Counting down the final 30 days to puck drop on the 2014-15 NHL season, Sportsnet previews all 30 NHL teams in reverse order of how we believe they will finish the regular season.
A dozen reporters and analysts from Sportsnet’s hockey brain trust — Doug MacLean, John Shannon, Chris Johnston, Damien Cox, Mark Spector, et al. — submitted a list ranking all the teams in order of how they think the NHL season will shake out. We crunched the numbers and will be unveiling our consensus standings prediction from worst to first.
Dallas is our 14th-ranked team.
2013-14 finish: 40-31-11, 91 points, 16th overall; eliminated by Ducks in six games in Round 1
Leading scorer: Tyler Seguin (84 points)
General manager: Jim Nill
Head coach: Lindy Ruff
Captain: Jamie Benn
Opening night starter: Kari Lehtonen
Key acquisitions: Jason Spezza, Ales Hemsky, Anders Lindback, Patrick Eaves
Key departures: Alex Chiasson, Ray Whitney, Dustin Jeffrey, Aaron Rome, Tim Thomas
Off-season grade: B. Adding proven top-line scorers is something most teams aim to do in the off-season but seldom pull off. Jim Nill succeeded tenfold on that front, as the Stars added a serious offensive punch by trading for Jason Spezza and signing UFA Ales Hemsky. The Stars were one of the worst teams on the power play last season, and the addition of these two former Ottawa Senators is bound to lead to more pucks going in the net with the man advantage. They also fortified their depth up front by re-signing the likes of Vern Fiddler and Antoine Roussel. Adding Anders Lindback as support for Kari Lehtonen was another move that could pay dividends should the starter go down at some point during the season. Jack Campbell is waiting in the wings, but he likely won’t be called to action for another year or so. Despite some positive moves, the lack of additions on defence could end up hurting this team in the long run.
Greatest strengths: They’ve got one of the better crops of forwards in the entire league and that’s what they’ll need to rely on. With enough talent to build an intimidating top six, the Stars will be competitive in a talent-rich Central Division—outside of the Jets and Predators, any team is capable of finishing first. Off the ice, Lindy Ruff is one of the most reliable veteran coaches in the game. He knows how to get on his players when they underperform. At the top, Jim Nill isn’t afraid to think big (see: landing a second top centre like Spezza) and will continue to put his fingerprint on the roster. Ruff and Nill are rugged farmboys from Alberta, and that’s the type of grit the Stars began to show last season.
Greatest weaknesses: Defence, defence, defence. The Stars weren’t able to add—either via trade or free agency—a No. 1 defenceman, and that was their top priority heading into the off-season. In fact, besides drafting Julius Honka, a talented speedster from Finland who won’t be NHL-ready this year, Nill didn’t add any new blueliners. Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are a steady, underrated top pair, but there’s a major dropoff after those two. Brenden Dillon and Kevin Connauton have upside, but there’s a limit to what Jordie Benn can accomplish and Sergei Gonchar is on the decline. Dallas should have no trouble scoring, but the Stars must tighten things up in their own end. Allowing 30.4 shots per game like they did last season just won’t fly.
Biggest storyline to watch: Will the Jason Spezza experiment succeed, or will the Stars need to revamp next summer? Spezza becomes a UFA at the end of the 2014-15 campaign and Nill is confident he’ll sign him to an extension. Until he signs the extension, there will be a slight sense of unease. When the second-overall pick from the 2001 draft is healthy, he still has No. 1 centre ability. A one-two punch with Seguin and Spezza is outstanding on paper, and the Stars gave up too many assets for it not to work.
2014-15 bold prediction: Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza and Valeri Nichushkin will each register at least 70 points as Dallas finishes third in the Central Division.