With the 2019 offseason sinking into the “dog days” phase as training camp draws near, it’s time for the Dallas Stars to look ahead to the new year. And after spending the summer restocking and revitalizing their roster, how might their new lineup pan out?
Training camp sits exactly six weeks down the road for the Dallas Stars. And while that may seem like a significant gap of time, think about this: the Free Agency signing period opened nearly five weeks ago. Seems like just yesterday, doesn’t it?
With the 2019 offseason over halfway done and the 2019-20 NHL season rapidly approaching, now is a good chance to step back and assess all that has happened over the past few months. And yes, there’s a lot to take in from the Stars’ perspective.
When Dallas was officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup Playoffs on May 7, 2019 after a Game 7 bout with the St. Louis Blues that required two overtimes, the offseason quickly came into focus. And while the Stars had some holes in their roster that had plagued them throughout the season and had a handful of free agents that needed new contracts, it was more the perspective that accompanied their exit from the postseason.
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That perspective, of course, was that “they were this close.” The Stars had some inefficiencies, but were able to combat them throughout the season and end up within one goal of a trip to the Western Conference Finals. With that knowledge, it didn’t seem as though the team was far off from contending for the Stanley Cup and that one solid offseason of retooling the roster might do the trick.
And so, Dallas Stars general manager Jim Nill got to work. After a busy pre-summer schedule that included re-signing Esa Lindell, Roman Polak, and Mattias Janmark, Nill dug in as the Free Agency signing period drew near and began making some tougher decisions.
He traded Tyler Pitlick to the Philadelphia Flyers for pending RFA Ryan Hartman, then passed on qualifying the newly-acquired forward. He also bought out the final two years of Valeri Nichushkin‘s contract to create more cap space.
Finally, after spending over a month trying to negotiate an extension with pending UFA Mats Zuccarello but coming up without a deal, Nill surveyed the market and began making other plans.
Pucks and Pitchforks
That led him to eventually put together a busy and action-packed July 1. The Stars signed forward Joe Pavelski to a sizable three-year contract and followed it up by inking forward Corey Perry and defenseman Andrej Sekera, both of whom were bought out by their previous teams in the month of June.
Now, the Stars look poised to take the next step. The NHL analysts are saying all of the right things, pointing out that Dallas checked off the boxes on their to-do list and look like a better and more prepared team on paper.
The offense that put the puck in the back of the net the fourth-least number of times in 2018-19 should be much improved. The defense should be deeper and more experienced in the year ahead. And if Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin can even come close to replicating their combined showing from last season, the Dallas Stars should be a player for the 2020 Stanley Cup.
And while the positive comments and the sharp rise in odds to win the Cup are motivators, nothing is proven. Nothing can be proven until the team takes the ice on Oct. 3 against the Boston Bruins. Until then, it’s nothing but dreams on paper.
That’s where Jim Montgomery comes up to bat. He’s waited in the on-deck circle while Nill has been in the batter’s box looking to put the second-year head coach in the best position to succeed.
Nill did his job and got on base. Now it’s up to Montgomery to bring him and his efforts home.
As mentioned above, Montgomery won’t have his first chance to do so until the regular season begins. But while we navigate the quietest part of the NHL summer and await the beginning of training camp, now is as good of a time as any to start examining how the Stars could line up on opening night and into the regular season.
Last week, we dug into how the forward lines could potentially pan out and what combinations might work best on offense. Today, we’ll take an in-depth look at the defense.
Let’s look at a few disclaimers before we dive in. First, these pairings are based on a combination of skill sets, past history, and a little bit of speculation. Montgomery, like some of his predecessors on the Dallas bench, is known for switching his lines on the fly in a constant search for finding a combination that clicks. There’s always a chance that the lines he is using at puck drop aren’t the ones he will be using when the final buzzer sounds on a given game night.
On top of that, there isn’t a right or wrong answer in these projections and there are a multitude of ways that Montgomery could go with his lineup. He’s been set up nicely with a handful of superstar players as well as a few complimentary pieces, so there are plenty of potential combinations.
With that being said, let’s take a look at how the defensive pairings could take shape in time for opening night.
Esa Lindell – John Klingberg
Andrej Sekera – Roman Polak
Extras: Jamie Oleksiak