Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Pool Outlook for Dallas

The Dallas Stars in 2016 were out to use their overpowering offense, night in and night out, hoping that it would be enough to act as scare tactics for when they came across an actual challenge.

The Stars scored a lot of goals in the regular season, the most among all 30 teams in the league, but they also ranked 20th in the league in goals against, so there was a lot of give, but there was a lot of take too, which isn't a great sign for a playoff-bound team.

Being the top seed in the conference certainly has its perks, being given home-ice advantage against the least-capable (in theory) team on your side of the bracket to start with and they indeed took advantage of that fact.  But after dispatching the Minnesota Wild in six games, which wasn't necessarily an easy feat, things got real tough and their second round opponents, the St. Louis Blues, were not scared.  The Stars and Blues played a hard-hitting, heavyweight title-like series, but the Blues were better built for the playoffs than the Stars and that's what eventually paid off in the end.

It's been an awfully long time since a purely offensive team has come out and shot the lights out to win a title and that's what the Stars were trying to do.  Their defense had their holes, they had a win and you continue mentality in their crease between two goalies and they didn't look prepared to grind anything out on the ice.

There's no question that it would be awfully exciting to see a team offensively dominate their way to a title, but in this day and age, that only happens in the All-Star Game format and even then, nobody really cares.

Let's not forget, when it comes to the hockey pool, regular season scoring and successes mean everything and that's what we're here to do in the end.  At the draft this year, it was somewhat telling, as the Stars had two 1st round picks, two 2nd round picks and a 3rd, but it was not very deep and it quickly became few and far between after the fact, as only 12 players were taken and that's below average for teams this year.  The pool caught on to their scoring ways, picking up two at the first Waiver Draft, but two were dropped to only one pick in Week Eighteen.  The Stars made some moves and picked up a player at the deadline, which made their final tally of 15 players on active rosters, but their offense was pretty limited to those top guys.

Jamie Benn certainly proved that he wasn't the quickest flash in the pan, posting another solid season in 2016, leading the Stars with 41 goals and 89 points, playing in all 82 games.  That was a season good enough to be 4th overall in points and 2nd among all forwards in scoring and his stock may yet rise again, since he was taken 18th overall at the draft.  Do you believe him now?

When it was all said and done, the Stars finished with 16 pool worthy players on their list, all of which spent some time in the pool, if they weren't dropped midway through.  Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Cody Eakin, Mattias Janmark, Antoine Roussel and Valeri Nichushkin were all worthy from the forward position, offering up lots of options in every race.  Their defense was also quite impressive, with John Klingberg, Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers, Johnny Oduya and Kris Russell all finishing on the list in victory green.

The goalie situation for the Stars did make it hard on poolies this year, as both Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi both of have the chops for the number one job and the minutes it comes with, but the team opted to platoon them and those 2nd round picks in the draft, turned into 4th round picks in the final rankings.

What I Said Last Year, At This Time...

Do I dare use the definition of insanity at this point?  No.  Too cliche.  Nevertheless, the thought has some merit though, as the Stars have so many players from this 2015 team signed on for 2016 and it isn't like they are playing with a lot of room going into this off-season.  They have loaded up on youth and their contract totals suggest that.  You move a lot of those contracts to the minors and what do you have?  A pared down version of last year's team.  Unlike a team like the Panthers, where they are growing through their mistakes, the Stars have a cast of characters that I would describe (from the outside looking in) as arrogant.  I think in that arrogance, this team is destined to repeat itself, unless a major deal is swung and then we can sit down and reassess what they can do.  Until then... so close!

I was sure hard on the Stars at this point last year, but that might be because I don't really believe in how this team is built.  That's just a personal opinion.  The Stars did make a couple of big deals in the off-season, both of which did seem to help them through the regular season, adding both Sharp and Niemi, really did put them over the hump in the Central, but that, of course, was only a regular season solution.  They tried to make some more deals for proper defense at the deadline, but the one they made didn't pan out and they were left out in the cold after the second round.

2017 Pool Outlook

Forwards Cap Defense Cap Goalies Cap
Jason Spezza 7.500 John Klingberg 4.250 Kari Lehtonen 5.900
Patrick Sharp 5.900 Johnny Oduya 3.750 Antti Niemi 4.500
Tyler Seguin 5.750
Jamie Benn 5.250
Ales Hemsky 4.000
Cody Eakin 3.850
Antoine Roussel 2.000
MattIas Janmark 0.734
Jason Dickinson 0.925 Julius Honka 0.925 Philippe Desrosiers 0.684
Denis Gurianov 0.925 Patrik Nemeth 0.900 Henri Kiviaho 0.612
Devin Shore 0.870 Ludwig Bystrom 0.775
Radek Faksa 0.863 Esa Lindell 0.746
Remi Elie 0.776 Niklas Hansson 0.746
Cole Ully 0.700 Stephen Johns 0.725
Curtis McKenzie 0.675 Chris Martenet 0.703
Gemel Smith 0.645
Branden Troock 0.637
Brendan Ranford 0.610
Travis Morin 0.575

Be sure you're managing your expectations of this team properly.  The players on top were pool worthy players in 2016, but they put a lot of teams on notice that they can score, but that doesn't always mean they're going to win.  I think in a lot of cases, you can feel really confident picking from most of those players who are signed on for 2017, but there are a couple names that may have rode some coat tails to get there and they'd be better off as Waiver Draft pick-ups.  Just saying.

There are jobs to be had on this Stars blueline and their system has a couple of guys that could vie for these jobs as rookies next season, making them ones to watch.  Both Esa Lindell and Julius Honka were playing with the AHL affiliate in 2016 and Lindell did make his NHL debut as well, playing in four games.  Both are skilled Finns, who should be able to play in the offensive system that Dallas has set up for themselves, but you would probably only see one or both of them, if they were to add some real shutdown guys to play with them.

Needs at the 2016 Entry Draft

How about someone that plays defense?  Generally, teams are going to want talent at both ends of the ice, if you're taking them in the 1st round or at the very least is very talented at the offensive end and you let his defensive game blossom over time.  Why not take from the factory in Kelowna, if you're looking at the defensemen?  Lucas Johansen has a bit of everything in his game, including a bit of size and could be a fine fit in the Dallas system down the road, assuming everything stays the same.

Free Agency and the Salary Cap

The art of free agency could really be the friend of the Dallas Stars in this off-season or it could be a very cruel enemy.  Three of those pool worthy defenders on their list are going to the open market on July 1st, if nothing is done about it and you have to think that Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and/or Kris Russell are going to be looking to fetch some reasonable numbers and they could price themselves out of the Stars picture.  How the team chooses to address this issue on the blueline will tell the story of their Summer and will translate heavily on their 2017 season.

It's very much less so in the restricted group, as Valeri Nichushkin is the highlight there and he didn't have a highlight season in 2016, which is a huge benefit to the Stars, who could bridge his deal and have a bit more money to play with for bigger priorities.

What are the Stars playing with this Summer?  Well, their high-paid players already signed on are pool worthy, so that's good news.  Those 12 guys are coming in at $53.4 million, which is a good number, considering what's left to do.  They will have to fill their blueline up, but they can use their youthful depth to fill in a few more of those gaps, so they should have some money to play with, when they go shopping this Summer.  Last year's cap ceiling was $71.4 million and that means they have about $18 million in space, if it was to stay the same.  Not bad for 9-to-11 gaps to be filled.

I don't believe that this team has the leadership core that teams need in this NHL to succeed and that will be their Achilles heel until that problem is solved.  One may have thought it would have been solved by the acquisition of Sharp, but he adds scoring to a team that had a lot to begin with, it wasn't like they were adding a Jonathan Toews or a Patrice Bergeron, who are bonafide leaders in this NHL today.  Benn, Seguin and Spezza are all talented players, they'll score many goals in the regular season, but they are in desperate need of real help at the leadership position.  Solve that and the Stars will be a team worth talking about in the playoffs.  For the hockey pool though, do continue to look favourably on their side for your picks.  They have scoring talent and that's what you want.
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