Coming off a wild journey that ended in a Stanley Cup Finals defeat to the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2020, the Dallas Stars were eager to get back to the playoffs in 2020-2021. Instead, Dallas did anything but that, finishing fifth in a newly-aligned Central Division with a 23-19-14 record. Missing key players like center Tyler Seguin and goalie Ben Bishop, the Stars began last season with an already depleted roster.
Although players like rookie Jason Robertson and seasoned veteran Joe Pavelski provided a glimmer of hope offensively, the rest of the roster failed to provide enough to secure a playoff spot. They lost fan favorites like Jason Dickinson and Andrew Cogliano in the offseason. The Dallas brass has now focuses on returning to the playoffs by addressing needs outside of the top-six forward spots.
Jamie Oleksiak was taken by the Seattle Kraken in this year’s expansion draft, signing a five year, $23 million contract with the NHL’s newest franchise. A hearty group of veterans joined the Dallas roster this offseason. Forwards Michael Raffl and Luke Glendening were signed, as was Braden Holtby to serve as a third goalie throughout the duration of Bishop’s rehab.
After a shortened season and with a diminished roster, Dallas looks to bounce back with the return of key players missing a season ago. None are more important than Seguin, a backbone piece of the Stars offensive artillery. Two other vital players to watch this season are Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov. Both forwards are coming off an impressive two-season stretch. Hintz and Gurianov have both demonstrated the speed and ability the Stars’ minor league affiliates have been able to produce.
Losing a long-time Star in Oleksiak came as a blow to both the locker room and the team’s faithful. However, general manager Jim Nill has proven to the fans time and time again that some transactions, though seemingly unfruitful in genesis, can prove to be productive long-term. It should be noted that the foundation of this blue line is in question, as John Klingberg has yet to sign an extension. Miro Heiskanen, on the other hand, just inked an eight-year contract with Dallas.
The acquisition of Holtby will be the one that gets the most attention, as Bishop is coming off an injury. Still, Jake Oettinger is expected to battle with Anton Khudobin for the No. 1 spot in the crease. Look for a healthy competition to brew in Dallas’ locker room. It’s the up-and-coming Oettinger against two seasoned veterans. The signing of Holtby is a low-risk high-reward pickup at just a one-year commitment.
After coming so close to the pinnacle of the professional hockey world and coming up short has to leave the Dallas Stars organization hoping for something more. Their absence from the playoffs last season gives them little time to prove that the playoff run in 2020 was no fluke. A comeback season from Seguin is necessary for this team to regain its offensive dominance and chemistry they’ve shown over the past three seasons. Holtby adds depth to the roster. Look for him to make an aggressive push for the starting job.
Seguin is without question the most important player to keep an eye on this season. If he can come back and return to his usual production, Dallas will once again be knocking on the door of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. After undergoing hip surgery last November, he will look to recover from an extended rehab stint and bounce back strong.
The 24-year-old Russian has done more than enough to earn one of the top forward spots in this year’s lineup. When Gurianov is playing well, the Stars are playing well. The forward will be expected to produce at a higher rate in 2021-2022. If Dallas wants to keep pace with the rest of the Western Conference, Gurianov will be needed in a big way.
Biggest Question Facing the Stars
Was the team’s run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2020 a fluke? Although Dallas finished only two victories shy of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup, they provided fans with some of the most heart-pounding hockey until the end. Coming that close and not finishing the job, followed by a year with no postseason play has to be a concern for the team’s front office. This season will be a defining one for the Stars. General manager Jim Nill has no doubt that this team can have a bounce-back year.
The upcoming regular season offers a plethora of opportunities for the Stars to refresh their core and insert some key foundational pieces back into the lineup. The return of Seguin provides hope that things can return to normal at the American Airlines Center. Productive seasons from older players like Pavelski and Jamie Benn, as well as bounce-back efforts from Seguin and Gurianov will be crucial in asserting Dallas’ offensive ability in this year’s Central Division.
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