The stars have been aligning in Dallas throughout the last few months.
After winning the Central Division and getting to the second round of the playoffs in the 2015-16 season, the Stars regressed greatly in the 2017 season. Despite having a majority of the same lineup, the Stars were unable to build off of the incredible 50 win season the team had the year before. Whether it be injuries, inconsistent play as a whole or a poor goalie tandem, Dallas finished the 2017 season with a 34-37-11 record, finishing 6th in the Central Division and 24th in the league overall.
Along with the rest of the NHL, General Manager Jim Nill knew his team was not as bad as they may have appeared and has already made massive overhauls to better the Stars for the 2017-18 season.
For starters, the Stars had the help of the hockey gods, jumping to the 3rd overall selection in the NHL Draft Lottery after originally being slated to pick 8th overall. Although Nill reportedly received numerous offers for the top 5 selection, the Dallas Stars used the pick to select Finnish defenseman Miro Heiskanen. Heiskanen, 17, spent his draft year playing in the SM-liiga for HIFK Helsinki where he accumulated 5 goals and 10 points in 37 games played. Heiskanen was ranked among the 2017 NHL Drafts best defensemen and according to Elite Prospects, the 6’1 172lb Finn is an elite two-way defenseman in the making. Heiskanen is a solid puck mover who uses his offensive ability to his advantage while not giving up much of his defensive game. Although it’s unclear if he will make the Stars out of camp in October, he definitely fits a need in Dallas for the future.
Speaking of defense, Nill added more to strengthen a weak point in the Stars’ roster last season. After the dust had cleared from the Vegas Golden Knights Expansion Draft, Knights’ General Manager George McPhee began wheeling and dealing pieces he acquired from all 30 teams. Not only did the Stars acquired a solid defenseman, but he barely paid much of a price. Veteran defenseman Marc Methot was acquired on June 26th from the Golden Knights for goaltender Dylan Ferguson and a second round pick in the 2020 NHL Entry Draft. This is nothing short of a steal for Jim Nill. Methot, 32, has previously spent the last 5 seasons with the Ottawa Senators where he spent much of his time with elite defenseman Erik Karlsson. Methot’s numbers may not jump out on paper, but the Stars are hoping he can have the same effect on Dallas’ John Klingberg.
Another serious problem the Stars needed to address in the offseason was their goaltending. After riding the 1A-1B system of Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen in 2015-16, the wheels completely fell off the track in 2017. Niemi and Lehtonen both combined for one of the worst goaltender stats in the league with neither goalie having a save percentage above .902% and a GAA lower than 2.85. No matter how good your team is you’re not going to make the playoffs and win a championship with those kinds of numbers.
In order to correct this massive hole in the lineup Dallas bought out Antti Niemi and traded for the rights to impending free agent Ben Bishop. Bishop was then signed to a six year $29.5 million contract. Bishop, 30, was drafted 85th overall in 2005 and has made a name for himself after being the past starting netminder for the Tampa Bay Lightning for the past 5 years. Although Bishop has had injury issues in the past, he is still one of the league’s best netminders and is capable of starting (and winning) at least 35-40 games a season. If he can remain healthy, the Stars will automatically get a solid goaltending boost with Bishop between the pipes.
Lastly, Jim Nill made additions to the Stars’ already stacked offense. Although having a down year on offense, the Stars still finished the season with solid offensive outputs from Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza. However, Dallas management knew that they cannot solely rely on these three players for the majority of their scoring. To solve this problem went out and signed two of the best free agents on the market, Martin Hanzal and Alexander Radulov.
Hanzal, 30, had spent the entirty of his NHL career with the Phoenix/Arizona Coyotes before being traded to the Minnesota Wild at the trade deadline last year. Although he didn’t help the Wild go deep into the playoffs, he is a reliable 15-20 goal scorer and will be an excellent fit for the third line center on the Stars. His cap hit may be a little high for his age and production ($4.75 million per year for three years), but he is a versatile player who can slot in anywhere in the lineup should injuries occur.
Alex Radulov was likely one of the most coveted free agents and the Dallas Stars were able to snag him away from the Montreal Canadiens. After defecting to the KHL in the 2008-09 season, Radulov finally made his permanent return to the NHL signing a one year deal with the Montreal Canadiens in 2016-17. In his first season back the Russian KHL star finished second on the Canadiens in points with 18 goals and 54 points in 76 games. Along with that he was the Canadiens best player in their first round exit to the New York Rangers accumulating 7 points in 6 playoff games. Radulov not only makes the team’s top 6 look deadly on paper, but vastly helps improve their powerplay as well. The cap hit may be a bit on the high side ($6.25 per year for 5 years), but Nill had to overpay to land a forward who could push the team hopefully over the edge.
The Western Conference will certainly be no easy challenge, but considering that the Chicago Blackhawks have lost key pieces and the struggles the Colorado Avalanche and Winnipeg Jets faced last season, the Dallas Stars have what it takes to make it back to the postseason. If Bishop can stay healthy and play how he did in Tampa Bay, this Stars team could potentially push for the Central Division title and a deep run into the postseason.