The Dallas Stars scored goals. Not the most goals in the NHL, but they still scored goals... a lot of goals. Is there any other way to describe their year positively? Probably not, but I wanted to lead with something positive about this season for these guys, because they were damn exciting to watch.
Okay, now for the flip side... even though they were 2nd in the league in goals for, they were 26th overall in the league in goals against, allowing one less goal than they scored all year. I dare to say, when they won big, they did that well, but when they lost big... yeah.
The Stars still finished 7 points out of a wild card spot in the West, not exactly bringing it down to the wire, but they were keeping it interesting for most of the way down the stretch. Their consistency was certainly a big issue in the 2015 season and that's what cost them the most. They couldn't produce the offense every night and they were not exactly designed to play lock down hockey.
According to hockeydb.com, the Stars kept a reasonably full building, so I think that's a pretty good indication about how exciting these guys were, even though they were a 0.561 point percentage team in the standings.
The measure of the Stars expectations through the hockey pool were not too far out of bounds, rather there were some picks this year that came to look really good, including a couple top end forwards in the 1st round, their number one goalie in the 2nd round, their hired help down the middle in the 3rd round and then various other scorers taken through the draft. The Waiver Draft also brought a player or two in, one helping to lead the way for rookie scoring among pool teams. All in all, the Stars finished with the pool touching 12 players on their end of season roster, including two players that were dropped to injury.
Maybe one of the biggest surprises at the end of the year was the Art Ross Trophy winner, Dallas' Jamie Benn, who finished just ahead of John Tavares on Long Island and Sidney Crosby in Pittsburgh, finishing tops among all the skaters with 35 goals and 87 points in all 82 games for the Stars and that was good enough for 7th overall in pool scoring, thanks to the year of the goalie. Benn had a couple of Player of the Week nods in the regular season, including the last week of the season, where he clinched the Art Ross and was definitely deserving of the honour, given the consistency of his offense.
The Stars had some scoring, but it didn't run too deep. Beyond Benn, they only had four other forwards that would have been pool worthy this year, although one of them was also in the top 10 in forward scoring, Tyler Seguin, who had 77 points in 71 games. He, too, could have been in the Art Ross race, minus some injury concerns. Also in the mix, Jason Spezza, Cody Eakin and Ales Hemsky, all finishing in the top-184 in forwards scoring this season. Each of them brought their own sort of flair to the Stars lineup, but none of it really screamed... two-way game.
If you were looking for offense from the blueline, Dallas was an okay place to go, as they finished with four rearguards in the pool worthiness conversation. Rookie John Klingberg led the way, scoring 11 goals and 40 points in 65 games this year. Veterans Trevor Daley (38 points), Alex Goligoski (36 points) and Jason Demers (25 points), all followed suit this season, but none really wanted to lead the way.
Kari Lehtonen was a horse again for the Stars this season, finishing 8th in goalie minutes played this season, but the team in front of him couldn't help him get any higher in terms of points, as he finished 9th among keepers with 34 wins and 81 points, still a pretty damn good year. Once the Stars had conceded defeat, they did play deadline pick-up, Jhonas Enroth, a few times and he improved to 31st among goalies, with 18 wins and 40 points between Buffalo and Dallas.
2016 Pool Outlook
Looking at the build of the Stars to this point, before the off-season really starts, they don't look like they'll be too much different from this year to next year, as the core group of scoring forwards and defensemen are still going to be around, the goaltending looks to be okay, so they will be a team that puts up points next season and as a poolie, that's what you want to know. If you're a fan looking forward at this team, there could be a few tweaks needed to help this team move forward up the standings and into the playoff race.
The Stars have lots of potential rookies waiting in the wings with contracts in hand, looking to unseat some of the veterans or just take some of the vacancies that may be left open, thanks to a very poor free agency period coming up. The Stars have three previous 1st round picks sitting in wait, 2012's Radek Faksa, 2013's Jason Dickinson and 2014's Julius Honka, all possibly licking their chops, wanting their shot. This team is not short on youth, it will just be a matter of who steps up at camp and I think it's worth your while to keep your eye out on these guys, just before you set your projections.
Free Agency and the Salary Cap
The headlining free agent for the Stars is their likely rental goalie, Jhonas Enroth, who is heading to unrestricted free agency with some okay experience in hand. Goalies will be hard to come by and even though there isn't a lot out there, someone may be looking to take a chance on Enroth.
Other UFA's going this year include: forwards Shawn Horcoff and Patrick Eaves, while defensemen Jyrki Jokipakka and Jamie Oleksiak headline the RFA class for the Stars. This could be a very boring Summer for the Stars, unless they make a huge trade to really spark the organization.
I currently have the Stars in with 41 contracts in hand, all of which are posted online, and in those deals, they come in at $70.9 million, just a shade under the projected ceiling that I have been toying with already in these posts. The Stars will have to cut 18 players from this to make their active roster, so both the roster and the cap ceiling shouldn't be a problem.
Needs at the 2015 Entry Draft
Very few teams go into the Entry Draft looking for a defensive defenseman, something that the Stars need in spades. I would think that if the cards fell properly, they could find a very good all-around defenseman, who could carry the load in both ends and then hope they could find an anchor for their blueline through free agency. With that being said, a 6'5" defender would be a very promising fit, even if he hasn't filled out straight away. Brandon Carlo from the Tri-City Americans in the WHL has been scouted as having good speed and agility for his size, something that could make a very good shutdown defender and a pillar to build the defense around.
What I Said Last Year, At This Time...
With already covering Vancouver, Nashville and Arizona through these Pool Outlooks, it really goes to show how tight the Western Conference is and if one of those teams is going to make a push for a playoff spot, it is going to make Dallas' chances of making it again that much slimmer. With the number of pieces that the Stars need, it wouldn't surprise me if they fell out of the playoff picture, narrowly missing out, but not without a glorious fight. The Stars are going to score some goals, but their defense still looks a bit suspect on paper, which could be the last nail in the coffin, come the end of the regular season. The Stars could improve at the position in the off-season, but there isn't much to be had, so I find it unlikely that they can improve enough to fend off another desperate team.
When you're right, you're right. The Dallas Stars were spectacular in their efforts this season, but thanks to some spotty defense and some suspect goaltending early on, the Stars fell short of the playoffs and being this late in the pool outlooks, you can tell that they didn't miss by too much. Vancouver made it, Nashville was exceptional, but Arizona fell flat, nevertheless, the West was very desperate and the Stars were not desperate enough. If last season was tough to find quality defenders, you can only imagine how hard it is going to be this Summer.
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!