As NHL teams are officially eliminated from Stanley Cup contention, theScore NHL freelance writer Katie Brown looks back at the highs and lows of their seasons, along with the biggest questions ahead of 2018-19. The 13th edition focuses on the Dallas Stars.
Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, and Alexander Radulov. Seguin hit 40 goals for the first time in his career, while his 78 points were second best on the team. Benn finished off the season on a high note with two hat tricks and seven points in three games, narrowly edging out Seguin for the team lead with 79 points. And when the Stars signed Radulov, some weren't sure how things would pan out. But it's safe to say he put any doubts to rest by setting career highs in goals (27) and points (72).
Hitch’s milestone. Ken Hitchcock celebrated becoming the third-winningest coach of all time this season, passing Al Arbour and ultimately finishing the campaign with 823 career victories to date. He’s also the winningest coach in Stars history. Hitchcock was hired in April 2017 for his second stint with the team a few months after being fired as coach of the St. Louis Blues. He also got his start as an NHL head coach with the Stars back in 1996.
Top-10 defense. The Stars boasted the sixth-best defense in the NHL with 222 goals allowed, no doubt a product of Hitchcock's defensively minded system. Within that system, defenseman John Klingberg has thrived and improved in all areas of the ice. His 67 points were fourth most on the team and he was in the Norris Trophy conversation up until the team's late losing streak.
That late-season losing skid. Any playoff hopes were extinguished in late March during a disastrous 0-4-2 road trip. The Stars then dropped their next two at home, and though they finished the season 4-2-0, it was too little, too late.
Injury trouble. Sidelined by an ankle injury for the majority of training camp, Martin Hanzal was later plagued by hand, back, and hip problems throughout the season and eventually had spinal fusion surgery in March. Marc Methot’s knee pain led to midseason surgery, and he spent the rest of his campaign playing catch-up while appearing in just 36 total contests. However, the one that hurt the Stars the most was probably goalie Ben Bishop's knee injury in March. Bishop sat out five games, got hurt again in his first game back, and then didn't play again for the rest of the season. Without Bishop, the Stars went 2-8-1 and any hopes of the playoffs were dashed.
Deadline inactivity. General manager Jim Nill's decision to not make any moves at the trade deadline might have ended up fine if Hanzal hadn’t been shut down for the season soon after. The Stars were 29th in goal-scoring following the deadline, and probably could have used a boost to aid their playoff push.
What really needs to be fixed? This is not a team that's in need of a total rebuild. This season, it was less about the personnel and more about how those pieces worked together - sometimes very well and other times not well at all. Establishing an identity would go a long way for the Stars when the new season starts next fall.
Adding a backup goaltender should also be on the list, since Kari Lehtonen’s contract is up this summer and it's unlikely he’ll be back. It also might be prudent to look for a backup who could shoulder a starter's load if Bishop has injury trouble again. Meanwhile, Nill might look to part ways with Jason Spezza through either a buyout or a trade and pick up a No. 2 center via free agency.
What will Seguin’s next contract look like? Though Seguin's contract isn’t up until 2019-20, his next deal is a hot topic, as he's in a position to command a significant raise (think somewhere in the $10-million-per-year range). Right now, it seems Seguin is happy in Dallas and isn’t thinking of going anywhere else, but it certainly bears watching. The direction taken by the organization this summer might have an effect on his plans.
Does Hitchcock stay? The Stars' defense improved dramatically and Seguin's two-way game grew leaps and bounds under Hitchcock. But the inability to find offense is what doomed the Stars down the stretch. There's a clause in Hitchcock's contract that would allow him to move into an advisor's position at his discretion. Is that something management would consider?
(Photos courtesy: Getty Images)