Where do we start with the Dallas Stars?
Last spring, the team suffered one of the worst regular-season collapses in the history of the NHL, en route to missing the playoffs for the second season in a row.
Future Hall of Fame coach Ken Hitchcock chose to step down afterward and the team hired Jim Montgomery, the esteemed coach from the University of Denver, to replace him.
The current roster is loaded with top-end talent, such as forwards Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov, as well as defenseman John Klingberg. And there are also talented prospects now up on the big club, including 19-year-old defenseman Miro Heiskanen.
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But there are questions about depth, secondary scoring, the health of goalie Ben Bishop and the experience of Montgomery.
Montgomery brought his “process not results” style to a core that is just a few years removed from a Central Division title.
So, what do we know about the team so far this season?
1. Miro Heiskanen, so far, looks like the real deal
There was significant pressure on the young talent entering this season. The Senators reportedly would have traded elite d-man Erik Karlsson to Dallas if the Stars sent back their top prospect in return. The team’s defense also needs him to become a top-pairing player, like, now. So far there have been a few hiccups, but for the most part his high level of skill and awareness are every bit as advertised when the team selected him No. 3 overall in the 2017 NHL Draft.
2. New life for Jason Spezza
The veteran had a rough season last year, recording just 26 points in 78 games. And there was some debate during the offseason if the team would trade him away just to shed salary. Ultimately, the front office did not go that route, and, to this point, the move has paid off. Spezza has seven points (two goals, five assists) through eight games and looks like a capable second-line center again.
3. Bishop’s health
The netminder has battled several injuries throughout his career, including one that all but ended his season, down the final 20 games of last year’s stretch run. Without Bishop, the Stars fell apart. So far this season, despite his 3-3 record, Bishop’s numbers are solid. And there don’t appear to be any lingering issues from that knee injury.
1. Inconsistent offense
The trademark of Montgomery’s system is an attacking philosophy that accounts for offense and alleviates a defense. We’re eight games in and, as the coach has said himself, the results have been mixed. The team has been missing top forward Alexander Radulov for several games and deserves credit for mixing and matching lines. But during the three-game losing streak, this bunch only scored two goals.
2. Lack of secondary scoring
As expected, Benn, Seguin, Klingberg and Radulov have accounted for a significant portion of this team’s scoring output. Through eight games, the foursome have scored 16 of the Stars’ 23 goals. That’s a decently heavy burden to place on those players and might be sustainable. But in some regular season games, and especially the postseason, Montgomery is going to need other players to find the back of the net.
3. The toughest division in the NHL?
The season is still young. However, the Central Division has looked like the class of the NHL so far. The Atlantic division is the only other division that has a team (it has three) with 12 points or more. The Central has four, and one of those teams has 13 points, while two have a league-leading 14 points. Dallas currently has 8 and will need to take advantage of a home game on Thursday night against the Ducks (first place in the Pacific Division) before embarking on a six-game road trip against all Eastern Conference teams.