Only three games remain on the Dallas Stars’ 2019 preseason schedule. And while the final week of the preseason has arrived and the regular season continues to approach, there’s still plenty for the organization to sort out.
The preseason can be a daunting time for the Dallas Stars depending on where you examine it from.
For fans, it’s a two-week period filled with anxious excitement as they prepare for the long regular season ahead. It can even become a bit frustrating at times as fans border on impatience waiting for the roster to be trimmed down and for games to actually begin counting towards the standings.
But from the team’s standpoint, it can be an overwhelming whirlwind. Not only are they given less than three weeks to trim 40+ players from their training camp roster, but they also have to assess and give each player a fair look through camp and a handful of games.
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It can be a challenging task at times, especially as they attempt to assign each player to a deserved spot on the depth chart and whittle the roster down to a list of no more than 23 names in time for opening night.
“I think it’s going to be a really hard decision,” Stars coach Jim Montgomery said on the first day of training camp in regards to downsizing the roster. “From last year compared to this year, there’s so much more depth in the organization. It’s really exciting. It’s a hard decision, which is what you want. We’re going to have great depth here and great depth in Texas.”
And now, here the Dallas Stars sit with 34 players remaining on their roster. While they are still a few cuts away from hitting the desired mark, they’ve covered a lot of ground from their initial group of 63 players that took the ice on Sep. 13 to open training camp.
That’s an encouraging sign for two different reasons. On the one hand, it shows that the team is confident in their decisions and moves up to this point. By another token, it also shows that they have some difficult choices to make throughout the final week of the preseason.
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The Stars played four games in a six-day span through the first week of their preseason slate. They turned in a record of 2-2-0 and showed both strengths and weaknesses in their play.
Some of those strengths included resiliency in overtime on the second night of a back-to-back (which resulted in a 2-1 win against the Minnesota Wild on the road), a superb showing in the crease from the top five goaltenders in the organization, and an ability to win away from home and counter some challenging circumstances.
But they were also shut out in both of their losses (2-0 against St. Louis and 6-0 against Florida) and have yet to show any sort of offensive consistency. They have scored just four goals in four games and cannot seem to get the offensive wheels churning after finishing 28th in scoring in the 2018-19 season. Young and rookie forwards aren’t making a strong case through their play for an NHL roster spot and don’t seem determined enough to play in Dallas on a full-time basis this season.
So, there’s been plenty of pros and cons to sift through. The 2019-20 Dallas Stars are still trying to find an identity, and that’s okay; the preseason is meant for that.
But as the final week of the 2019 preseason calendar comes into focus and the Stars stare down their last three opponents (@ St. Louis on Tuesday, vs. Minnesota on Thursday, and vs. Colorado on Saturday), there’s a lot left to both take in and sort out.
Let’s take a look at some of those things for a moment as the team prepares for its final three dress rehearsals.
- Which forwards claim the final spots?
Of the 34 players still on the Dallas Stars roster, 20 of them are forwards. By the time opening night rolls around, there needs to be no more than 13 or 14 forwards remaining. That means Dallas has another substantial round of cutting to do.
Up to this point, we can assume that 11 forwards have already secured their spots on the opening night roster. That leaves 2-3 spots up for grabs for Nicholas Caamano, Ty Dellandrea, Justin Dowling, Rhett Gardner, Denis Gurianov, Joel Kiviranta, Joel L’Esperance, and Jason Robertson. So far, none of them have done anything on the ice to put themselves at the front of the race, which makes this final week of the preseason all the more interesting.
Will the Stars turn to NHL experience and use Dowling, Gurianov, or L’Esperance on opening night? Will Dellandrea or Robertson, two young OHL stars, crack the roster? What about Joel Kiviranta, one of their newest signings from Finland?
There’s a lot left to digest in the forwards department, and these three games provide those bubble players a chance to step up and solidify their spot. Caamano, Gardner, Robertson, Dellandrea, and Kiviranta will all play in St. Louis on Tuesday night.
- How will the offensive lineup look on opening night?
One of the other intriguing questions in regards to the offense is how the four lines will shape out by Oct. 3. In other words, who will be playing where in the Dallas offense?
Jim Montgomery has already tried a number of various line combinations through the first four games in an attempt to find lines that click. Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have been put on the first and second lines, Joe Pavelski has played center and right wing, the familiar third line of Andrew Cogliano, Radek Faksa, and Blake Comeau has been shifted around, and a number of young forwards have been granted an opportunity to play in the top six.
At this point, there seems to be a vast number of logical combinations that could help construct the opening night roster. Which of those combinations will win out? These next three games should help in answering that question.
- Can the Stars get into regular season mode?
It’s only the preseason.
This can be one of the most useful and misleading ideas used by NHL fans as their team fights through a 6-7 game preseason schedule. When things are going right, it’s a humbling reminder that the success doesn’t always translate to the regular season. When things aren’t going well, it can be a reminder that things won’t look that way when the full roster is intact and the games begin to count.
But through the first four games, the Dallas Stars have left a lot to be desired. Their offense has been shut out twice, has yet to score more than two goals in a game, and seems to still be stuck in the funk that plagued them throughout 2018-19. Their defense has given up an extensive number of scoring chances and shots on net (38.5 per game). And while the goaltending held strong through the first three contests in front of a shaky lineup, it collapsed on Saturday in a 6-0 routing against Florida.
For a team that faced high expectations going into training camp after a surprising playoff run in 2019 and a busy offseason centered around adding big names, this shaky start to the preseason was not expected. Then again, it is just the preseason and those expectations are still intact.
“Expectations are always high for every team going into a fresh season,” said Stars captain Jamie Benn on the first day of training camp. “With the additions that we made, we know what we have in this locker room this year. We know what we can do out there on the ice and we built some confidence last year even with the ending that we did have. We’ve learned from it and hopefully we can build off of that.”
The final week of the preseason gives the Dallas Stars three more chances to get into regular season mode and prepare for a tough October schedule.
- What about the defensive pairings?
After turning in its most successful performance over the past decade, the Dallas Stars blue line looks poised for a bright future. With one of the youngest groups in the NHL and a stock of talent headlined by John Klingberg, Miro Heiskanen, and Esa Lindell, there’s reason to believe that Dallas could be one of the best defensive teams in the League over the next few seasons.
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But how will the group look on opening night after parting with a handful of veterans over the summer?
While the top pairing of Lindell and Klingberg seems to be solidified after three seasons of working together and building chemistry, the bottom four could be pieced together any number of ways. The Stars signed Andrej Sekera on July 1 after the veteran was bought out by the Edmonton Oilers and expect him to play a big role on the blue line now that Stephen Johns is sidelined indefinitely. Does that mean Sekera skates on the second pairing alongside Miro Heiskanen? That seems to be an option?
“His intelligence and poise,” Montgomery said of Sekera’s play at training camp. “I’m watching him in the offensive zone and he’s so smart shooting the puck. He doesn’t shoot it all that hard, but it gets through and he just missed a couple of opportunities for screen tips or goals for himself. And then his communication on rush defense. He’s a very intelligent athlete and a very intelligent hockey player.”
What about Roman Polak and Jamie Oleksiak? Will the two form a shutdown third pairing centered around size and physicality? Or will Taylor Fedun or Joel Hanley crack the opening night roster and slide into one of the starting spots?
The defensive outlook is still up in the air, but these next three games should help sort things out in time for Oct. 3.
There’s a lot that the Dallas Stars must solve over the next nine days regarding their roster, lineup, and preparation for game one of the 2019-20 season. Many of those questions and challenges will be faced in the week ahead as the team wraps up its preseason journey.
But that’s what the preseason is all about.