Moving along in our look around the Central, it’s time we get to everyone’s new favorite darling (mine as well. I think it’s the jerseys), the Dallas Stars. They’ve gotten so much attention that now everyone hates them, so think of them as last year’s Avalanche. Except they’ll probably be a better possession team than last year’s, or this year’s, Avs, though probably won’t come close to that point total.
Forwards: Clearly, this is where the big splash came for the Stars, trading Alex Chiasson for Jason Spezza (essentially) while signing Ales Hemsky,. While everyone focuses the 1-2 of Seguin-Spezza, to me the real story is that it slots The Ginger Ninja Cody Eakin, who I just love to an irrational degree, onto the 3rd line which is what he really is. A checking line of Roussel-Eakin-Garbutt/Sceviour is going to be one of the most annoying around. If Peverley can return, and that’s obviously a huge if, it gets better. The Stars are one move away from having just about as good of a top 9 as there is in this division. And that one move could be as simple as calling up Brett Ritchie at some point.
Of course, there is some debate as to just how good Jason Spezza is, and how good his back will allow him to be. His possession numbers have been declining for a couple years, and this was while on one of the better possession teams in the East. Now he’s in the West, and while Seguin will take the toughest assignments, that doesn’t mean Spezza is going to duck too many good center. Considering how many teams in the West are deep down the middle now (St. Louis, Colorado, San Jose, LA, Anaheim, Minnesota of Granlund takes a step forward, and yes I didn’t list the Hawks and that’s on purpose), Spezza is going to be up against it. He’ll still put up points, but they’ll just look a lot like 2nd center numbers instead of 1A center numbers.
Defense: Those who hate the new shiny things like to quickly point out that the Stars don’t have a blue line and that they will lose a lot of 5-4 games. Maybe, I’m not convinced. This isn’t the Avs or the Isles. Alex Goligoski had a terrible start to last year, but that’s because he was dragging around a carcass in Sergei Gonchar to a degree that even Nick Leddy felt bad for him. Goligoski’s Corsi-for per 20 jumped up 5% when away from Gonchar, which is enormous. As Gonchar is already hurt, he won’t have that problem. Are Trevor Daley and Goligoski a real top pairing? No, of course not. But they’re hardly incompetent.
The Stars defense will depend on three kids, Brenden Dillon, Kevin Connauton, and Jamie Oleksiak. The latter two have bags of potential, but as we know the learning curve for d-men can be steep. The Stars will sink or swim with them this season, but be pretty well off in the coming years.
Goalies: Kari Lehtonen is already hurt, which I’m sure will come as a shock to you. Stars fans tend to overrate how good Lehtonen is. He’s above average, and his highlight reel saves tend to shade the discussion, but he’s hardly great. He’s had one season with a save-percentage of .920, though he does see a fair amount of rubber. He was good enough to get them to the playoffs last year and should be again especially if the defense improves at all. He better stay healthy though, because everyone knows what Anders Lindback will do and no one wants to see that.
The wild card here is that if Lehtonen gets hurt for a long stretch, Jack Campbell is waiting in the minors and he’s probably the goalie of the future anyway. But that’s a long shot.
-I suppose I need a word on Carcillo here. There’s nothing I can say that you don’t already know. This insistence on grit, whether it comes from the coach or the GM or both, is completely moronic and makes you lose faith in those running the ship.
Because what were the lessons from the Kings series? The Hawks lost to a team that was as fast if not faster than them, and one that could roll four lines and was deep down the middle. Have any of these issues been seriously addressed? We all saw what Brad Richards looked like last spring, right? Does it all hinge on Teuvo? Carcillo proved two years ago he couldn’t keep up, and now he’s here again. The Hawks tied their hands at the deadline with acquisitions of Versteeg and Rundblad, and watched while the Kings picked up Gaborik who may have been the difference between the Kings winning and losing that West Final. They’re in the same spot now, and selling Nick Leddy for 70 cents on the dollar isn’t going to solve it much.
This is an organization that loves to trumpet its progressiveness. I’m waiting to see it this year.