As the Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning are about to battle for the Stanley Cup, the Dallas Stars are wondering what they need to do in order to compete for it next season. The offense obviously isn’t the problem, as only the Eastern Conference champions scored more goals than the Stars this season. Many point to the blue-line when discussing the Stars’ major issues, but in actuality the defense played decently for most of the season. It is still an issue, as the Stars could certainly use a steady defensive defenseman on the back-end, but there are two other glaring issues as well. If they are able to improve on the following three problems, the Stars should be in the playoff mix again next season.
It Starts With the Man in Net
When a team scores as much as the Dallas Stars did and misses the playoffs, you know there had to be some questionable things going on in the back-end. It begins from the net on out and Stars goalies could not piece things together this season. Kari Lehtonen had one of his worst, if not his worst, season as a professional. Anders Lindback and Jussi Rynnas were awful. Jhonas Enroth did not start playing well until it was all but over for the Stars. All in all, the goaltending in Dallas has to improve moving forward. Edmonton was the only team with a worse save percentage than Dallas, who finished with a .895 team save percentage. That was the lowest percentage for Dallas in six years. The Stars cannot afford to continue to waste one of the best offenses in the NHL with poor goaltending.
So what do the Stars do about the goaltending situation? Enroth played well after it was mostly over, but he is an unrestricted free agent and is likely going to want a chance at starting somewhere. It isn’t likely the Stars trade Lehtonen after just one bad season considering his past performance, but they certainly will bring someone in to test him. Look for the Stars to add a starter-potential backup in the offseason to pressure Lehtonen and to solidify the backup role.
Adding Some Steadiness to the Blue-Line
The Dallas Stars have all sorts of speed and flash in their defense corps with players like Alex Goligoski, John Klingberg and Trevor Daley. They also have some more hybrid defensemen who excel at moving the puck with Jason Demers and Jyrki Jokipakka. Patrik Nemeth is a good start, but the Stars should consider adding a steady defender to the blue-line.
It would be wonderful if the Stars were able to acquire a player like Brent Seabrook, but the more likely option is a cheaper defenseman out of free agency. One player to keep an eye on will be Zybnek Michalek. Michalek has made a living blocking shots and posting up in front of his own net which is exactly the type of defender the Stars need. I’m not one who believes the Stars need a true #1 defenseman to compete, they just need some consistency from their group of defensemen. There are options out there and if the Stars can add just one more solid defender, they will be competing for a playoff spot once again.
Improving, Not Fading, in the Third Period
Now that we have covered some of the defensive and goaltending issues, let’s move on to one last improvement the Stars can make heading into next season. A huge problem for the Stars was closing out teams in the third period. They couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net and they just couldn’t seem to convert on their chances in the third. Only two teams in the entire league gave up more third period goals than the Dallas Stars and they finished last in their respective conferences.
Dallas finished ahead of just the Edmonton Oilers in terms of on-ice save percentage in the third period, once again pointing to some major goaltending issues. The Stars also finished 20th in third period goal scoring, which is very low considering they were the second-highest scoring team in the league. The possession statistics were solid, with a 51.5 corsi-for-% in the third period, which indicates a lack of conversion on their chances. It wasn’t just third periods in general, the Stars really struggled when leading in the third as well.
Teams usually win most of the games in which they are leading in the third period but the Stars struggled mightily in that aspect of the game. Four teams in the entire league had a worse winning percentage when leading after two periods than Dallas. No team in the entire NHL gave up more goals in the third while they were leading than the Stars did this past season either. If they improve on their third period performances with the help of some better goaltending and defense, the Stars will find themselves back in the hunt.
Jordan has been covering the Stars for The Hockey Writers since February 2015. He is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. You can follow Jordan on twitter @jordan_dix