After a season of disappointment, The Dallas Stars only have more ambiguity in training camp. In a previous article, I was worried about some doubt over injuries players returning to training camp healthy. It seems that players aren’t 100 percent healthy through day one. The team will be ready to go by the start of the season, but talk of players still hurting is stressful.
Is this an overreaction? Possibly, but the injury-riddled 2020-21 season is still fresh on the mind. Sure, other teams in the division have taken a step back, but the Stars are not a playoff team if prominent players can’t get on the ice.
The Stars’ first day of camp also showcased coach Rick Bowness experimenting with the lineup card. Analyzing the changes from last season, the Stars’ use of depth players is reassuring that the “next man up mentality” will be more effective this season.
When the Stars announced Ben Bishop would need season-ending surgery last April, the thought was that he would be at 100 percent upon returning. Bishop injured his knee during the 2019-20 playoff run. The Stars ended up losing in the Stanley Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning. He missed all of last season and waived his no-trade clause earlier this offseason.
The Stars signed Braden Holtby to solidify the goaltender tandem with Anton Knudobin. Coach Rick Bowness said that Bishop is considered day-today to week-to-week and will keep fighting to earn a roster spot. I have zero idea what the plan would be if Bishop were healthy and ready to play, but it seems that he shows dedication to playing for Dallas at some point this season.
Roope Hintz is another player who is still battling an injury. He hasn’t gotten clearance by medical staff to play but is at practice. Hintz was day-to-day for the majority of last season due to a groin injury. Hintz had offseason surgery to repair it and expects to play on opening night. He told Mike Heika of NHL.com that this season would be easier because he doesn’t have to manage his injury.
Radulov seems like he is almost fully healed from a core injury that he suffered after 11 games last season. He had surgery to repair it in April. Stars general manager Jim Nill said it is a major plus to have him back.
“At the time when Radulov got hurt, he was our leading scorer,” Nill said. “He was playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen him play. And Tyler has been one of the elite scorers in the league.”
Joining this long list of returning players is Tyler Seguin. Seguin only played three games last season as he recovered from hip surgery during the 2019-20 offseason. He was only going to miss a month of 2020-21, but the Stars were cautious with his return. After practice on Thursday, he told Heika that he felt “dangerous.” As the star’s leading scorer from that 2019-20 season, that is good to hear.
The lines from the first day of camp were strange. Kiviranta played on the second line with Seguin and Radulov, Micheal Raffl played on the third line, and Tanner Kero played on the fourth. Though these lines were different than what I predicted, I doubt this will be the opening day lineup.
The swap between Kiviranta and Gurianov is strange. Gurianov was on pace for a 45-point season and will be better when paired with Seguin and Radulov. Realistically, anybody on the second-line role will prosper, and deciding to put Kiviranta there is splitting hairs.
The decision not to include Kero or Ty Dellandrea on the third line is interesting as well. Michael Raffl is not known for his scoring and goes against the Stars’ mantra of giving young players the chance to break out. Dellandrea, especially, has a high upside for a career performance that could establish him as a bottom-six scoring threat.
Nick Caamano also worked his way onto the lineup card. Although the tweet lists him on the fifth offensive line, he will get a chance to play this season because Joel L’Esperance is not vaccinated. L’Esperance will not join the team unless he does get the vaccine but can still play overseas in a country that doesn’t have a mandate. This is a chance for Caamano to establish himself as a suitable replacement for a checking-line forward. Caamano had 41 hits in 24 games with the Stars last season.
Looking at the defense, the name that sticks out is Thomas Harley. The 20-year-old prospect has only been impressive this offseason. Harley was tied for third and led all rookies in scoring in the American Hockey League last year. He and Hakanpaa are the odd men out of the defensive pairing but would be exciting as a third defensive line. Hanley and Sekera are solid defenders, to the point that there is not much else to say about them.
The opening day of training camp signifies that the 2020-21 season is almost here. The Stars still are dealing with questions about their health, and ambiguity surrounds how successful they will be this year. To have Alex Radulov and Tyler Seguin back into the lineup brings a great deal of relief to both management and the fans. The pair will complement the top line and flourish with Joel Kiviranta on the wing.
With that reassurance comes the injury scare with Roope Hintz. This year, he is in line to be the first-line center, and his injury woes may be overhyped. Considering he has fought through an injury before, Hintz can return to full health with some extra rest.
This season will be a crossroads for the Stars’ future. The team has an aging core, with multiple contracts expiring at the season’s end. Another playoff miss will likely cause the current core to change and begin to close the Stars’ chance at contending.Embed from Getty Images