Stars Season Expectations: The Middle Lines Need to Score

DALLAS, TX - JANUARY 26: Dallas Stars right wing Alexander Radulov (47) warms up before the game between the Dallas Stars and the Detroit Red Wings on January 26, 2021 at the American Airlines Center in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Matthew Pearce/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

The best way to describe the Dallas Stars’ 2020-21 season was tumultuous. Going into the season, they knew they’d be without their leading scorer, Tyler Seguin, and starting goaltender, Ben Bishop. The team estimated that the pair would miss the first two months of the season. That didn’t go to plan. Seguin was starting to practice with a month left before the playoffs, and Bishop underwent another surgery.

Once the season started, things went from bad to worse. The Stars didn’t play the first four games of the season due to a covid outbreak amongst the team. The Stars also had postponed games in February due to a winter storm hitting Texas. The effect of these events had enormous on-ice repercussions. The NHL condensed the Stars’ schedule due to the covid recovery and snow cancelations. Games were played on scheduled rest days, a sentiment that angered coach Rick Bowness.

“it’s got injuries written all over it,” Bowness said when he saw the adjusted NHL schedule.

To make matters even worse, Roope Hintz and Alexander Radulov suffered injuries. Hintz was day-to-day for most games, and Radulov needed season-ending surgery. The holes in the lineup were too much for younger players to fill. Bowness shuffled lines and rotated through players on the taxi squad, but nobody on the team could fill in for Radulov and Seguin.

As we close in on the new season, let’s look at the key points the Stars will need to focus on during the 2021-22 season.

Expectations for 2021-22

With the lineup now healthy, it’s easy to assume that the Stars are a playoff-eligible team. The Central Divison is returning to pre-covid form. The Colorado Avalance and Winnipeg Jets are probable front-runners for the top two spots in the division. From there, the third-place position is wide open.

I think the Stars are the third-best team in that division. They could’ve made the playoffs last year if it wasn’t for those pesky Nashville Predators going on a lengthy win streak late in the season. The Chicago Blackhawks were also surprisingly successful last year. Even with the catastrophic turmoil that was the Stars’ season, they were still in contention for a playoff spot, entering the final week of games.

The Predators and Blackhawks didn’t reinforce their rosters to the extent that the Stars did. The additions of Luke Glendenning, Braden Holtby, and Ryan Suter make this team stronger. The injuries and tight schedule exposed the Stars’ lack of depth outside of their top offensive and defensive pairings. The Predators and Blackhawks seem like they’re still in a middle ground in terms of contention. Both teams have young players that aren’t ready to take over and older players that aren’t ready to move on. With trades of core players, the Preds and Hawks are leaning towards rebuilding over the next few seasons.

Players Who Need to Step Up

As mentioned in my “Predicting the 2021-22 Line Pairings for the Dallas Stars,” the second line pairing of Seguin, Radulov, and Dennis Gurionov will be pivotal to a playoff berth. Success with this line comes with a caveat. Seguin and Radulov need to be healthy, and Gurianov needs to have a total break-out. In addition, the third line that consists of Jamie Benn, Ty Dellandrea, and Joel Kiviranta will also need to show an improvement in production this year.

There will be a lot of emphasis on these lines because of the unknowns that surround them. Gurianov shot less last season, although he was on pace for a 40+ point campaign, and will need to exceed that number to keep his spot on the second line. Benn is transitioning into more of a grinder role since his scoring has regressed.

He will likely be an extension of the 4th line that will focus on physical play. There is a problem with scheme fit when I predict his teammates. Dellandrea and Kiviranta are technically developing scorers, and using them as grinders will take away from their game. Benn will need to be both a facilitator for his linemates and rotate in with the fourth-line guys. He is fine with the minutes that he skates, but that will be a lot to ask from the captain.

The Verdict

The results of this season will dictate future franchise decisions. With older members of the core needing contract extensions by year’s end, a missed playoff will likely lead to a minor rebuild. There are plenty of Stars forwards with tremendous upside but haven’t been able to handle ice time in the NHL.

Clinching the playoffs this year will solidify this team as a lengthy contender. That success is predicated on youth players and grizzled veterans on the middle lines to be consistent point-producers.

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