The Dallas Stars have been on quite the roll. They are on a 12-game point streak and are 14-1-1 over the last 15 games. While the Stars are flying high, there is one issue that the coaching staff, and most likely general manager Jim Nill, will need to address: they have far too many forwards.
Now, this issue is one that most teams would like to have, but there are only so many spots in the lineup for effective forwards. The issue came to light in the absence of Roope Hintz and Mattias Janmark.
Janmark missed four games before returning to the lineup with a goal during a 5-3 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Nov. 21. Hintz—who leads the Stars with 10 goals in 17 games—was back on the ice Saturday against the Chicago Blackhawks.
Hintz, like Janmark, registered a goal on his return. While having Hintz back in the lineup should boost Dallas’ offense, the team’s winning percentage is below 50% when he is on the ice.
With Dallas’ offense back to full strength, who are the candidates for the press box?
Janmark’s goal-scoring acumen has slipped dramatically over the past few seasons. He burst onto the scene with 15 goals in 2015-16 and then followed that with a 19-goal campaign in 2017-18 after missing the previous season with a knee injury.
He scored just six goals last season and is on pace for 12 goals and 32 points this season. He has goals in his last two games after being held off the score sheet for 15 straight games.
“I felt pretty good throughout the year,” Janmark told the Dallas Morning News. “Early on, we couldn’t get the results, so it’s kind of hard to keep playing the same way because you’re starting to doubt the team and you start doubting yourself. But now we get the results, and I think it’s easy to stay patient and keep playing,” (from ‘Good problems to have: Stars have tough decisions to make with Roope Hintz, John Klingberg set to return,’ Dallas Morning News, 11/22/2019).
According to Hockey-Reference, the Stars have been controlling the puck less frequently when Janmark is on the ice in recent years. His Fenwick percentage at even strength, which measures how much time his team has control of the puck when he is on the ice, fell from 53.6% during his rookie year in 2015 to 47.3% through 20 games this season.
Justin Dowling has been a revelation of late. The 29-year-old has spent most of his career with Dallas’ American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, and was routinely a healthy scratch or played sparingly when inserted into the lineup.
He had played 20 NHL games before this season, totaling just three points and no goals. He has already played 19 games this season, with three goals and four points.
More evidence of his climb, and increased confidence from head coach Jim Montgomery, was that he centered a line with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin against the Jets. He also played a season-high 13:25 that night. Dowling was held out of Monday’s 4-2 win over the Vegas Golden Knights due to an upper-body injury.
One of the most veteran forwards on the roster, Cogliano might be the least impacted by the Dallas’ forward overload. He is 32 years old and closing in 1,000 career games—playing game 968 Monday night.
Though still a consistent and reliable scorer (averaging nearly 12 goals a year during his career), he is best known for his work defensively, as he won the Selke Trophy awarded to the best defensive forward in 2015-16 as a member of the Anaheim Ducks. In more than 45 minutes on the penalty kill, opposing teams have scored just four power-play goals when Cogliano is killing a penalty for the Stars.
His defensive ability is what will likely keep him on the ice, and Montogomery and company know he will be a stable force. Before his two-game suspension last season, he had played in 830 consecutive games, the fourth-longest streak of all time, trailing Doug Jarvis (964), Garry Unger (914) and Steve Larmer (884).
Jim Nill Working on a Trade?
Dallas knows they have too many forwards. The league knows Dallas has too many forward. Could Nill trade one of them for a piece down the road? Quite possibly.
The last thing the Stars need is a forward, however, they do need another scorer. A player like the New Jersey Devils’ Taylor Hall would give them a potent offensive lineup, but would further complicate issues. Hall is also an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season and would cost a steep price if the Stars are unable to re-sign him.
The defense could be the one position where Dallas could use an upgrade. They gave up three goals per game during their 1-7-1 start, but have since rebounded and are allowing just two goals per game during their current 14-1-1 stretch.
However, a player like the Buffalo Sabres’ Marco Scandella could be an option, as speculation began early this season that the Sabres could be shopping the defenseman. Scandella provides Dallas what they need, a 6-foot-3, 208 pound player who has averaged 19 minutes per game over his career.
The Stars are in the midst of their best run in years, their seven-game winning streak is tied for a franchise best. Also, they are now just two points behind the Central Division leader, the St. Louis Blues.
Montgomery, Jon Stevens, Rick Bowness, and Todd Nelson will have some hard decisions to make behind the bench. The harder decisions, though, could come from Nill looking down from the press box.