Elimination Eval: Dallas Stars

The final team to fall out of the running to make the Stanley Cup Finals, a team in a very similar situation as the Rangers, the Dallas Stars. Aging veterans chasing glory? Check. Impressive core? Check. All-star goaltender? Check. Young players with the potential of becoming stars? Check. Not the first time they’ve gotten close and fallen short? Double check. This is the second year in a row the Stars have been eliminated in the Conference Finals. Not to mention their trip to the Cup Final in 2020 when the Lightning beat them to win their first of back-to-back Championships. A lot of similar questions the Rangers face can be applied to the Stars as you have to wonder if we’re nearing the end of their window as we know it. 

Back when we still had hope and the Rangers had as good a chance as any to get to the Cup Final, I had Dallas being the more favorable matchup for them simply based on their road to get to this point. They’ve played the most hockey out of any other team in the playoffs and were likely going to begin running out of gas as things progressed if they weren’t already. Round 1 went to seven games, Round 2 went to double-overtime in Game 6 so might as well have been seven and if they were going to advance again, it would have taken another seven. Alas, they’re run would end in six to the Edmonton Oilers. 

Dallas drew the short straw in Round 1 having to take on the defending champs and boy did it show. Vegas took Games 1 and 2 which forced Dallas to have to really claw their way back in the series. They were up to the challenge as the Stars went on to win three in a row before eventually being forced to a Game 7. Radek Faksa would be the hero in regulation, scoring a big goal just 44 seconds into a third period where Dallas was able to hold off the Knights to advance to the next round. As if that wasn’t a tough enough start to the playoffs, Dallas would go up against another Western Conference powerhouse in the second round, the Colorado Avalanche. 

Again proving rest can be a bit overrated, the Stars got off to an outstanding start heading into the first intermission up 3-0 against Colorado. The problem would become maintaining that lead as by the time the next intermission came around, the Avalanche brought themselves within a goal. An early third period goal from Nathan MacKinnon helped force overtime and halfway through it, Miles Wood beat Jake Oettinger on the rush to put Game 1 to bed and Dallas down in the series. Perhaps that was the wake up call they needed as the Stars would go on to win the next three, threatening the series up 3-1. 

Couple of things were really clicking for Dallas. For starters, their power play was finding success with Miro Heiskanen picking up a pair of goals in Game 2. On top of that, Logan Stankoven, who was one of their highly regarded prospects going into the season, registered a pair of goals in Game 3 as he transitioned as seamlessly into playoff hockey as he did the league in general. You also had Wyatt Johnston taking big steps as he continued to help lead this team to success, scoring a power play and shorthanded goal in Game 4, the night before his 21st birthday. Pretty cool story for one of their promising young stars. 

Of course Colorado isn’t just a strong team, they’re one that’s been there before. They weren’t going to turn over easily, but certainly had their work cut out for them. Joe Pavelski got the Stars on the board early and Miro Heiskanen regained their lead with yet another power play goal in the second. However, three unanswered goals and an empty netter for Cale Makar’s second of the night completed a 5-3 score to force Dallas back to Colorado for a Game 6. 

Naturally, just as the series began, it would end with a game that required some extra hockey. This time, it was Matt Duchene becoming the (double) overtime hero. There’s plenty you can talk about regarding this game and the series as a whole but how about a moment for Matt Duchene? Despite being a third overall draft pick, it hasn’t been the easiest road for Duchene to navigate throughout his career. Following numerous trades and trials with different teams playing various roles, Duchene really seemed to fit in well with the Dallas Stars this year. To score such a key goal against not only the team that drafted him, but the team he spent close to nine seasons with at the start of his career has to feel pretty darn good. 

On to the third round as the Stars would go from having to shut down MacKinnon, Makar and their merry men to Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and theirs. At this point, there was enough reason to believe that if the Stars didn’t get off to a strong start, it would begin to take a larger toll on their chances They were forced to pull off a substantial comeback in Round 1, battled their way through the Colorado series and now had to go up against just as strong a team led by two of the best players in the sport. They don’t call it the hardest trophy to win in all of sports for nothing. 

The Western Conference Final got off to the exact type of start people were hoping for and expecting. Just an incredibly well played game by both sides, a great matchup between the two top teams in the West. After a scoreless first, Leon Draisaitl found the back of the net early which soon after resulted in Zach Hyman giving Edmonton a 2-0. Tyler Seguin had a quick answer just two minutes later and then picked up a second with about four minutes left in the game to send Game 1 to overtime. One period of bonus hockey wouldn’t suffice but just 32 seconds into double-overtime, Connor McDavid called game. 

Dallas needed an answer and they did just that. After an early goal from Jamie Benn and a quick response from Connor Brown, the Stars regained the lead in the third and evened up the series after an empty netter from Esa Lindell. Game 3 would prove to be the high moment in their run aside from the Duchene series winning goal as Jason Robertson scored a hat-trick to help his team edge out the Oilers, 5-3 to take the lead in the series. 

The low point for the Stars would come in what could have been a series defining moment. Again, extremely similar to how the Eastern Conference Final played out. After taking an early 2-0 lead in a game that would have put them up in the series 3-1, the Stars allowed Edmonton to come up with four unanswered goals to tie up the series with a 5-2 win. I mentioned earlier how the Stars power play was playing a part in their success. Edmonton’s would become more of the difference maker in a crucial Game 5 as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins converted twice to give the Oilers a 2-0 lead early in the second. 

As if that wasn’t a challenging enough deficit to come back from, rookie defenseman Philip Broberg, who was just inserted into the Oilers line-up, came up with his first career playoff goal to make it a 3-0 game. Wyatt Johnston came up with Dallas’ only answer which left this team on the brink of elimination. On top of that, veteran defenseman Chris Tanev was seen walking around in a boot prior to Game 6, leaving his status in question in the hours leading up to a do-or-die moment. 

It was later explained on locker clean-out day that Tanev hurt some tendons in his ankle. Not only able to play in Game 6, but he came up with an assist on Dallas’ only goal. Unfortunately for the Stars, it wouldn’t be enough as the Oilers skated away with a 2-1 win which is wildly impressive considering they only had 10 shots on goal throughout the entire game. Special teams once again became the game-changer as both of Edmonton’s goals came while the Stars had a man in the penalty box. 

As alluded to at the beginning of this article, the biggest question facing the Dallas Stars is going to be awfully similar to the one the Rangers face. Does this group have it in them to get it done? Obviously there is a lot of young talent on this team in Wyatt Johnston, Logan Stankoven, Ty Dellandrea, Thomas Hartley and Nils Lundkvist. I’d even consider putting Jason Robertson in that category as well. You also have guys who have been around a little longer now, through all of these runs in Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz and Esa Lindell, not to mention Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin who have been here since the end of the Mike Modano era. That’s where those questions really lie. 

Benn will be 35 this summer and is entering the final year of his contract. Sequin will be 33 next January and only has three seasons left on his deal. Both players have had an extensive collection of injuries throughout their careers. Not only will you have to wonder if they can hold up as they approach the back nine of their careers, but if they’ll hold up enough to be a difference maker in this team’s ability to get over the hump. I wouldn’t be surprised if Benn re-ups on a two-year deal to match what’s left of Seguin’s but if we’re having these same conversations about this team after the next season or two, it might be time to shop them for some assets that can help them down the road. 

Arguably the biggest headline to come out of Dallas’ locker clean-out day was that veteran forward Joe Pavelski is expected to retire. The longtime Shark-turned-Star is the all-time leader in playoff goals by an American-born player and played a huge role in Team USA’s 2010 Silver Medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. While he will finish his career without ever lifting the Stanley Cup, he has well over 1,000 games and points under his belt making him one of the best American-born players of all time, as well as one of the best playoff performers of all time. Certainly a shame that he won’t get a ring but Rangers fans know as well as any fan base you can’t play forever. 

Aside from Pavelski, the Stars are set to lose Matt Duchene, Craig Smith, Jani Hakanpaa, Chris Tanev, Derrick Pouliot and Scott Wedgewood as UFA’s. They will also need to figure out extensions and plans for RFA’s Ty Dellandrea, Sam Steel, Thomas Harley and Nils Lundkvist. Continuing to base a projected lineup off the theory that all RFA’s return and UFA’s walk, the Stars are looking at something along these lines for next season: 

Robertson - Hintz - Seguin

Marchment - Johnston - Dadonov 

Benn - Steel - Stankoven 

? - Faksa - Dellandrea

Lindell - Heiskanen

Harley - ?

Suter - Lundkvist


It’s a solid foundation to run it back with but it all comes back to that question of whether or not this group can get it done. They’re projected to have just under $16 million in available cap space so depending what Harley costs, they could have some flexibility heading into free agency. I wouldn’t be surprised if they kept Wedgewood as Jake Oettinger’s backup seeing as he’s been there for quite a while now and has proven to be effective in that role. 

If they have the money and interest, they could consider another year or two of Matt Duchene who fit in really well with this group. They do have younger players that can take over his role at center but it’s safe to assume they’d be more than willing to move some things around if it meant bringing Duchene back. Guys like Wyatt Johnston, Mavrik Bourque, Sam Steel and others can either move to the wing or down in the line-up entirely for at least another season without the risk of damaging their development.  

Chris Tanev will also leave a big void on the team’s back end. In terms of what he brought to this team, you can justify bringing him back but when you factor in injuries, his age and what he can probably make in the open market, a return doesn’t seem likely. Replacing him if he does walk will undoubtedly be Dallas’ priority in the off-season. Finding a top-four right handed defenseman is one of the most difficult tasks to accomplish as a general manager so they’ll definitely be hopeful that Nils Lundkvist can take a bigger step with this team next year. 

Outside of Logan Stankoven and Lian Bichsel, the Stars don’t have a particularly deep prospect pool. They have Mavrik Bourgue who was already knocking at the door towards the end of this run and Christian Kyrou who could be a longer term solution on the right side of the back end but the list kind of ends there. The Stars do a really good job of drafting so as long as they continue to collect pieces while remaining competitive, there’s reason to believe they’ll be in good standing down the road. 

It’ll be interesting to see what approach General Manager Jim Nill takes and how it compares to what Chris Drury and the Rangers do. As long as Jake Oettinger continues to be the goalie he can be, there’s enough talent up and down this roster to run it back, it just may come down to the surrounding cast they can manage to provide for this core. There could also be some questions regarding Head Coach Pete Deboer who has now lost in the Conference Finals a total of 5 times throughout his career. It’s frustrating after another year of the same outcome but you have to think this team is right there, now it’s just a matter of actually going the distance.