As things stand, the NHL is planning to have games resume at some point over the coming weeks. Assuming the regular season continues, there will be plenty of things to watch for over the stretch run. Over the coming weeks, PHR will examine the top stretch run storylines for each team. We continue our look at the Central Division with Dallas.
The Stars have had a bit of a tumultuous season but nevertheless find themselves in a top-three seed in the Central Division. An early-season coaching change shocked many, while a lack of production from their top players has been more than a little perplexing. Those themes have been prevalent throughout the season and will continue to be key storylines down the stretch and into the postseason.
On paper, a core of Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski and Alexander Radulov looks strong. Seguin had six straight seasons of at least 72 points under his belt, Benn had reached 69 or more in five of the last six years, Radulov had two straight seasons of 72 in first two years with the team and Pavelski came into the year with six straight campaigns of 64 points or more. Yes, it’s an aging group, so a slight decline would have been understandable. But this hasn’t been a slight decline.
As things stand, none of them have reached the 20-goal mark. Only Seguin has reached the 40-point mark, checking at 50. Benn and Radulov have a shot at 40 points if the remaining scheduled games are played out, while Pavelski getting there would be a long shot.
Not surprisingly, the Stars check in at 29th overall in goals scored. They are the only team outside of the top 20 in that department to be holding down a playoff spot. They can’t afford to rely on Denis Gurianov to continue to lead the team in goals if they want to be a postseason contender. For context, he’s their only 20-goal player (20 on the dot) and spent a bit of time in October in the minors after seeing minimal ice time early on.
Some teams need an uptick in scoring from their primary players. Some need a secondary scoring boost. Dallas needs all of that and then some. If Seguin, Benn, Radulov and Pavelski can get back to the level they were at even a year ago (and this break could certainly help with that), it would go a long way toward fixing their scoring woes and making them a bigger playoff threat in the process.
It was a big surprise when Rick Bowness was asked to take over for Jim Montgomery behind the bench after the latter was dismissed for cause back in December. At the time of the move, it was expected that the interim tag would be in place for the rest of the regular season and the organization would re-assess at that time.
So how has he fared? Clearly, the offense is sputtering, but at the same time, the Stars have been the top defensive team in the Western Conference in terms of goals allowed, which has allowed them to stay in a playoff spot for most of the year. Basically, not a whole lot has changed from the transition from Montgomery to Bowness as the veterans were scuffling offensively at the start of the year, while Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin have provided strong goaltending.
Is basically keeping the team afloat enough to justify the permanent job? Considering the odd circumstances in which he took over, accomplishing that is notable. However, it certainly feels like how they fare down the stretch and postseason (if those games get played) will ultimately determine whether or not general manager Jim Nill sticks with him or goes after another bench boss in the offseason.
Last year was a good one for defenseman Miro Heiskanen, who finished just shy of being a Calder Trophy finalist. After putting up 33 points, he seemed like a prime candidate for a big jump in production, which would have him in line for a big raise when he became eligible for an early extension in July. Of course, the big jump in production hasn’t happened (putting him in line with just about everyone else on the team); although, he has collected 35 points, which is good enough to put him third on the team in scoring.
Even so, the small uptick offensively will call into question whether or not an extension is the right way to go, as it’s possible that Heiskanen could be leaving money on the table without a 40-point season under his belt. If regular-season games resume and he picks up some points or is productive in the playoffs, he might be able to boost his value enough to make an early extension justifiable. If not, waiting may be the better option, so whether or not the NHL returns may be particularly important for him.