Good morning and happy Friday Stars fans.
A lot of controversy has been floating around lately regarding whether or not the Stars are the new team to beat in the National Hockey League in the year to come. In order to approach this thought and process through it logically, we need to take a look at the facts. This will be a three part series, with the three parts looking at the offense, defense and netminding.
So let’s break this down with part one: the offense.
Are The Stars The Team To Beat Next Year? The Offense:
The glory of the first line:
With the acquirement of Tyler Seguin last offseason, another genius move by Nill, the Stars offense finished with an outstanding performance in the 2013-2014 regular season, largely due to the efforts of Tyler Seguin and the newly appointed captain Jamie Benn. The two formed a bond on the ice that the Stars franchise has never experienced. The dynamic duo ended their season with 71 goals and 92 assists. That’s around 30 percent of the team’s total number of goals on the year. Both players also finished in the Top 10 in goals scored throughout the league, with Seguin weighing in at fourth and Benn finishing in ninth. The two will look to start up another record-breaking, successful year starting October 9th with the hated divisional rival, the Chicago Blackhawks.
So the first line seems to be set, though the designated worker to be placed on the right wing remains a mystery.
Will 19 year old Valeri Nichushkin take the reins and look to start his second season with the line he spent most of his first season on, or will Lindy Ruff feel that Nichushkin’s potential is being masked by his willingness to constantly hand the puck over to Benn or Seguin to cash in and keep him pinned to another line where he can unleash his full caliber of skills? Or will Colton Sceviour or the recently hooked Ales Hemsky fill the void and donate their skills to the arsenal already present on the first line? Not sure, but something tells me that Hemsky paired with Benn and Seguin isn’t meant to be. But the rest still seems to be up in the air.
The beauty of the second line:
The Dallas Stars second line, in association to back up the first line, will be the driving force for their entire club come next season. Jim Nill’s ability to reel in a top caliber veteran center like Jason Spezza and also to bring along Spezza’s partner-in-crime Ales Hemsky. That alone has Stars fans and the entire league in a head-over-heels mode, but it’s not even the beginning. The constant goers of the NHL have noticed the Stars offense arise over the past year, and this year there will be more than one line for opponents to study.
Spezza is coming off another brilliant year with the Ottawa Senators, the team that he has been tenured with his entire career. For 31 years old, his numbers proved to be a standout, finishing his final season with the Sens holding on to 23 goals and 43 assists. He’ll look to manage the dot behind Seguin and “carry the load”, if you will. With the uncertainty of Cody Eakin filling this void last year, the Stars truly had to lean on Seguin to pull the Stars’ center presence along, which may have resulted in Seguin’s inability to perform at his best. Spezza will be skating with the crafty and true veteran Erik Cole who is looking to rebound off of an average season and help this team find their feet on the hike to the Cup. The right winger will be a challenge to choose.
It should be Ales Hemsky, but can Hemsky be trusted for 15+ minutes a game? Hemsky’s career with Edmonton was one full of uncertainty on whether he would suit up for the game. Hemsky has never been able to put in a full season, and has only played 75 or more games two times in his eleven season career. Will Ruff be able to set his faith on an aging veteran to be able to produce and play on a regular basis? I say yes, but there is definitely some uncertainty on the subject. If Hemsky does conform to the second line though, his chemistry with Spezza will hopefully click like it did in Ottawa and will produce a beautiful remedy.
The consistency of the third line:
This line may have packed the biggest punch last year out of all the Stars’ lines and helped make this team a difficult one to skate with and sometimes beat. For the short duration that they were able to spend meshing together, they made the most of it. They cashed in for around 30 goals and really festered opponents when they were on the freeze. The physicality and fore check present in all three of them is due cause for joy as well. But, with the multiple inconsistencies and jams that the Stars faced last year, these three didn’t get to see each other very much. But when they did, the goals rained down. This line will be fun to watch next year, to say the least, plain and simple.
The mystery of the fourth line:
Wow, who’s gonna fit in all the way down here? If the three lines stated above are set in stone, the fourth line will consist of a few choices: Vernon Fiddler, Shawn Horcoff, Patrick Eaves, Colton Sceviour/Valeri Nichushkin, and the possible return of Rich Peverley. So, which guys get the call? With the certainty of Val or Scevs taking the first or second line winger position, that leaves five people to fight for three spots.
Now, the certainty of a return for Rich Peverley after his heart incident in March is still yet to be announced, but after a successful surgery a week after the incident, his ability to play is still there. But even if Peverley has/wants to take an early retirement, it still leaves four people battling for three positions.
The Fiddler re-signing was what started this entire commotion. The lines were all meticulously planned out by analysts and everything in the Stars life was peachy, and then Nill went and signed the guy that many thought Nill had passed up without a second thought. So with four guys, all proven NHL players and none ready to make a move to the AHL, what will Ruff end up doing?
There were speculations that a Horcoff trade was going to be set up and commenced, but nothing ended up happening, at least not yet. But where will these four be shifted to in order for everything to weave together by the time the Blackhawks come to town? My guess would be restoring Fiddler to his former spot in the dot, and hold Val/Scevs to the right wing, with Horcoff on the left wing, and use Eaves as the scratch, or have a rotation implemented and have substitutions going with each new game. But don’t hold me to it, Ruff MUST have a plan, or else Nill wouldn’t of made such a frantic and unexpected move, right?
The bottom line:
The Stars 2014-2015 early offense grade: A-
The Stars offense will be the area of expertise on the team next year, no doubt, and it may end up carrying the entire team throughout the season. Even though there is still uncertainty regarding injuries and who deserves playing time on what line, the offense is still expected to and will succeed. For the fifth hardest schedule in the NHL last year and a fifth place finish in the Central division that still miraculously landed them a postseason berth, though Arizona’s meltdown largely contributed to this milestone being made possible, they overall held their own through the year.
The offense flourished last year, finishing 11th in the league in the goals for category with 235, which averages out to a total of 2.87 goals per contest. That was just the beginning. With old partnerships being renewed and new recruits brought in to build up, the offense will no doubt be a scary and diverse one to face.
The other parts of the team? That’s a different story that I will save for the other two parts to the series! But, just know deep in your heart, Stars fans, that the offense is going to come out swinging this season, possibly the best the franchise has ever seen. So be ready.
I will post the other two parts in the near future, and until then, keep your mind on the positive side in regards to next season.
Comments below on how you feel regarding anything I just said, and as always, Go Stars.