As American Thanksgiving and the holiday season are upon us, PHR is taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2022-23. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We’ll examine what’s gone well in the early going and what could improve as the season rolls on for the Dallas Stars.
Who are the Stars thankful for?
Dallas Stars GM Jim Nill has taken his fair share of criticism in his nearly 10-year tenure as GM of the Dallas Stars, with a good deal of that criticism coming lately. He signed the injury-prone Tyler Seguin to along-term, big money deal, as well as the (formerly) struggling Jamie Benn to the same. He established what was supposed to be a lockdown goaltending due of Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin, neither of whom worked out for the most part. And, he failed to re-sign or trade defenseman John Klingberg, who left in free agency. All fair criticisms, however the veteran executive is getting rebound performances from both of those forwards, managed to replace that goaltending duo with young superstar Jake Oettinger and capable backup Scott Wedgewood, and sure Klingberg is gone, but that has allowed Miro Heiskanen to flourish.
Looking back on recent Stars history, the team has missed the playoffs just once since the start of the 2018-19 season, which came in the shortened 2020-21 season, made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, and have transitioned an already terrific core of Benn, Seguin, and Klingberg into a core of Oettinger, Heiskanen, and Hart Trophy contender Jason Robertson, featuring those other names, all of this coming under Nill’s watch. Not only does the team now have a young, controllable core leading the way, but they boast some of the best prospects in the league with rookie Wyatt Johnston leading the way along with Logan Stankoven, Mavrik Bourque and others.
Finally, Nill hired head coach Jim Montgomery, who was let go after off-ice issues. Still, Montgomery was considered to be among the best coaches in the league, and losing him put Dallas in a tough situation. Nill was able to replace him with Rick Bowness, who helped bring the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. With the awareness that Bowness may not be the right fit anymore, Nill moved on and hired Peter DeBoer this offseason, who as of this afternoon, has Dallas fifth in the NHL in points.
The ultimate goal for any executive is to get the team at least one Stanley Cup, and Nill has yet to deliver. However, he’s been able to create long-term stability already, with apparently much more to come considering the strong veteran contribution, the talented young core, and the top notch prospects waiting to make their mark.
What are the Stars thankful for?
Rebounds from Seguin and Benn
$19, 350,00.00. That’s the combined cap-hit between both Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. It’s a hefty number, but certainly worthwhile for a pair of superstar players any day. But, if one or both of those players is hurt, or struggles, that number doesn’t look so rosy.
For Seguin, he played in just three games in the 2020-21 season, and tallied 50 points and 49 points respectively in the 2019-20 and 2021-22 seasons. A 50 point season is far from poor, but for a player like Seguin, who had been a regular point-per-game player or close in his career, commanding a $9.85MM cap hit, that may not cut it. This season however, Seguin has begun to turn things around, playing in all 20 of the Stars’ games this season, recording 16 points. That’s not necessarily the prime Seguin point-production Dallas had signed up for, but is a strong tick up from the prior three seasons.
Seguin’s rebound is promising, especially given his injury issues in the past, but the new-found superstardom from Benn has served to propel the team up the standings this year. Once an Art Ross winner, Benn was a consistent point-per-game, physical forward for Dallas. The team signed Benn to an eight-year, $76MM deal starting in the 2017-18 season. The veteran turned in a 79 point campaign that year, but hasn’t repeated that production since. This season, however, Benn’s return to his previous ways, scoring nine goals to go with 13 assists in just 20 games thus far.
The season is still early and whether either player’s production is sustainable over 82 games, or the remainder of their contracts, is difficult to predict. But, coming into this season, it appeared the Stars were resolved to appreciate whatever they could get from the pair, while relying on players like Robertson, Heiskanen, Joe Pavelski, and Roope Hintz for the bulk of their offense. Getting the value back from the two players is not only important, but the simple boost in production from both has appeared to turn the Stars from a solid team to an elite one.
What would the Stars be even more thankful for?
A breakout performance from Denis Gurianov
This year, Gurianov has been, in a word, streaky. The forward began the year without a point in his first nine games, but has since turned in four points in his last five games. The twelfth overall pick in the 2015 NHL draft, Gurianov has not lived up the ceiling that Stars hoped for when they drafted him.
Supposed to be an elite point-producer, Gurianov’s best season came in the shortened 2020-21 season, where he had 30 points in 55 games. Now 25, Gurianov’s play has certainly not been terrible, but his production has been frustratingly light given his potential, and at times non-existent. It could very well be time for the Stars to move on from him, but one recent event may have left them feeling burned. That recent event was the breakout of Valeri Nichushkin.
Dallas took Nichushkin 10th overall in 2013, and much like Gurianov, the winger was just about fine, just not what the Stars had hoped for. After three seasons, Nichushkin returned to Russia, but came back to Dallas for the 2018-19 campaign, where he had just 10 points, all assists, in 57 games. After that, Dallas opted to move on, and Nichushkin settled with the Colorado Avalanche, where he had much of the same solid, but not great, production. Last year, however, Nichushkin broke out with 52 points in 62 games, receiving Selke votes en route to a Stanley Cup Championship, one he played a major role in.
Given their experience with Nichushkin, it’s understandable why the Stars might not want to move on from Gurianov just yet. Still, the team has plenty of young talent and only so many roster spots to go around. With the large cap hits being held by players like Benn and Seguin, and the need for long-term contracts for Robertson and Oettinger in a couple years, they’ll also need every dollar of cap space they can get. If Gurianov proves he’s replaceable at a lower cost, Dallas may just have to go down that road.
What should be on the Stars holiday wishlist?
A trade partner for Anton Khudobin
At the moment, with no imminent needs or holes in their lineup, the Stars can be patient with finding a suitor for veteran goaltender Anton Khudobin, who is currently buried in the AHL. The goaltender was once one of the more important players on the Stars roster, leading the team in net during the run to the Cup Finals back in the bubble season. That performance earned him a three-year, $10MM contract. However, after injury and poor performance, and the team needing to save as much as they can on their cap hit, the team chose to bury him in the AHL. There, his $3.333MM cap hit is reduced by $1.125MM, reflecting a $2.208MM figure.
Khudobin has been good enough with the Texas Stars, Dallas’ AHL affiliate, posting a .905 save-percentage and 2.96 goals-against average in nine games, but any trade with the goaltender included will presumably be billed as a cap-dump in nature. The goaltender’s cap hit isn’t so bad that there won’t be a suitor to take it for the remainder of this season for the right price, but just what the market for this sort of trade is, especially during the season, is tricky.
The Stars don’t necessarily need to make this trade to be compliant, however the team will likely need to move Khudobin if they wish to be players at this year’s trade deadline. Given their place in the standings, should it hold steady, Dallas will most likely wish to be active at the deadline. The more Dallas seems handcuffed, however, the price may rise. It could be its highest if cap compliance is at play, but needing to add a player or two with Cup aspirations on the mind and an open Cup window that can only last so long, does seem to tie Dallas’ hands a good deal.