Dallas Stars

Dallas Stars: 5 biggest questions heading into an uncertain off-season

Jim Montgomery will replace Ken Hitchock as coach of the Dallas Stars.
Jim Montgomery will replace Ken Hitchock as coach of the Dallas Stars. AP

We're just over a week removed from the Dallas Stars missing the NHL playoffs in historic fashion.

On March 9, Dallas owned the fifth most points and occupied the top wild-card spot in the Western Conference. Ken Hitchcock and company then proceeded to go eight games without picking up a win of any sort (0-6-2).

By the time the regular season ended on April 7 (a 4-2 win over the Los Angeles Kings), the Stars sat in 6th place in the Central Division and 10th place in the conference.

The organization is considering all options when it comes to the roster and management of the team, according to a team source. So, what does ownership need to address first?

Will Hitchcock be back behind the bench?

Star-Telegram columnist Mac Engel argued against the firing of future hall of fame and current head coach Ken Hitchcock, believing it to be premature. This was his first year back in Dallas, and he did inherit an imperfect roster. But there is one point that Engel missed that is not in Hitchcock's favor: his system.

The veteran coach has slightly adjusted his defense-first then counter-attack philosophy over the years, but it's still far from ideal into today's new, offense-obsessed NHL. Many teams across the league are incorporating more skilled players into their third and fourth lines, as well as relying on quicker, more puck-savy defensemen, in order to push a more-attack approach. Hitchcock's approach might just be too outdated.

Will ownership fire general manager Jim Nill and/or president Jim Lites?

The two top officials in the front office bear plenty of responsibility for their roster building decisions in free-agency and the draft. Lites had outstanding success here that culminated in a Stanley Cup Championship back in 1999. But the franchise has made the playoffs only twice in the past 10 seasons and not advanced to the second-round on either occasion.

Nill would likely be the first one out the door, but after the way this season ended, it's not hard to imagine ownership cleaning house.

What will they do with backup goalie Kari Lehtonen?

Lehtonen's massive contract is finally coming off the books. The backup netminder could not fill Ben Bishop's shoes down the stretch when the starting goalie missed the final 10 games of the regular season with an undisclosed lower-body injury. During the team's crushing eight-game winless streak, Lehtonen posted a 3.75 goals-against average and .88 save percentage.

Some team will sign Lehtonen as a backup at a far more reasonable salary than before. Bishop could go down at any point, but the Stars shouldn't be the ones cutting the check for Lehtonen to return as his backup.

What will the team do in free agency?

Last off-season, Nill went big by signing Bishop and forward Alexander Radulov to major contracts. If Nill doesn't re-sign his four pending unrestricted free agents and buys out the remaining year of Jason Spezza's contract ($7.5 million), he could free up a little over $17 million in cap space, according to Spotrac.com.

If Bishop can stay healthy (a major question mark) while the big guns such as Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn maintain their high level of production, and the front office adds a few cost-effective forwards, then this team has a chance to at least make the playoffs come 2019.

How will the farm system talent develop?

Coming into this season, Thehockeywriters.com ranked the Stars' farm system as the 11th best in the NHL. That status is due to the potential of 22-year-old Julius Honka and 18-year-old Miro Heiskanen, both of whom have the potential to become first pairing defensemen.

The Stars' lineup is top heavy, which means the all of young guns are going to need to learn quickly for this team to make a real playoff run next spring.

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram