Once again the Dallas Stars missed the playoffs this past season. While missing the playoffs is bad, the Stars are still a good hockey club with good management. This is a carbon copy of the situation with the Carolina Hurricanes, so the Stars should make the playoffs in 2015-16.
Like the Hurricanes, the Stars were among the top 10 teams in puck possession (Fenwick For percentage). So here we have another team that missed the playoffs but played like a playoff team should. Also, they have the reigning Art Ross Trophy winner in Jamie Benn indicating that offense wasn’t the problem.
What was missing from this team, however, was their defense and goaltending. While the emergence of John Klingberg was nice, one player isn’t going to make a difference. In response, management signed Johnny Oduya, a top-four option on the reigning champion Chicago Blackhawks. Oduya will complete the defensive corps that Dallas is trying to build along with Alex Goligoski, Jason Demers and in the future, Julius Honka.
But the focus of this offseason was on their goaltending as the Stars traded for the rights of Antti Niemi. Niemi and Kari Lehtonen give them two quality starting goaltenders next year, but the price tag of $10.4 million is concerning. But since the play of Lehtonen was the Stars’ biggest downfall, I’m not surprised that they would acquire an insurance policy for him.
This season was an outlier for Lehtonen. In 2014-15, he posted a pedestrian .903 save percentage which lacks in comparison to the .914 save percentage he has over his career. Lehtonen’s save percentage was also the lowest of his career, even lower than his rookie season on a bad Atlanta Thrashers team. Therefore, acquiring Niemi, who is capable of posting acceptable numbers, lessens the risk of another lost season.
Injuries were another factor as young star Valeri Nichushkin was out for most of the year. Nichushkin’s size and skill are valuable to the forward corps, and adding him along with Patrick Sharp makes the Stars stronger in the offensive zone. There are many reasons to expect the Stars to not only make the playoffs but to contend for a Stanley Cup in 2015-16, especially if Lehtonen returns to his normal form. This team improved in every facet and should reap the rewards next season.