It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Dallas Stars
How they did last season: 50-23-9 (109 points); Won Central Division; Finished atop Western Conference. Lost in second round to the Blues, 4-3.
Notable acquisitions: D Dan Hamhuis, RW Adam Cracknell and D Andrew Bodnarchuk.
Notable departures: D Alex Goligoski, D Jason Demers, RW Colton Sceviour, C Vernon Fiddler, LW Travis Moen and D Kris Russell.
When they will play the Caps: Jan. 21 in Dallas; March 6 in Washington.
Analysis: The deep postseason run that everyone expected from the Stars didn’t materialize. But make no mistake, this team’s championship window remains wide open.
The big question, it seems, is can the NHL’s top offense overcome a suboptimal situation in net?
Last season, the Stars attempted something different: they divvyed up the goaltending duties between veterans Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. The experiment yielded uneven regular season performances from the netminders, who posted .906 and .905 save percentages, respectively. Then, an underwhelming regular season gave way to subpar postseason, a mostly forgettable run that ended with Lehtonen being pulled after allowing three goals on eight shots in a 6-1 loss to the Blues in Game 7 of the second round.
In the weeks and months since, GM Jill Nill has been active. He dealt Goligoski’s rights to the Coyotes for a fifth round pick once it became obvious the sides could not agree on an extension. Nill signed Hamhuis on the first day of free agency to help offset the loss of Goligoski. He also inked the team’s MVP candidate and leading scorer, Jamie Benn, to an eight-year, $76 million extension that keeps the team captain in Dallas through 2024-25.
But Nill hasn’t made a move in net. At least, not yet. Earlier this summer, there were rumors of the Stars’ potential interest in Tampa Bay’s Ben Bishop, though nothing ever came of it.
And now, with about six weeks to go before training camp opens, it appears as though the Stars will employ the dual goalie setup once again. Buuuuuut…I can tell you this from experience: don’t always trust what your ears are hearing. In 2008, the Caps were okay with their goaltending tandem. Right up until they traded for Cristobal Huet, that is.
Nill is as shrewd as they come. He surely recognizes his team’s biggest need. I suspect he’s simply waiting for the right opportunity to make a move.
Season prediction: Assuming Nill doesn’t make a move between now and October, the goaltending situation figures to loom large over the Stars in 2016-17, particularly if either Lehtonen or Niemi (or both) get off to a slow start.
And although there were subtractions throughout the roster, seven of the top eight point producers from last season are back.
Goaltending concerns aside, here’s my bottom line take on the Stars: they’re plenty good enough to rip through the regular season again. They’re also in the same boat as the Capitals right now—hoping to stay healthy during a grueling 82-game slate while waiting impatiently for April to roll around. Indeed, crushing it during the regular season won’t mean a thing if they don’t make a long, prosperous run next spring.
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS
— Boston Bruins
— Buffalo Sabres
— Detroit Red Wings
— Florida Panthers
Montreal Canadiens (coming Aug. 19)
Ottawa Senators (coming Aug. 20)
Tampa Bay Lightning (coming Aug. 21)
Toronto Maple Leafs (coming Aug. 22)
Carolina Hurricanes (coming Aug. 23)
Columbus Blue Jackets (coming Aug. 24)
New Jersey Devils (coming Aug. 25)
New York Islanders (coming Aug. 26)
New York Rangers (coming Aug. 27)
Philadelphia Flyers (coming Aug. 28)
Pittsburgh Penguins (coming Aug. 29)
Washington Capitals (coming Aug. 30)