Dallas Stars: Martin Hanzal Situation Affects 2018-19 Offensive Outlook

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 19: Martin Hanzal #10 of the Dallas Stars looks on from the bench during a game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 19, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 19: Martin Hanzal #10 of the Dallas Stars looks on from the bench during a game against the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena on October 19, 2017 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Dallas Stars will enter the 2018-19 season with a healthy roster for the most part. But Martin Hanzal will be sidelined for at least the first handful of games as he recovers from surgery. His status could put the offense in an interesting spot as the season rolls along.

The 2016-17 season was an unkind one to the Dallas Stars. A record of 34-37-11 and 79 points helped take the team from the top of the Western Conference to the cellar in a span of one year.

But it wasn’t just the team falling well short of their preseason potential that left them befuddled. It also had to do with exactly how the team’s ultimate unraveling came about.

One of the Stars’ biggest weaknesses in the 2016-17 season was their slow start. Through the first two months of the season, Dallas boasted a record of 9-9-6. As they struggled to stay above the .500 mark, the rest of the Central Division charged on and left them behind.

So, why did they stumble out of the gate? You could point out the lack of defensive depth, the frailty of the Kari Lehtonen/Antti Niemi duo in net, or even the average special teams play. But one of their biggest handicaps in the early portion of the season and throughout certain points in the rest of the year was the injury bug.

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The Dallas Stars were hit with a plague of significant injuries even before the season started. Throughout the World Cup of Hockey and training camp, players like Cody Eakin, Tyler Seguin, Radek Faksa, Ales Hemsky, and Mattias Janmark were all affected by some type of injury. Most were relatively short-term, though some were drastic enough to cause the player to miss most of or the entire season.

And through the first 40 games, both Jason Spezza and Johnny Oduya also felt the injury bug bite. Even captain Jamie Benn, who practically never gets hurt, missed four games to start the 2017 year with an ankle injury.

These injuries to regular starters left the Stars with a lot of holes to fill and not enough all-around talent to keep up. The missing pieces were what ultimately left Dallas in need of a resurgence in the second half that they couldn’t piece together.

It doesn’t look like they will have to deal with any injury plagues going into the 2018-19 year (though you can knock on wood, just to be safe). As of right now, the Dallas Stars have a predominantly clean bill of health and should enter the year with just about all of their starters.

There is, however, one player that won’t be on the opening night roster while he recovers from an injury. That’s Martin Hanzal.

On July 1, 2017, the Stars made yet another sizable move regarding their roster when they signed Martin Hanzal to a three-year deal. It wasn’t an entirely expected move, but seemed to be a solid one shortly after it was all said and done.

That feeling didn’t last long, though. Hanzal had a rough year in 2017-18, only playing in 38 games  (less than half of the season) and posting five goals and 10 points along with a -14 rating. Injuries held him back significantly and eventually forced him to sit out for the remainder of the season following his last game on Feb. 21.

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It was determined in early March that Hanzal needed season-ending spinal fusion surgery and would be out 6-7 months. With the surgery, Hanzal also missed a critical juncture in the season as the Dallas Stars eventually fell short of a playoff spot due to an ugly performance in the month of March.

So, overall, it wasn’t the best situation for either side as the Stars were set to pay Hanzal a lofty $4.75 million for three years. That’s a lot of cap space to commit to a 31-year-old with a history of injury problems.

But there’s no changing the past. Instead, you just have to look ahead. And that’s what the Dallas Stars are already doing.

It’s been reported by Sean Shapiro of The Athletic that Hanzal’s recovery is going well and he is expected to be back in action by late November or early December.

When healthy and at full speed, Hanzal is a big-bodied center (6-6, 230 lb.) that can provide depth scoring at even strength and on the power play, use his size and reach on defense, and is one of the best face-off men in the game.

In his 38 games last year, Hanzal skated an average of 14:07 and won over 55 percent of his face-offs. And two-thirds of his face-offs were taken in the defensive zone, which speaks volumes about the confidence in his abilities in the dot.

Unfortunately, the Stars won’t have that confidence for the first 20 games or so this year. And that could further complicate their offensive look.

As of right now, there’s an educated guess as to how the Dallas Stars’ top three lines will set up on opening night.

Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Alexander Radulov

Mattias Janmark – Jason Spezza – Valeri Nichushkin

Blake Comeau – Radek Faksa – Tyler Pitlick

It’s a valid prediction when taking everything into account from this offseason. But the fourth line is where things start to shake up.

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Dallas Stars: Hanzal, Ritchie have redeemed themselves with recent play
Dallas Stars: Hanzal, Ritchie have redeemed themselves with recent play /

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  • There are a handful of forwards vying for the final spots on offense. Devin Shore, Brett Ritchie, Gemel Smith, Jason Dickinson, Remi Elie, and even Roope Hintz are part of the fight. That’s a lot of NHL-ready talent and not enough space.

    This will require the Stars to send at least two of these forwards back down to the AHL, depending on how many Jim Montgomery wants to carry on the roster. And when Hanzal returns, it could get even more complicated.

    Once healthy, Hanzal will be ready to insert back into the lineup. But let’s say that all four lines are clicking and putting out great production. Are the Stars really going to break up a good run and put a younger forward in the press box in favor of a big body like Hanzal? Then again, they wouldn’t want to scratch a guy making $4.75 million for an extended period of time.

    Montgomery’s game is built largely on speed and puck possession. Can Hanzal fit that scheme well and adapt quickly once he’s back in the lineup? Only time will tell.

    But assuming the Dallas offense gets off on the right foot and clicks well, Hanzal’s return could cause some tough decisions to be made. Would scratching a player like Gemel Smith or Jason Dickinson and even potentially sending one of them back down further complicate the mix?

    Attempting to trade Hanzal could also come with a cost. It’s not likely that any teams will want to trade for a 31-year-old center with a history of injury problems that’s making almost $5 million a year. If the Stars did attempt to go this route depending on the situation, they would have to take on a decent amount of his salary to even get a team interested.

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    In hindsight, it wasn’t Jim Nill’s best signing. Injuries cannot be predicted, though a history of them can bring up some red flags. Hanzal is an asset to the Stars in certain areas, but his current situation could make things complicated come November and December with the younger Stars ready to solidify their spots on the roster.

    Until then, we wait and see how things pan out.