A theory about why the Stars aren’t as good as they should be

(This post is part of a fundraiser for the ACLU and SPLC, two great causes that need our help in these, umm, trying political times. For a donation of $50 or more on Giving Tuesday, readers got me to write about whatever they wanted. So I wrote the nonsense below, which was requested by Ann Merrin.)

Okay so I’m not supposed to talk about the Stars’ goaltending at all here, let alone saying for the zillionth time that it’s bad. But it’s bad. It’s really bad. It’s .895 for the team and it’s holding this club back.

But the goaltending was a big problem last year too — not this bad, but still awful — and the Stars cruised through most of the season. So yeah you can scapegoat the goaltending here, and you’re not wrong, but they have much bigger problems throughout the rest of their lineup too.

Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn are producing; 23 and 20 points, respectively, in 23 games each. But they’re not producing to the extent that they have in recent seasons, and there’s something of a trickle-down there. Despite paying a lot of money to Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp, and Ales Hemsky, they’re all: a) hurt, and b) not producing.

The team’s third-highest scorer is Patrick Eaves for pete’s sake! It’s a huge problem.

So here’s my theory as to why the Stars aren’t as competitive as they “should” be: They lost two defensemen who moved both the puck and the needle quite effectively for a number of years. Far be it for me to suggest that Jason Demers and Alex Goligoski were the reason everyone in the lineup produced, let alone Benn and Seguin. But let’s look at the facts here:

  1. Weren’t we just saying for, like, all of last year that the Stars didn’t have a D corps good enough to make them truly competitive for a Stanley Cup? I feel like that was a thing we all just kind of agreed on; their D and goaltending (SORRY!) might have been bad but the offense — driven in part by their three best defenders — was more than enough to make up for it. Some sub-points to this:
    1. They didn’t replace those defensemen with guys who had proven track records in this league. Well, okay, Dan Hamhuis, but you can’t count on him to lug the puck for you. Not really.
    2. Stephen Johns, Julius Honka, and Jamie Oleksiak all seem a bit in-over-their-heads here.
    3. As we’re starting to see with the Rangers, you can have all the fast, skilled forwards you want, but you can’t rely on them to get the puck out of their own end for 20 games, let alone 82.
  2. Their secondary scoring last season was coming from a lot of guys on the wrong side of 30. Spezza had 63 points as a 32-year-old. That’s a best-case scenario for a guy that age, even if it’s one like Spezza, who was pretty close to a-point-a-game for most of his career. Patrick Sharp delivered 55 more points. Hemsky chipped in with 39. All those guys are now visibly old and hurt and slowing down. There was no backup plan there either.
  3. John Klingberg has been good, but he needs to be a lot better than that to make up for the lost production. Or hell, to even get back to where he was last year.

So yeah, the failure here seems to be Jim Nill not foreseeing problems with getting the puck out and to the guys up front, especially as you get deeper in the lineup. Seguin and Benn are always going to produce. Guaranteed. And that’s going to paper over a lot of problems.

But you really have to be aware that even the most elite lines — and again, Seguin and Benn aren’t doing what they did last year, they’re merely “excellent” instead of “transcendent” — can’t carry you for a full season. The Stars are finding that out now.

In hockey your best forwards play a third of the game. The best defenders play a little more than that. Nill didn’t have a plan for the other 35 to 40 minutes. It’s a big problem.

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