Kari Lehtonen and Jamie Benn have both been with the Dallas Stars since the 2009-10 season. (Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images)
THN’s PRE-SEASON PREDICTION: Fourth in Central Division.
2013: 22-22-4. 11th in West.
KEY DEPARTURES: Eric Nystrom, Philip Larsen, Matt Fraser, Joe Morrow, Loui Eriksson, Tom Wandell.
KEY ADDITIONS: Dan Ellis, Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin, Sergei Gonchar.
THN’s TOP PROJECTED SCORERS: Tyler Seguin (70), Ray Whitney (65), Jamie Benn (57).
PROS: Tyler Seguin (from right wing to center) and Jamie Benn (from center to left wing) are both moving back to their natural positions, which should spark improvement. In fact, a complete redesign down the middle should be an improvement over last year’s club. The Seguin-Rich Peverley-Shawn Horcoff trio of pivots complements each other nicely: a young first-liner with superstar potential, a capable secondary producer (though perhaps the weak link) and an experienced checker and penalty-killer. Most of the wingers they’ll be playing with were part of the 11th-best offense last season led by Benn and 41-year-old Ray Whitney, who has remained productive. And if it isn’t a known commodity on the wing, it’s full of potential, such as No. 10 overall pick Valeri Nichushkin, who slipped in the draft because of The Russian Factor. If Nichushkin doesn’t make the Stars this year, he’ll go back to Russia rather than play in the American League, so Dallas will be inclined to keep him. Defense is Dallas’ biggest concern, but Sergei Gonchar was acquired to help the team’s puck possession game – a worthy investment, as there’s some familiarity with ex-Pen Alex Goligoski. Dallas ranked 22nd in shots-against last season, but Kari Lehtonen was a nice safety net, posting a .916 SP. He’s not going to lead the league, but he’s just what the Stars need - as long as he's healthy.
CONS: For all the rave reviews over GM Jim Nill’s blockbuster trades, not enough attention was paid to the middling defense corps. Stephane Robidas will be 37 by the time the season is over and Trevor Daley has peaked as a second-pair, defense-first guy. Brenden Dillon had a strong rookie year and Kevin Connauton or Jamie Oleksiak could break the roster this season – but are those guys going to improve the blueline enough to push them into the playoffs? In net, Dan Ellis was brought in to back up Lehtonen, but he’s far from a safe pickup. Though Ellis has been effective in the past, Carolina’s season took a sharp downturn last season after Cam Ward got injured and the team had to lean on Ellis. Finally, while Seguin brings loads of mouth-watering potential and could score 70 or 80 points, Loui Eriksson did bring 70 points consistently, which cannot be overlooked.
X-FACTOR: Since the defense wasn’t improved, the forward unit has to come together as fast as possible and start scoring right away to make up for it. Scoring could either be a major strength or a glaring weakness. Will Whitney start slowing down? Will Seguin reach his potential? Will Benn miss Eriksson? Is Peverley going to pull his weight on the second line? Lots of questions - no answers, yet. We have Dallas missing the playoffs with Edmonton squeezing in as a crossover seed.
PERIPHERAL PREDICTION: The “Thank You Kessel” chant migrates south for the winter, if only for one game, since the two will forever be tied.
CENTRAL NO. 4: DALLAS STARS