The What Went Wrong series was paused during the draft and free agent frenzy, but now that things have settled down it's time to wrap it up. There are still four teams to cover that failed to make the playoffs and the two featured today, Florida and Dallas, are very different stories.
For the Stars, it's fair to call the season a disappointment given the expectations that acquiring Jason Spezza created. In Florida's case, the fact that the team came close to advancing was actually a sizeable step forward, so the 'What Went Wrong' tagline has to be taken with a grain of salt there.
As already mentioned, the Stars acquired Spezza from the Ottawa Senators in the summer of 2014. Spezza was joining a young team that had managed to squeak into the playoffs in its previous season. Whereas Spezza was the leader of Ottawa, it seemed like he would anchor the second line for Dallas - a role he was overqualified for.
During that summer, Dallas' defense was pointed to as an area of concern and a potential reason why the Stars weren't yet a serious Stanley Cup contender, but they were nevertheless expected to progress, in contrast of what actually happened.
Dallas got off to a decent start to the season, but it struggled mightily from Oct. 25 through Nov. 18 as it posted a 2-8-2 record over that span. That proved to be the taste of the hot-and-cold campaign the Stars would endure and while they were able to end on a high note, their 41-31-10 record was insufficient to warrant a playoff spot.
There are several issues that we'll identify in the player section, but one of the interesting wrinkles was the use of Spezza. He didn't always serve as the team's second-line center and instead spent a fair amount of time playing alongside Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. That line was very effective, but by putting on their eggs in one basket, they were, at times, failing to address the offensive depth issues that bringing in Spezza were supposed to address. It will be interesting to see if the acquisition of Patrick Sharp this summer is what ultimately solves that scoring depth problem.
With that said...
Ales Hemsky - Spezza wasn't the only player that joined Dallas in the summer of 2014. Ales Hemsky signed a three-year, $12 million deal and it originally seemed like he would be a big part of the second unit with Spezza. That seemed to make sense at least given that Hemsky excelled in his brief stint with Ottawa in 2013-14 (17 points in 20 contests) and he had developed some on-ice chemistry with Spezza at that time. As already mentioned though, Spezza didn't have consistent linemates last season and even if he was joined to the hip with Hemsky, it might not have helped as Hemsky was very slow to adjust to playing with the Dallas Stars. In the end, he had 11 goals and just 32 points in 76 contests, which is one of the reason's Dallas was light on offensive threats beyond its big three.
Kari Lehtonen - Arguably the biggest issue for the Stars last season was their goaltending. Since joining Dallas, Lehtonen had typically been a solid, if not outright great netminder, but he struggled mightily in 2014-15 with a 2.94 GAA and .903 save percentage in 65 contests. He had some good stretches here and there, but they were outweighed by rough starts. The fact that he allowed at least three goals in each of his final six appearances isn't exactly confidence inspiring either.
Anders Lindback - Lehtonen's struggles might have been more manageable if Dallas had a backup it could trust, but for a good chunk of the season it didn't. Lindback was simply dreadful with the Stars, posting a 3.71 GAA and .875 save percentage in 10 contests. Eventually he was shipped to Buffalo and the change of scenery seemed to do him some good. Additionally, Dallas got Jhonas Enroth out of the deal, who proved to be decent between the pipes. But that trade didn't happen until Feb. 11 and by then the damage was done.
Valeri Nichushkin - As is the standard when bringing up an injured player, I'm in no way assigning him blame. Nichushkin missing most of the season with a hip injury hurt the Stars significantly though. Had he been healthy, it would have gone a long way towards filling out Dallas' top-six. It's also unfortunate to see him have to put his career on hold after he scored 14 goals and 34 points in 79 rookie contests. Even if he had been able to take a modest step forward as a sophomore, it would have done wonders for the Stars' depth, but it was not to be.
The Florida Panthers had a 29-45-8 record in 2013-14, so the 2014-15 campaign was actually a pretty good one for them in terms of progression. That step forward was largely anticipated given the team's youth and the luxury of having top-tier goaltender Roberto Luongo for a full season, but it was nevertheless impressive.
Speaking of Luongo, he arguably had one of his strongest campaigns in years with a 2.35 GAA, .921 save percentage, and some Hall of Fame worthy Twitter banter. Florida still ranked near the bottom of the league offensively (2.42 goals/game), but the Panthers didn't have a single 40-point player in 2013-14 and at least they saw some youngsters step up.
In fact, given the youth of the team, it's hard to find players that were major underperformers. This really felt like a club that just needs more time. That being said, I have to pick on four players, so here we go...
Dave Bolland - The two players that follow this one I have some reservations about singling out, but there are no mixed feelings when it comes to Bolland. After playing in just 58 games over his previous two campaigns, the Panthers still signed the two-way forward to a five-year, $27.5 million contract and he once again spent a good chunk of the season on the sidelines. In the end he finished with just six goals and 23 points in 53 contests and had a relative five-on-five Corsi of minus-2.6%, which means the Panthers did better from a puck possession perspective when he was off the ice.
Aleksander Barkov - Taken with the second overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Barkov was already an elite player in Finland's top league before he made the jump to North America in 2013-14 with eight goals and 24 points in 54 contests. His 2014-15 campaign was a rather mild increase though as he finished with 16 goals and 36 points in 71 contests. I don't be too hard on him because he won't even turn 20 until Sept. 2 and should still develop into a top line center. However, his largely lateral move in 2014-15 is among the many reasons the Panthers' offense was one of the worst in the league.
Brad Boyes - It's easy to forget at this point that Boyes once scored 43 goals in a single season, but you actually don't have to look that far back to find his last good season. He had 10 goals and 35 points in 48 contests with the New York Islanders in the lockout shortened 2013 campaign. However, he spent the vast majority of his five-on-five time that season playing alongside John Tavares and Matt Moulson, so it's not really surprising that when he made the move to Florida, his production declined substantially. At the same time, it's fair to say that he also didn't provide the offensive boost they were hoping for. After scoring 35 goals and 74 points in 156 contests over two seasons, the Panthers bought out the final season of his contract.
Tomas Fleischmann - Fleischmann excelled in his first season with the Panthers back in 2011-12, scoring 27 goals and 61 points in 82 games and followed that up with 35 points in 48 contests during the lockout shortened season. However he took a big step backwards in 2013-14 and failed to rebound last season, scoring just seven goals and 21 points in 52 contests with Florida. In the end, the Panthers sent him to Anaheim in February for just a third round pick (Thomas Schemitsch) and the once great Dany Heatley, who the Panthers kept in the minors.