much time. He’s seeing 13-15 minutes at even-strength per game for the past month.

Metrically, Johns is not having the season he’s had in the past. Of their current regular six, Johns has the worst relative CF% and xGF%. He does start more in his own zone than the top pairing of Klingberg and Lindell, but not as much as Hamhuis and Pateryn which has become something of the shutdown pairing for the Stars.

However, it’s worth taking Johns’s numbers with Julius Honka on their own. Because they’ve taken quite a leap. Honka and Johns together are carrying a 53.4 CF%, and a 52.9 scoring-chance percentage. It’s the best mark he has with any of Dallas’s d-men.

We’re still a long way from learning what Johns is, though getting closer. He’s got 126 games in the NHL, and an additional 100+ in the AHL. So he’s passed that magical 200 professional game mark. What we can say is that he’s best with a puck-mover, where he’s not the one asked to get the puck up the ice solely. Johns’s strengths are in the corners and down low and stepping up at his blue line to squeeze the play. He can do that better behind someone instead of in front of his partner. At least that’s the way it’s worked out so far.

How he would have fit in the Hawks is hard to say, and probably not even worth thinking about. How many times would he have been scratched behind TVR, for instance? While the Hawks might claim different, they were high on him. They tried multiple times to get him out of Notre Dame, and then had to give him special circumstances in Rockford to get him out of South Bend after his junior year. They wanted him in the system badly, and they wanted him in Chicago as well.

It’s just one of those things will never know. If Stan Bowman  gets the sack this summer, or soon, the biggest black mark against him will be that he lost too many NHL-worthy prospects for nothing. Johns had to be the sweetener to get the Stars to take Patrick Sharp. Teuvo had to be that so the Canes would take Bryan Bickell. Phillip Danault was punted in a rental-trade for Tomas Fleischmann and Dale Weise. Those three players are almost certainly the difference between this team being a playoff team right now and where they actually are.

In a salary cap world, your cheap, young talent have to be used or moved along for things you actually use. And you get almost no margin for error. The Hawks are learning that now, and some of that error is Stephen Johns-sized.


Game #54 Preview




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Taylor is the editor-in-chief of DefendingBigD.com. Follow her @TaylorBaird.

Last time we saw the Stars, they were in the muddle of the last playoff spot along with the Hawks. They’ve since separated themselves into the first wild card spot and are hot on the heels of the Blues for the third spot in the Central. What’s been the change?

The Stars defense continues to improve. They’ve climbed from somewhere in the 20’s in the league in terms of goals against average to 5th in the league, allowing only 2.56 goals against on average per game. It’s been improvement in both even strength defense and penalty killing (where they rank 9th in the league today at 82.2% of penalties killed.) The goaltending has been fantastic of late, with Kari Lehtonen having a renaissance in terms of stats (.919SV% and 2.22 GAA) and Ben Bishop’s performance nothing to sneeze at, either (.919 SV%, 2.44 GAA). The offense has also come on of late, averaging slightly more than three goals per game on average now. It’s a big change from the first roughly 15 games of the season, when the team was struggling in all aspects other than the power play.
Jason Spezza only put up 50 points last year, and is on pace for way less this year. He’s been shuttled between center and wing. Is it just time that’s caught up? Is this a major problem?

The Stars have struggled to figure out Spezza’s role on the team. It’s driven by Radek Faksa emerging as a premier two-way center on the team as well as the offseason signing of Martin Hanzal. Spezza struggled offensively at the beginning of the season, and his ice time suffered because of it. He’s also been paired with wingers that haven’t been known for finishing, and think the game a pace behind Spezza. That’s contributed to his offensive decline. One thing I will say is that Spezza has looked better since being reunited with Mattias Janmark, so there’s still hope that it might turn around for him in the last 20ish games or so. As they say, it’s all about how you roll into the playoffs, right?
There are two players in Brett Ritchie and Julius Honka who don’t have the scoring stats you might want, but have glittering underlying numbers. Are the Stars happy enough with these two just pushing the play?

I think they are happy to a degree, yes. With Ritchie, the coach has come out and even said that he’s struggled mightily this year. That’s why he’s found himself pushed down the lineup or eating some healthy scratches at times, as other players look better and produce. But he’s still getting the chance to play through his struggles for the most part, even if it’s to the chagrin of some fans. As for Honka, it’s tough for fans to see a young player with that much potential get jerked around in terms of playing time, but at the end of the day, the Stars need a defense that works. Honka seems to have taken his healthy scratches in stride, and his games of late have shown he’s listened when the coaching staff has said he’s been too cautious in terms of offense. I feel like he will be tough to fit into the lineup when Marc Methot returns to the lineup healthy, if only because I’m not sure he’s done enough to beat out Stephen Johns for the 6th D spot, and Hitch seems to love him some Greg Pateryn (even if the underlying numbers are just blah with him…)
Is. a 2.44 GAA and .919 SV% what you expected out of Ben Bishop? Is that enough to go where the Stars want?
The last few years, all Dallas would have needed was LEAGUE AVERAGE goaltending to go far. Those numbers are far and away better than what Stars fans have seen in the past 5ish years, so we’ll happily take it.
What will the Stars be looking to do at the deadline?
To be honest, I’m not sure there’s much that the Stars will do at the deadline. I think they like their lineup, and it’s been working for them of late, so it’s possible that they won’t want to overpay for a deadline rental. If they target anyone, I’d bet on a top six right wing to add some depth to the second line in terms of scoring, or someone that adds to the second power play unit to make that player set more lethal. But with the draft coming to Dallas this summer, they likely won’t want to deal too many of their picks — and their pipeline of talent isn’t in a position to deal too many of those (though if they are going to do so, blueline seems to be a position of depth but not necessarily strength, and they have a few forwards that could be of interest to other teams.)


Game #54 Preview




Douchebag Du Jour

I Make A Lot Of Graphs

Lineups & How Teams Were Built

Everything Else

Little bit of a departure for us this time, as we visit the baseball world for this one. Kate Morrison is one of the best baseball writers going, and you can find her work at Baseball Prospectus, FanRag Sports, and Brooks Baseball. She also happens to be a pretty rabid Stars fan, so we thought she might want to moonlight in our stupid little hockey world for a bit. Follow her on Twitter @unlikelyfanatic. 

The Stars have had something of the same wonky start that the Hawks have. Why hasn’t Hitchcock’s charms worked miracles yet (we’re not exactly Hitch fans, if you can’t tell)?
I mean, there’s a set of Stars fans who aren’t exactly Hitch fans, either. I was une petite infante when Hitch was last the Stars coach, so I can’t really tell you if this is more of the same. What I can tell you is that from my seat in the 300s in the American Airlines Center, I’ve seen both good and bad. Hitch said the right things to Tyler Seguin when Lindy Ruff wasn’t willing to, but Hitch also is addicted to playing Jamie Oleksiak, who isn’t even the best athlete with that last name. Hitch seems to have a willingness to test new lines when there’s chemistry (see the two-game pairing of Antoine Roussel and Alexander Radulov), but there’ve also been times when the team hasn’t seemed as able to run-and-gun as they used to. This is a young, fast team, and they need to be able to play young and fast.
Oh, and also, #FreeHonka or something.
On the plus side, John Klingberg is nearly a point-per-game, and his metrics have bounced back to where they were two seasons ago. He definitely had a dip last year, what’s been different this campaign?
He’s off the sophomore slump? Klingberg does seem to have some good chemistry with both the currently-injured Marc Methot and current partner Esa Lindell, but I think it’s mainly just confidence and being a year older. Having a steady partner can’t hurt, either. He’s really stepped up to becoming one of the team’s young leaders, though.
The Stars have a secondary scoring problem. Radulov, Seguin, Benn, and Klingberg all have over 20 points, but no one else has over 11. Who needs to pick it up?
We’re beginning to see some of the promised secondary scoring right now, but we’ve been teased before. Devin Shore and/or Brett Ritchie were supposed to be those secondary guys, but it’s been some surprises like Radek Faksa and Mattias Janmark who have really stepped up. No way of knowing that they’ll keep that up, or if they’ll pass the magical baton of scoring off to Shore or, heck, Roussel, but there might be some sparks of life.
We like to ask about our lost boy Stephen Johns. It felt like Lindy Ruff completely underrated him even while giving him human shield starts and competition. What does he look like under Hitch?
Um…better than Jamie Oleksiak? Better with Julius Honka? Better now than in the first few games of the season?

Ben Bishop has disappointed since coming over in the summer. What’s been his problem? Is the Dallas crease just cursed?

Like Taylor said, Bishop’s been visually better than his numbers. He’s also been let down by his defense quite a bit – we saw that just this Thursday, on the DeBrincat goal that Oleksiak is really more responsible for than Bishop. I think the numbers and the visuals will even out over time, but the Stars definitely aren’t where they are right now without Bishop.
Everything Else

Ah yes. Everyone’s darling, the Dallas Stars. Another offseason championship for the Dallas Stars, as they upgraded behind the bench from Lindy Ruff to Ken Hitchcock, going from one coach who hasn’t won anything in over a decade to… another coach who hasn’t won anything in over a decade. They signed a winger who until last year was considered “enigmatic” and then went bonkers in his free agent year, because that always sustains after he cashes in. They upgraded their goalies, which tells you something as signing an over-30 goalie who has had hip and groin issues being considered a massive upgrade lets you know just how woeful their goaltending was. And there are a raft of kids who haven’t quite proven to be ready to take up the slack, with a coach who hasn’t always shown patience. Surely it’s going to work this time!


’16-’17 Record: 34-37-11  79 points (6th in Central)

Team Stats 5v5: 50.0 CF% (17th)  50.7 SF% (11th)  48.9 SCF% (20th)  7.5 SH% (17th)  .919 SV% (23rd)

Special Teams: 17.9 PP% (2oth)  73.9 PK% (Dead Ass Last)


Everything Else

No, you don’t. You haven’t thought about him at all this year, other than to laugh at the Stars’ blue line and goaltending. With the Hawks surging to the top of the league, you haven’t thought about the holes on the blue line because they haven’t quite mattered as much as they did last year. And while he can’t seem to convince his coaches yet, Michal Kempny has at least shown a flash here or there of maybe, possibly filling whatever spot Johns might have. But that might not be the whole picture.

Everything Else


RECORDS: Hawks 31-17-5   Stars 21-21-10

PUCK DROP: 7pm Central

TV: WGN locally, NHL-N for you elsewhere

RIDE ‘EM IN: Defending Big D


TEAM ADJUSTED CORSI %: Hawks – 50.3 (16th)  Stars – 49.4 (2oth)

TEAM ADJUSTED xGF%: Hawks – 47.8 (24th)  Stars – 49.3 (18th)

POWER PLAY %: Hawks – 18.1 (17th)  Stars – 18.1 (18th)

PENALTY KILL %: Hawks – 75.9 (28th)  Stars – 73.4 (Dead Ass Last)

The Hawks get the chance to back up their streak-snapping win on Thursday by playing another expressway of a defensive team, the Dallas Stars. It would behoove them to get it, because next week’s slate of Wild-Jets-Oilers before the bye week is looking a bit nasty at the moment, considering either the standing of those teams or their previous record against the Hawks the past couple seasons or both.

Everything Else

This is yet another post we’ll probably have to revisit when the summer moves are complete, because some ballast still has to dumped before anyone calls this complete. But it’s not so easy to evaluate Stan Bowman’s performance this summer because there’s a ton of emotion packed up in every move. And seeing as how I’ve been accused as driving most of the noise, it’s probably up to me to try and suss it all out.

At the top, no I don’t think this has been Stan’s best work, but it’s probably better than most think and it’s certainly not a complete failure. Let’s see why.