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Seguin, Radulov returns could make Stars under the radar contender

Dallas Stars

DALLAS, TEXAS - OCTOBER 05: Tyler Seguin #91 of the Dallas Stars controls the puck against the St. Louis Blues in the second period at American Airlines Center on October 05, 2021 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

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Dallas Stars fans will get a welcome sight on Thursday night when Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov will be back in the lineup together on the team’s top line.

They are slated to skate alongside Jamie Benn in their season opening game against the New York Rangers, reuniting one of the league’s best lines for the first time since the 2020 Stanley Cup Final.

Their return is a big reason why the Stars might be an under the radar contender for the 2021-22 season.

After making consecutive deep playoff runs in 2019 and 2020, the Stars took a major step backwards this past season and missed the playoffs entirely. The absence of Seguin and Radulov, the two best offensive players on the team, were a major reason why.

Injuries limited Radulov to just 11 games, while Seguin played in only three (the last three games of the season). They never played a single game together. In the 42 games the Stars played without both they were just 16-15-11, which comes out to about an 83-point pace over an 82-game season. Not very good. Also about what you would expect for a team that is playing without two thirds of its top-line and by far its two best offensive players. That had a devastating effect on a Stars team that still did a lot of things right last season.

Defensively, the Stars were one of the absolute best teams in the league during 5-on-5 play finishing in the top-five in shot attempts against per 60 minutes (48.6; third), expected goals against per 60 minutes (1.84; second), scoring chances against per 60 minutes (21.5, second), high-danger scoring chances against per 60 minutes (8.29; third) and goals against per 60 minutes (2.02; fifth). Shutting teams down at that level usually makes you a Stanley Cup contender and had the Stars sitting with teams like the New York Islanders, Colorado Avalanche, and Boston Bruins. With Miro Heiskanen and John Klingberg still leading that blue line, and now adding Ryan Suter to it, they should still be one of the toughest teams in the league to generate chances against.

[Related: Dallas Stars 2021-22 NHL Season Preview]

There were two things that held them back a year ago: An inability to score goals at even-strength, and the fact they had an absurd, almost unbelievably bad record in games that went beyond regulation going 6-14 in overtime and shootout games. The 14 overtime/shootout losses is a ridiculous number on its own. Since the NHL went to the three-point game format during the 2005-06 season there have only been 43 teams that lost that many overtime/shootout games in a single season. Nobody lost more than 18. All but one of those teams reached those numbers in a full 82-game season (the 2019-20 Columbus Blue Jackets lost 15 such games in 70 games). The Stars reached that number in a 56-game season. That means a quarter of their games (literally 25 percent) ended with them losing in overtime or a shootout. It almost defies all reasonable logic.

There has to be an element of bad luck to be that bad in those situations. That bad luck can include the fact your two best offensive playmakers -- players who, theoretically, would excel in 3-on-3 and shootout situations -- were not available almost all season. If the Stars simply go .500 in those overtime games they make the playoffs. That also does not even get into the seven one-goal games they lost in regulation due to a lack of offense.

Seguin and Radulov are so important to the Stars’ offense that they are still two of the top-three scorers on the team since the start of the 2018-19 season even though both missed nearly an entire season of games during that stretch. And other than Benn, there is not another forward on the team that has even been close to them. Now the Stars are getting them back to go with an outstanding defense and deep goaltending position that includes Anton Khudobin, Braden Holtby, Ben Bishop, and Jake Oettinger.

With their defense and goaltending the Stars do not need huge offensive numbers to contend. They just need to be a little better than they were a year ago. The returns of Seguin and Radulov to go with Jason Robertson coming off of his monster rookie season, Roope Hintz’s breakout, Joe Pavelski’s continued excellence, and Denis Gurianov’s potential they should be able to achieve that and get back to the playoffs. The past two times they were there with this group they were a double overtime in Game 7 away from the Western Conference Final and then in the Stanley Cup Final. Not a team to take lightly this season.