The image of Jamie Benn coming inches away from eliminating the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 is going to be one that sticks in the minds of fans for a long time. A
As the 2019-20(!) season approaches, the Stars being inches away from eliminating the eventual Stanley Cup winners is being used to take the measure of the state of the franchise. Logically, they must be mere inches away from being a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, right?
Let’s take as much bias as we can out of this for the moment by doing some simple math using Evolving-Hockey’s Goals Above Replacement. GAR, as it is more colloquially known, measures how many goals players and teams are above replacement level. Is it more complicated than that? Sure, but for our purposes here that definition will work. Big numbers good, small numbers bad. Me take rock, make wheel, life made easy. You get the idea.
The Stars were 10th overall in GAR: Good!
At even strength, Stars skaters were 21st: Bad!
On the powerplay, 8th. Shorthanded, 12th: Solid!
GAR from penalties placed the Stars at 29th: ðŸ˜¢!
Stars goalies were 2nd in the league behind only the Islanders: Elite!
The Stars got elite goaltending with quality special teams while praying for the Lord above to help them at even strength. Sounds about right, eh? This tenuous statistical grip on a playoff spot is one that needed significant reinforcements this offseason. The only area for real meaningful growth the Stars had was at even strength.
So, what did the Stars do about it? They purged a decent amount of the negative contributors. This is the list of players who will not be back with the Stars, or who should expect to see diminished roles given reasonable health from the Stars regulars.
Removing the ice time of this group significantly bumps the Stars at even strength at the expense of a little bit of powerplay thump. Julius Honka and Valeri Nichushkin will be missed for different reasons. Honka for his value at even strength despite the occasional odd mistake, and Nichushkin for his ability to get the Stars net positive powerplay chances.
In addition to the subtractions the Stars added Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry, and Andrej Sekera to the mix. A healthy Stephen Johns would count as another addition. Let us assume perfect health for the Stars’ 20 regular skaters and project how the lineup would look over a full season based mostly on last year’s production prorated.
(I didn’t count Perry or Gurianov in the final totals because if either actually play that poorly, they aren’t going to get enough minutes to sink the Stars that badly.)
Many questions exist about this lineup, but as it stands they have a chance to put up some heavy GAR totals. A score of 100 would make them a top ten skater group. That total will almost certainly come down when the depth gets tested as season-long attrition sets in. Players like Justin Dowling and Taylor Fedun helped the Stars stay afloat in 2019. The Stars will need them to do it again, but hopefully over shorter stretches of time.
The blue line is a significant wild card. If Johns and Sekera are healthy they improve the corps quite a bit. I used the two full seasons for Johns at the NHL level for the projections. I skipped over Sekera’s 2018 season for the purposes of this as he was coming back from an ACL injury, and he was clearly not himself. Both can be big positives. If either is out, they will be replaced by Roman Polak, if he isn’t already in the opening lineup. Over an 82 game swing, one of those two swapped with Polak is a deficit of about ten goals. This would not be ideal.
Questions are abundant about what the Stars will get from the forward group. Will Roope Hintz and/or Gurianov step forward to provide more positive production? What, if anything, will the Stars get from Perry? Can Pavelski be a significant weapon on the Stars’ powerplay, and can he provide good value when his shooting percentage falls back in line with the rest of his career?
Not to mention that there is virtually no way injuries stay away. At some point the depth will be tested. This is the one area I have fewer concerns. The Stars have many guys on the cusp who could make an impact down the lineup. If they have to play more often in the event of an injury to a key forward, can any of those guys provide enough of a boost to keep the Stars hanging in there?
The biggest question of all, and one that gives me the most pause, is what happens if Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin come back to the goalie pack? Both performed well above expectations a season ago, including an almost historic performance from Bishop. I don’t think you can reasonably expect Bishop to do that again. If the Stars lose ground in goaltending, how much of the gains they appear poised to make with their skater group will be wiped out?
Benn being so close to keeping the Blues from the Stanley Cup has almost nothing to do with anything that is going to take place this year. Looking at things objectively, the Stars have a chance to be a decent club. We know they’re likely to get good goaltending. For once the questions are mostly somewhat positive. At the worst they’re a likely playoff team, but if they get some bonus production from some of the question mark spots in the lineup, perhaps they could be a bit better than that.