5 reasons the Stars will make the playoffs:
One of the most important aspects of this season for every team in the league is having solid goaltending in such a crunched season. Goalies that usually play 72 or more games in a regular season will likely find themselves on the bench more often in a short span than they’re used to. Every two weeks will provide a team with at least one set of back-to-back games.
The Stars are in a good position for this season from a goaltending aspect, as long as Kari Lehtonen stays healthy. Lehtonen is a rock and extremely critical to the team’s success, but he has a very good backup tandem in Richard Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp that can provide some good relief. If Lehtonen stays healthy, he figures to see around 40 games. Keep in mind that the Stars allowed the 9th-most shots against per game last season, so the pressure and fatigue of forcing Lehtonen to stand on his head and win or save games so often in such little time may wear him down quickly.
Special teams (Power Play boost)
Last season, the Stars had the worst Power Play in the league at 13.5%. With the additions of Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney, the Power Play gets an overhaul with many more options to tinker with. I’m not saying they will turn into one of the top 10 Power Play teams in the league, but jumping up from 30th to maybe around 18th would be a tremendous improvement and provide instant results.
Every time the Stars went on the Power Play last season, I would think to myself “great, let’s see how badly we mess this up. Let’s see if we can even enter their zone with puck control.” The addition of Jagr alone can bolster one unit. His control, vision and passing will help move the puck much better and provide better scoring opportunities. With Jamie Benn, Michael Ryder and Loui Eriksson back in the fold, the Stars should have two decent units. And we won’t have to see the experimentation of random 4th liners (Toby Peterson anyone?) thrown in on the Power Play.
Youngsters step up
The Stars are taking a major step this season toward their youth movement. Cody Eakin should be a starter almost every night. Reilly Smith will get a real chance to showcase himself this season. Ryan Garbutt and Tom Wandell will get increased roles this season. Colton Sceviour and Antoinne Roussel look like they are getting some unexpected ice time. It’s possible Matt Fraser and Tomas Vincour will get a call up at some point this season. Philip Larsen’s role will increase this season and Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn look to be rotated into the defensive lineup. Add in the backup tandem of Bachman and Nilstorp in net, and the Stars have look to have a good blend of youth throughout the lineup this season.
Reformed top 6
When the Stars lost Brad Richards, it felt as though they lost that one player that can take over a game, the one player that can take the puck and give the team a chance to tie or win the game in crunch time. The top 6 felt broken. Benn is developing into that player and the additions of Jagr, Whitney and Roy completely revamp the top 6. Now, the Stars have two strong scoring lines. Also, the talent bumped down to the bottom 6 mixed with the energy of the youngsters getting a look this season, the bottom 6 should be more productive than last season.
Management and fans getting stronger
Owner Tom Gaglardi seems to be guiding the team in the right direction. His enthusiasm and dedication has brought about a sense of hope and optimism for the future of the franchise. Recently, the Stars announced the hiring of Mike Modano and Mark Recchi to boost the team’s off-ice talent cupboard. Combine these factors with the new on-ice additions and another year of experience for Glen Gulutzan, and the fans seem to buying in. The first half of last season was embarrassing in terms of attendance. Some lower sections seemed to only have a couple of scattered seats filled and the arena felt deathly silent. It was the complete opposite near the end of the season, and with the announcement that opening night against the Coyotes has been sold out, it looks like the lockout might not have hurt the Stars’ momentum at all.
5 reasons the Stars won’t make the playoffs
Lack of depth
Other than goaltending, health is most critical for the Stars this season. If the Stars fall victim to one or two injuries at specific positions, they will be in a world of hurt. Bachman is a good backup and Nilstorp has shown promise in net, but even combined, they won’t be able to lift the Stars into the postseason if Lehtonen sustains an injury. The Stars are thin at center so if something happens to Benn or Roy, some serious panic and shuffling could ensue. If both go down, we could be watching Wandell, Eakin and Fiddler in competition to be at least one of our top two centers. Terrifying. If Alex Goligoski gets injured, our defense will look that much weaker, and two starting defensemen will be rookies.
Stephane Robidas seems to be slowing down every year. Trevor Daley and Goligoski are solid top-4 defensemen, but not true number ones. Larsen is on the rise and Aaron Rome, Jodie Benn and Dillon figure to be in a revolving door. There seems to be no real strength on defense. Each defenseman brings their own elements to the unit, but as a whole, it is just lacking. And with the Stars giving up an average of over 30 shots per game, there has to be a question of how many more times can goaltending bail them out. The Stars need a true number one to help round out the unit, but until then, it looks like it’s going to be another tense year in the defensive zone.
Too much travel too quick
The Stars have the second-most miles to travel this season. And in a condensed 48-game season filled with eight back-to-backs and three 3-game road swings, it could be too much for them to overcome. All the new faces, the lack of a training camp to establish Gulutzan’s schemes and the lack of chemistry in the lineup can end up truly hurting the Stars.
Lack of toughness
I alluded to this in my previous post, but the Stars have turned in most of their grit and toughness for skill and speed. Will the lack of a true enforcer and the end of the “pesky Stars” hurt this season? In a shortened season, gritty, grinding, ugly hockey is expected so next season may be when we really get to see the new style take flight. For this season, a lot will be put on the top 6 to score and the top 4 on defense to play beyond their abilities. Generally speaking the team will have to stand up to protect each other. We know Benn can fight, but this may be the worst season have him do so. Garbutt, Nystrom, Dillon and Rome should provide a good amount of the physicality the stars are expected to be lacking this season.
Every game will have a playoff feel, but not too many players on the current roster have been to the playoffs and know what it takes. As I mentioned before, I believe this season is shaping up to be a big one in terms of the youth movement (just wait until next season!). While it’s exciting, it’s also when we will witness and endure the growing pains associated with putting so many youngsters into the lineup. Having said that, player development cannot come without going through this phase, so no matter what, this season will be a great experience and test if the Stars stay true to playing their youngsters