This season has been quite an eventful one for the Dallas Stars thus far.
Between a new head coach, a rookie sensation, drama from upper management, and inconsistent play, Dallas has had a lot to deal with this season. However, despite all this the Stars currently sit third in the Central Division with a 28-21-4 record and riding a five game winning streak. With an eight point gap between them and the Colorado Avalanche, who currently sit two points out of the final wildcard spot in the West, the Dallas Stars are aiming to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2015-16 season.
A major contributing factor in the Stars’ success has been the play of their “big three” forwards, Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov. Prior to the start of the season, Seguin was signed to an eight year $78 million contract extension with an annual average of $9.85 million. At almost a $4 million upgrade from his previous contract, Seguin has certainly earned his money as one of Dallas’ franchise players. Since being traded to the Stars in the summer of 2013, Seguin has tallied at least 70 points each year along with netting over 30 goals every year (aside from a fluke 26 in the 2016-17 season). Seguin currently leads Dallas in scoring, tallying 22 goals and 50 points in 53 games. If he keeps at his pace he’ll again surpass the 30 goal, 70 point mark and accomplish the feat for the 7th straight season.
Along with Seguin, the Stars are led by their captain, Jamie Benn. Drafted in the fifth round of the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, Benn continued his development in the WHL before eventually making the Stars’ roster in the 2009-10 season. Since then he’s been one of the most consistent players on the team, along with Seguin, and is a driving force behind whether the team succeeds or falters. Following the 2015-16 season where Benn won the Art Ross Memorial Trophy as the NHL’s top point producer, he was signed to an eight year, $76 million contract extension with an annual average value of $9.5 million per season. Since then Benn has had two very respectable seasons tallying 26 goals and 69 points in 2017 and 36 goals and 79 points in 2018. However, this season Benn has gotten off to a slow start, and is not having the best year in terms of numbers currently sitting with 19 goals and 37 points in 52 games played. Although not bad numbers, Dallas Stars CEO Jim Lites thought that Benn and Seguin weren’t playing up to their contracts and unleashed a media firestorm on December 28th after singling them out in an interview.
“They are fucking horseshit, I don’t know how else to put it,” Lites said, according to The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro. “The team was OK. But Seguin and Benn were terrible.”
“We are a stars-driven league, and our stars aren’t getting it done,” Lites added, urging Shapiro to publish his comments. “It’s embarrassing, and no one writes it. Write it!”
“These guys are not good enough. They’re not good enough for me, they’re not good enough for the owner, and they’re certainly not good enough for the general manager,” Lites continued.
“These guys were signed to big contracts because they were the third- and sixth-leading scorers in the National Hockey League over the past five years. They get their money, we expect them to not be outplayed every game we play in.”
It’s very rare in the National Hockey League for a team’s ownership to personally call out their star players by name in a negative light and although the team had been playing inconsistently throughout the year, Seguin and Benn are undoubtedly the team’s best players and would be much farther down the standings without them. Seguin has never had a poor statistical season since joining Dallas and outside of this year, neither has Benn. When bringing in a new head coach, it usually takes time for the players to get used to the new implemented system the coach is using and this can cause some players’ numbers to dip during this learning period. Along with this, Benn currently sits at 19 goals on the year. I know that wasn’t the case when these comments were made, but Benn could still very easily end the 2018-19 season with 30 goals and 60 points, which would only put him off his “worst” years by a few points.
Despite these remarks, Dallas has begun to pull it together in the stretch since Lites spoke out. Since December 28th, the Stars have gathered a 9-5-1 record along with winning their last five games in a row. Since the beginning of the season Dallas has been a streaky team collecting multiple 3-4 game win streaks, but also stringing together multiple 3-4 game losing streaks. If the Stars can continue to ride this hot streak and pad their position in the standings, the Lone Star State could be seeing playoff hockey for the first time in three years.
Besides their forwards, Dallas has one of the best rookies in this class playing on their blue line. Miro Heiskanen, 19, was drafted third overall in the 2017 NHL Entry Draft and has transitioned seamlessly since making Dallas’ opening night roster. Heiskanen is currently second in defensive rookie scoring netting 9 goals and 23 points in 53 games. Along with this he leads all rookie defensemen in time on ice averaging 23:08 a game. For any 19 year that is incredibly impressive. Coupled with Heiskanen, Dallas has a solid defense that includes the likes of John Klingberg and Esa Lindell, helping the Stars sit tied for second fewest goals allowed (134).
Thankfully for Dallas, the fate of their season rests entirely in their hands moving forward. For the most part the Western Conference has been significantly weaker than the Eastern Conference with five teams sitting just three points out of the final wildcard position. With Dallas having a six point cushion over the team holding that spot (Vancouver Canucks), and eight points ahead of the next closest team (Colorado Avalanche), winning games, especially against the West, will be especially vital. If the Stars can gain depth scoring from their forwards outside of Benn, Seguin and Radulov then Dallas should be in good shape heading down the stretch and potentially into the playoffs.