The Dallas Stars are screwed, and there isn’t much that can be done about it without some drastic reorganizing of the roster. This is a problem that has been apparent for a while. The reasons for the problems have been apparent for a while. Years of not addressing these underlying causes have put the Stars in a spot where they have a mediocre product on the ice that is wasting the primes of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, John Klingberg, and Alexander Radulov along with the final productive years of Jason Spezza.
This morning head coach Jim Montgomery pointed out that the Stars were “fucking embarrassing” in the morning skate. In the morning skate, friends.
The more composed press scrum after the morning skate is below.
I don’t know how much the morning skate matters, but if matters to Montgomery right now given how poorly they tend to start games. Mike Heika wrote it up just four days ago so it shouldn’t be too surprising to see Montgomery is still emphasizing it. The fact that the players still aren’t meeting the standards of the coaching staff despite this emphasis and the numerous messages sent is a bit problematic.
After a certain point you have to begin wondering if they can meet the standards. At some point this is just a bad team, and there is blame that can be assigned everywhere: the “core players” (however you define them), the depth forwards, the coaching staff, player development, special teams, and the front office. No team is squarely mediocre for just one reason.
This season pretty squarely falls on the forwards though. This chart from Sean Tierney is the Stars forwards Goals above Replacement from Evolving Hockey.
The Stars top three forwards have generated 21.4 goals above replacement. Collectively the top six have generated 31.5. That seems fine, but it’s nothing more than fine. Those totals rank 11th and 10th respectively across the league. Again, that’s fine. It isn’t good enough, and historically hasn’t been, to cover up for the other flaws on the roster.
One problem is recognizing who the top six actually are, and how they contribute value. Benn, Seguin, and Radulov are the clear top three. Seguin is 22nd among NHL forwards followed by Radulov (37) and Benn (50). No franchise boosting single performances, but as a trio a quality showing. Spezza, Jason Dickinson, and Blake Comeau are the next three.
Comeau derives none of his value at even strength so far. All of his comes from drawing penalties and being a quality penalty killer. Dickinson and Spezza are 8th and 9th in even strength ice time among forwards so they appear to be generating value despite not playing enough to maximize how much they can produce.
According to Evolving Hockey only nine Stars forwards have generated positive even strength value this year. Gemel Smith, Justin Dowling, Denis Gurianov are among those three which highlights the problem. Mattias Janmark is another, at half of a goal above replacement in 500 minutes. This team is terrible at even strength, and the majority of their production comes from three guys who have spent 258 minutes together.
In those 258 minutes the Stars are fine. With Radulov, Benn, and Seguin on the ice together they hum along at 55% of the shot attempts. In the 1043 minutes without them on the ice the team is a terrible 45%. To take it a step further take Spezza and Dickinson off the ice too. That’s 490 minutes of 43% shot attempt hockey.
The top three guys being 11th in the league in GAR is fine, but the franchise is expecting more out of them than being at the top of the middle of the pack. Given the lack of success of the franchise the past several years, now under three different head coaches, I think it’s more than fair to question if that core group as constructed and used can ultimately be successful.
If the strength of the team is those three players, then expecting them to contribute the most value to the cause by exclusively playing them together implies that you’re banking on the admittedly mediocre depth players to take up the slack in the remaining minutes which they haven’t shown an ability to do.
The table to the right (up?) shows how each of the trio does without the other two on the ice so the idea of rolling one on each line seems optimistic at best – which goes back to the depth issue and usage. How do you split them apart when there is no one to put out there with them?
What the Stars have largely not done is try Dickinson or Spezza with any of those three for any extended period of time. Spezza has skated with Benn and Seguin for close to 50 minutes. and the trio controlled the play to the same degree Radulov and the duo have. Surely a second line of attack can be opened up with Radulov skating with Dickinson, Gurianov, Nichushkin, Hintz…someone?
Another red flag is the usage of Faksa. He’s taking all of the difficult minutes, but he’s getting caved in. Given how much of a burden he has taken on, shouldn’t you expect the rest of the line up to have more offensive opportunities? If they aren’t capitalizing on those chances at what point is killing Faksa’s offensive opportunities not worth it? His results have essentially negated the value generated by Spezza or Dickinson. It doesn’t seem that productive.
The Stars only have a few choices here.
Change how the lines roll and find some combos that work then stick with them for a while. Ideally, yes, you need everyone to be comfortable playing together. But, if half the roster has shown no ability to move the needle does it matter if they feel comfortable playing with the top guys?
Add to the core forward group via trade. This should have happened in the offseason somehow. It didn’t, and now they can’t score. There were opportunities to do it and the Stars, for whatever reason, chose not to do so.
Blow up the entire bottom of the roster. Let Dowling, Gurianov, Hintz, Joel L’Esperance, and whoever else take regular shifts. Punt on Martin Hanzal, Devin Shore, and Brett Ritchie. Hint: this is not going to happen mid-season because the logistics don’t make any sense.
Do nothing. If they take this route they aren’t going to make the playoffs. I don’t know which route they take, maybe a mixture of all of them, but something needs to change. Stability is important, but keeping stable mediocre results isn’t going to make anything useful happen. This team has talent, but whatever it is that is going on is keeping it from truly shining.