Usually, in order to be top-ranked in the NHL, a team must have a top-tier power play or penalty kill.
For the Dallas Stars, this axiom couldn’t be any closer to the truth. Over the past five seasons, the Stars have struggled to produce a top special teams’ unit. So, it’s no surprise that during that timespan, the Stars have not made the playoffs. In fact, the last time the Stars had a special-teams unit that ranked in the top-ten teams of the league was 2007-2008 when Dallas had the second-best penalty-killing unit. That season Dallas finished 5th in the Western Conference with 97 points.
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Special Teams Production
The link between success of penalty kill or power play and position in the league is evident on a yearly basis in the NHL. Of course, teams don’t often have both their special teams’ units in the upper echelon of the league, but when a team has either a power play or penalty killing unit in the top-five teams in the league, that team often finds itself with at least a playoff berth, if not a division title. It’s rare for a top team to not feature at least one of their special teams as a reliable weapon. Although there have been dominate teams in the NHL that do not have a top special teams’ unit, this is certainly the exception to the rule. A team that possesses one of the best power-play or penalty-killing units in the league often has a key strength to rely upon during clutch moments of games and seasons. Over the past two seasons, the Vancouver Canucks have been an archetype for showing the connection between having a top-ranked power play and penalty kill and being a dominate team in the league. Interestingly, last season the Boston Bruins were without a power play or penalty kill ranked in the top half of the league; yet, because they dominated five-on-five play, they were able to overcome the inconsistency that haunted their special teams and win the Stanley Cup.
The Stars Special Teams
Even though the Stars have manifested a mid-range ranked power-play unit during the past four seasons, their penalty killing has been unable to eclipse the 20th mark in the league. The Stars penalty kill has lingered just beneath the 80% success mark, which is usually the cutoff for a respected unit. Last season, Dallas exhibited a penalty killing unit with an 80.1% success rate and ultimately missed the playoffs by a single victory. During the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 seasons, when the Stars had a penalty kill with a success rate below 80%, Dallas finished 12th in the Western Conference.
If the Stars hope to break their streak of missing the playoffs over the past four seasons, the team must improve their special teams–particularly their penalty kill. Even though Stars General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk most likely added players during the offseason with the intent of enhancing special teams, the Stars continue to wallow when they are a man up or down. During the upcoming trade deadline, the Stars should pursue acquiring a player who can help their penalty kill. Such an addition would increase the Stars chances of making the playoffs. Behind solid goaltending from Kari Lehtonen and Richard Bachman, the Stars should be able to make the playoffs if they can field a better penalty killing unit during the final months of the season.