While the NHL holds out hope for a potential return to play, the 2019-20 regular season has been logged in the record books. With a shortened season now officially over, let’s take a look at how the Dallas Stars finished up.
There has been no shortage of surprises and spontaneity with the 2019-20 Dallas Stars.
From a 1-7-1 start to a season brimming with promise and potential, to a 13-1-1 recovery, to the unexpected firing of head coach Jim Montgomery, to hosting an unforgettable 2020 Winter Classic, to a 9-2-2 run in February that morphed into an 0-4-2 losing streak, the list of in-season twists has been plentiful.
So when the NHL paused the 2019-20 regular season due to concerns regarding the coronavirus pandemic, it simply became another unexpected chapter in the Stars’ journey.
Over the past 11 weeks, there has been extensive time to ponder the many scenes that helped craft arguably the most intriguing Stars regular season in recent memory. We’ve been able to dig into how each one affected the team and assess how much of a role it played in the Stars’ push to an eventual spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
And now, the time has come to close the book (on the regular season, at least).
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman announced the NHL’s pursuit of a safe, sensible, and fair Return To Play Plan on May 26. The finalized format involves 24 teams returning to action, a Seeding Round Robin for the top four teams in each conference, a best-of-5 Qualifying Round for the other eight teams in the conference, and a Stanley Cup Playoffs layout (that is still unconfirmed) for the 16 teams left standing.
That means that the Dallas Stars, who finished with the fourth-highest points percentage in the NHL at the time of the pause, will earn an automatic bid into the First Round of the postseason. They will participate in the round-robin with the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights in an attempt to further determine seeding for the Western Conference portion of the playoff bracket.
Amidst all of the hype and hypotheticals, though, Bettman also noted that the 2019-20 NHL regular season was “deemed complete.”
In other words, for the sake of record-keeping and logging of this season, all player and team statistics are finalized. Games in the qualifying round and round-robin series are considered to be their own separate entity between the regular season and the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
So, the 2019-20 season was cut short by 11 to 14 games, depending on which team you ask. For the Stars, 13 games will be missing from the records when we look back on the 2019-20 season.
For the bottom seven teams, this plan means preparing for an extended offseason that unknowingly began on March 12 and could potentially run through as late as December. For the remaining 24, it means preparing to either fight their way into the Stanley Cup Playoffs or battling for seeding and getting back into a groove in time for the playoffs.
All of this still rests on the hope that the NHL can continue making progress and find a time to safely and securely resume play. That’s still a big if.
But as of now, we can at least reflect and ponder on the regular season. When it comes to the Dallas Stars, there’s plenty to unpack.
We could start by talking about how the Stars rebounded from a 1-7-1 start to post the fifth-best points percentage in the NHL (.652) from Oct. 29 – March 12. We could also look at the six-game winless streak (0-4-2) that carried the Stars into the pause and how it could have affected their playoff hopes had the season continued. There’s also a talk to be had about two different head coaches behind the bench during the season and the style and decisions that came with each one.
We can point out that the Stars finished in third-to-last in the NHL in goals scored (178 GF, 2.58 GF/GP) for the second consecutive season. We can then talk about how their offensive attack and scheme still leaves a lot to be desired and how their inability to fix their scoring inconsistencies is holding them back from reaching higher.
While pointing that out, however, you also have to highlight that they finished with the second-best goals against total for the second year in a row. Structure on defense and goaltending depth continue to serve as this team’s backbone and serve as the primary factors behind the Stars’ back-to-back playoff berths. How far will that backbone be able to carry them if there is a postseason this year? That’s an answer that will come with time.
But in addition to some of the team metrics, there is also a list of individual stats that help us draw some intriguing conclusions about the 2019-20 Dallas Stars.
While the 2018-19 season proved that the Dallas Stars were a Stanley Cup challenger, it also made it clear that their goaltending would be the horse that carried them to the finish line.
Bishop pieced together a Vezina-caliber season that saw him post the highest save percentage (.934) and second-lowest goals-against average (1.98) in addition to setting a new franchise record for longest consecutive shutout streak. He finished second in Vezina Trophy voting and was the primary catalyst in getting the Stars to Game 7 of the Second Round.
Khudobin had the best season by a Stars’ 1B/backup goaltender in over a decade, finishing with a .923 save percentage and 2.57 goals-against average.
But the momentum didn’t stop there. Through 69 games in the 2019-20 season, the duo was just as prominent and once again found a way to take over a number of games. Bishop posted a 21-16-4 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. That put him 10th overall in both statistical categories among NHL goaltenders with at least 23 games played.
And while both of those numbers fall short of his 2018-19 totals, he still played an instrumental role as the Stars’ 1A goaltender.
Khudobin, meanwhile, trended significantly upward. He finished with a record of 16-8-4, 2.22 goals-against average (third in NHL), and .930 save percentage (first in NHL). That League-high mark makes the Dallas Stars the first team to have one of its goalies lead the NHL in save percentage in consecutive seasons since the 2008-2011 Boston Bruins.
The 34-year-old solidified his spot atop the NHL’s goaltending ranks during a February stretch that saw him go 5-0-2 with a .934 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average.
The duo combined to allow 177 goals during the season, second only to the Boston Bruins (174), who won the William M. Jennings Trophy.
And while neither will likely win the Vezina Trophy for the 2019-20 season, we could very well see both Bishop and Khudobin finish in the top 10 in voting. That in and of itself is a noteworthy achievement for any goaltending tandem and should provide a decisive edge in a different and unique 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Sitting alongside the goaltending tandem atop the list is Denis Gurianov with his team-leading 20 goals.
It wasn’t long ago that Gurianov was serving as a healthy scratch for the Texas Stars in the middle of the 2018 Calder Cup Finals and his future of being an NHL asset seemed foggier than ever. He looked stranded on the defensive side of the puck and seemed somewhat underdeveloped in terms of hockey sense.
After a 21-game showing in 2018-19 that included one goal and four points, the 2019-20 season looked to be a critical fork in the road in regards to Gurianov’s NHL future. Would the 12th overall pick from the 2015 NHL Draft become an NHL mainstay or once again miss out on the opportunity?
It didn’t start on a promising note. After committing a handful of errors on defense through the first three games of the year, he was scratched in the following two games before being reassigned to the AHL on Oct. 11.
His AHL stay was a relatively short one, though, as he scored a hat trick in his first game in Cedar Park and was back in the NHL for the Stars’ game against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Oct. 16.
The rookie has since become a scoring machine of sorts, registering 20 goals in 64 games. That’s the most by any Dallas Stars player this season and the third-most by a rookie since the franchise moved to Dallas, with only Jamie Benn (22) and James Neal (24) ahead of him. It also tied him for second-most among NHL rookies this season.
It’s disappointing that Gurianov didn’t get to play the final 13 games on the schedule, because he very well could have set a new high mark for Dallas Stars rookies.
And because of that efficiency in goal scoring, the topic of discussion surrounding Gurianov for most of the year was his lack of ice time. The 23-year-old finished 11th among forwards and 19th among skaters with an average of 12 minutes, 59 seconds per game. The only forward that played in more than 30 games and skated less on average than Gurianov was Andrew Cogliano at 12:28.
Whether his lack of ice time was due to short shifts (he averaged 41 seconds per shift), not being on the penalty kill units (the Stars averaged the ninth-most times shorthanded per game in the NHL), or his lack of creating scoring chances for teammates (he finished the season 10th among forwards with nine assists), it’s clear that the Dallas Stars greatly benefit in their weakest area when Gurianov is on the ice.
Mixing his impressive speed and stride with an accurate and quick shot makes Gurianov a threat whenever he has the puck. He’s good in transition and on the rush. He has transformed himself from fringe starting forward to legitimate top-six option in a matter of 61 games and is once again brimming with first-round potential.
If the NHL does resume play, it will be interesting to see how Gurianov is deployed and used throughout the lineup in his first Stanley Cup Playoffs appearance.
In terms of other team offense, the Stars were a bit of a mixed bag. The goal race was tight and heated for most of the shortened season, with the top six scorers finishing within six goals.
Roope Hintz was in the thick of that race.
The 23-year-old created impressive potential for himself during the tail end of his rookie campaign in 2018-19. That potential was capped by an eight-point performance (five goals, three assists) in 13 postseason games. From there, the door was wide open for Hintz to grow into another top-six scoring threat for the Stars.
And from the opening puck drop of the 2019-20 season, he wasted no time capitalizing on it. Hintz scored the first Dallas Stars goal of the season and was the team’s primary source of offense through the first 10 games with six goals. He finished the season with 19 in 60 games. In addition, he posted the highest shooting percentage (15.8 percent) by a Stars player with at least 20 GP since Jamie Benn’s 16.6 percent in 2015-16.
While the 2019-20 season primarily showcased the Stars’ continued strength in the crease, it also highlighted the opportunity that Hintz and Gurianov have to become the Stars’ “one-two” scoring punch down the road.
In terms of points, Tyler Seguin led the way with 50 (17 goals, 33 assists). He was on track for his lowest season points total since joining the Stars in 2013-14, though a large part of that reduction was due to a 17-game goal drought that carried from Dec. 29 into the middle of February. Only three of his goals came on the power play, which was a sharp contrast when compared to his other season totals on the man advantage during his in Dallas.
Still, he managed to lead a team starved for offense in both assists and points and was the only player to surpass the 40-point mark for the year.
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Speaking of the power play, John Klingberg had another efficient year when playing on the man advantage. He led the team with 17 power play points (two goals, 15 assists), which helped make up over half of his 32 total points on the season.
Miro Heiskanen led the charge in team plus/minus with a plus-14 that canceled out the minus-14 from his rookie season. In addition, his 35 points (eight goals, 27 assists) were two higher than the 33 (12 goals, 19 assists) that he posted in an 82-game season in 2018-19. He was on the ice more (and led the team in average time on ice at 23 minutes, 46 seconds), had better possession numbers, and contributed in a more significant way in the both the offensive and defensive zones. The sky is still the limit for No. 4.
Stephen Johns returned after spending nearly two years away from NHL action while dealing with post-traumatic headaches. He made his season debut on Jan. 18 and managed to make a quick impact on an already-stocked Dallas blue line. Johns finished the season with five points (two goals, three assists), 50 hits, 20 blocked shots, and an average ice time of 17 minutes, 40 seconds in 17 games.
In terms of games played, Seguin, Jamie Benn, Esa Lindell, and Jamie Oleksiak all finished the year without missing a game. While it’s an impressive feat for any player to compete in every game in a season, it’s even more impressive for Oleksiak, who played a quiet, yet effective role on the Dallas blue line and maintained his spot in a constantly shuffling lineup.
Benn’s rough, physical style once again shone through as he led the way in the hits department with 167. Lindell blocked a team-high 127 shots, 33 more than the next closest player (Roman Polak). Seguin was particularly dominant in the face-off dot, posting a career-high win percentage of 58.2 percent.
All in all, the Dallas Stars were a particularly unique study during the 2019-20 season. From impressive individual player statistics, to all of storylines woven and endured by the team, there was a lot to unpack in the shortened season.
And if the regular season tells us anything, it’s that a potential run through the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs should have no shortage of fireworks.