As the holiday season approaches, PHR will be taking a look at what teams are thankful for in 2023-24. 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?
There were a number of different ways that we could have gone here, but it is hard to dismiss the agelessness of 39-year-old Joe Pavelski.
Many pundits thought the Dallas Stars had made a big miscalculation back in July 2019 when the club signed a then 34-year-old Pavelski to a three-year $21MM contract just ten days before his 35th birthday. And one season into the deal, it sure looked like the pundits were right. Pavelski looked lost and tired as he suffered through one of the worst seasons of his NHL career. But since that first year, he has registered 91 goals and 142 assists in 242 games.
Now part of those numbers are because Pavelski is playing fewer minutes than his career average, and he is also playing with very skilled teammates, but it is hard to discount all the intangibles Pavelski has brought to the Stars dressing room on top of being a bonafide top-6 forward. Pavelski hasn’t had to sacrifice any of his attention to detail when it comes to his defensive responsibilities and continues to remain in the conversation when it comes to Selke Trophy considerations year after year. All of this in his 18th NHL season, while he continues to play under a very team-friendly cap hit making just $3.5MM this season (plus $2MM in bonuses).
Pavelski might not be the biggest star in Dallas, but his reliability at both ends of the ice, and his ability to make everyone around him better continue to impress as he pushes towards his 40th birthday.
What are the Stars thankful for?
Their scouting staff.
Very few teams have hit on late first-round picks and second-round picks the way the Dallas Stars have over the last decade. The Stars were fortunate to pick the likes of Miro Heiskanen third overall. But most of their depth was built off smart picks later in the draft. All-star goaltender Jake Oettinger was a late first-round pick 26th overall in the 2017 NHL entry draft, Jason Robertson was selected 13 spots later at 39th overall and has emerged as a top-flight offensive talent. Roope Hintz was a late second-round pick in the 2015 draft while Wyatt Johnston was selected 23rd overall in 2021. The list goes on and it goes to show just how Dallas has built a team that can contend year in and year out.
The stars currently boast some of the best depth in the NHL evidenced by Johnston centering a third line that features Jamie Benn. They haven’t just hit on draft picks as they’ve also been able to make smart free-agent signings (see Pavelski above) and craft trades along the way. The scouts in Dallas at both the amateur and pro level have done a commendable job identifying available talent that other NHL clubs are undervaluing.
What would the Stars be even more thankful for?
Ryan Suter dialing it back.
At 39 years old it is unlikely that Ryan Suter is going to find another gear suddenly. The 11-time all-star defenseman has seen his offensive game fall into a decline since 2020, while his defensive game has been slipping away since 2015. Suter was once considered one of the top two-way defensemen in the NHL, but time has caught up to the Madison, Wisconsin native.
In Dallas, Suter has been thrust into a role that is probably outside of his current skillset as he has played significant minutes with Miro Heiskanen. Suter is averaging over 20 minutes a night, and while that is a steep decline from last season, it is still a rather large number for one of the oldest defensemen in the NHL.
The drop-in ice time has mostly come from Suter being removed from the Stars’ power play. With his speed and footwork in decline, the Stars have made the call to primarily use Suter at even strength on their top pairing. The good news for Suter is that he is partnered up with Heiskanen and can benefit from the youngster’s strong skillset. Suter hasn’t been terrible this year and has mostly been fine, but given the Stars’ Stanley Cup aspirations, it will be important that Suter finds another gear, or the Stars look for someone who can better log Suter’s minutes and perhaps bump him down the depth chart.
What should be on the Stars holiday wish list?
As mentioned above, Suter could probably benefit from a more sheltered role in the Stars’ defense core. Esa Lindell could also use some help as well as he too has had his struggles. All this points to the Stars needing to shop for another defender.
Dallas is in the fortunate position to have a decent farm system from which they could trade, and also have some young roster players that could entice teams to part with a defenseman. Although I would avoid trading Johnston if possible.
The Stars could benefit from a right-side defenseman, and while it wouldn’t improve Suter’s position on the depth chart, it would allow Jani Hakanpää to slide down into the bottom pairing. Hakanpää has had a rough start to the season and would likely welcome some sheltered minutes on a 5-6 pairing.
If Dallas opts to trade for right-shot defensemen there will certainly be options available to them. Tyson Barrie of the Nashville Predators is out there, as is Chris Tanev of the Calgary Flames. If the Stars wanted to be bolder, they could take a run at Noah Hanifin as he would slot in beautifully on their top pair next to Heiskanen.
Cap space will be an issue for the Stars, but as we inch closer and closer to the trade deadline it will become less of an issue. Dallas is on the cusp of breaking through in the playoffs and one more defenseman could be just the thing that gets them over the hump and back to the Stanley Cup finals.