The old adage goes, “to wish upon a shooting star,” but what happens when the stars are shooting blanks? Hell, relatively speaking, the Dallas Stars are barely shooting at all, with a 23rd-ranked 30.6 shots per game (and a 26th-ranked 2.58 goals).
The wild-card Columbus Blue Jackets (2.57 goals) are the only playoff team to rank below the Stars. And they only have a single-point edge on ninth place, albeit with the season on hiatus.
Granted, general manager Jim Nill’s Stars are the exception as the third-place team in the Central Division. However, even their playoff lives are far from guaranteed, four points up on the ninth-place Vancouver Canucks, having gone 3-5-2 in their last 10 games.
More to the point, the Stars just got shut out twice in consecutive games against the wild-card Nashville Predators, scoring just 19 goals in those 10 games (allowing 25 goals in the process).
It’s something Nill must address in the offseason. After all, the trade deadline has passed and he didn’t address it then, acquiring just depth-defenseman Emil Djuse from the Florida Panthers. With that, here are his top three hypothetical solutions from a scoring perspective for next season:
3. Play Gurianov and Hintz More
Top-scorer Tyler Seguin has a fourth-ranked 19:09 in ice time per game, which is in line with what you would expect. However, he’s got two fewer goals than breakout-star Roope Hintz (19). Hintz is meanwhile only getting a 15th-ranked 14:45 per game. Denis Gurianov, who leads the team with 20, has even less (12:59)!
Granted, Hintz and Gurianov have each fared better on the power play (ranked eighth and ninth in ice time respectively). However, it’s clear something’s out of whack when Joe Pavelski leads the team in that regard and only has the sixth-most points on the man advantage.
Obviously, Pavelski was the Stars’ big offseason signing last summer. While the deal itself was decent (compared to what the Predators gave up for Matt Duchene, for example), the Stars ultimately gave a 35-year-old a cap hit of $7 million per season and he’s responded by scoring at a less-than-40-point pace, even with the favorable deployment.
The deal hasn’t totally blown up in their faces, because almost everyone on the team is struggling like Pavelski, making it a systemic issue. However, if as a team you’re scoring at a slightly better clip than the last-place San Jose Sharks, coincidentally the team Pavelski left, chances are good things aren’t going according to plan. Nill needs to re-assess his strategy starting this upcoming free-agency period, if not before.
2. Sign Dadonov or Hoffman
Right off the bat, Corey Perry is the weak link on right wing on the top line, at least according to the Stars’ latest line combinations.
Another big-name signing from last summer, Perry had the potential to surprise, as long as he found his niche. Perry’s overall impact has been relatively positive, especially considering his $1.5 million bonus-laden deal. However he simply hasn’t contributed from a scoring perspective, with a career-low five goals. Bottom line, there is no way Perry should be a top-line anything.
If he is, your team’s coaching staff is willfully ignoring the obvious or it’s on the GM as they have absolutely no one else to put in that spot. As it happens, it’s a combination of both, with a relatively simple fix: Go out and get someone who can actually score, namely either Mike Hoffman or Evgenii Dadonov.
Hoffman and Dadonov both coincidentally play for the Panthers and are set to be unrestricted free agents. Each would hypothetically step right in and lead the Stars in goals based on their numbers this season (29 and 25 respectively).
Normally speaking, one would expect the Panthers to try to re-sign both. However, they’re facing a goaltending dilemma of epic proportions after betting on Sergei Bobrovsky last summer. They simply shouldn’t be able to afford to keep both of them unless they want to handcuff themselves financially for the foreseeable future.
Of the two, Dadonov may be more expensive. He’s drastically outperformed the expectations of his current deal, having become a perennial 70-point threat (admittedly playing with Aleksander Barkov). Logically speaking, Dadonov will be looking to break someone’s bank and it shouldn’t be Dallas’. It actually can’t be.
If the Stars have the choice, Hoffman would probably be the better fit. He’s slightly younger at 30 years of age and more prolific in the goal-scoring department. He also hasn’t completely shaken the stigma of the scandal revolving around his and ex-teammate Erik Karlsson’s significant others.
Hoffman won’t come cheap as a one-time 36-goal-scorer. He will come cheaper than you would think, though. With the Stars up against the salary cap, the question then becomes how to make room?
Well, pending-UFA Mattias Janmark should be a longshot to come back, despite having provided decent secondary scoring earlier in his career. Anton Khudobin, even if he is one of the best backups in the NHL, is a luxury the Stars simply can’t afford at his current $2.5 million hit. Defensemen Roman Polak and Andrej Sekera are also pending UFAs. Finally, based on Perry’s production, the Stars shouldn’t re-sign him unless it’s for even lower than his current salary.
Even then, if the Stars clean house as they should, Nill may have just enough to give pending restricted free agents Hintz, Gurianov and Radek Faksa their well-earned raises. In effect, something else has to give for this to work.
1. Trade for Tomas Tatar
The 2020-21 salary cap is an admitted uncertainty. It may come to the point where Nill realizes neither Dadonov nor Hoffman will fit under the cap. As a result, he may have to go the trade route for help. Few potentially available players give as much bang for the buck as Montreal Canadiens winger Tomas Tatar with 58 points last season, 61 so far this one and a cap hit of $5.3 million.
After a setback with the Vegas Golden Knights, Tatar has rejuvenated his career with the Habs to become a legitimate top-line player. He also has one year under contract after this one, meaning he could likely be had for the right price.
Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin actually received flak for not dealing Tatar at this past deadline, in order to maximize the return. Assuming the Stars pony up the right combination of picks and prospects, the Habs could also facilitate a deal by taking on a bad contract, based on Bergevin’s current enviable salary-cap situation.
Hell, even if it’s just to deal away a bad contract and not acquire Tatar, Bergevin could be game. He’s actually made similar deals in the past, getting Joel Armia from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for taking on (and then buying out) goalie Steve Mason’s deal.
However any hypothetical deal shapes up though, it will have to be worth Bergevin’s while. He’s not running a Make-A-Wish foundation and, even if he were, the Stars aren’t exactly a charity case. They’re literally one or two pieces within reach from legitimately contending. How badly do they want to, though?