The Dallas Stars have struggled through the first half of the NHL season. The Western Conference champions from a year ago have been amongst the biggest disappointments in the league, but how can the get the season turned around?
The Central Division last season was by far the most difficult in the NHL, but this year it has collectively taken a step back. The first two playoff spots look to be locked in by the Chicago Blackhawks and Minnesota Wild, but the third guaranteed spot is up for grabs between the Blues, Predators, Stars, and Jets. The key here is to win the divisional games against those teams. The games will often be four point swing games to help the winners make a huge jump in the standings against divisional rivals. It benefits the Stars in both the chances of claiming the third guaranteed spot or climbing past the other teams competing for the wild card births.
The second is to be both buyers and sellers at the deadline, which is very much unheard of. Dallas needs to offload Patrik Nemeth and move away from the confusing eight-defensemen system. Both Stephen Johns and Jamie Oleksiak have competed ahead of Nemeth this season and he could be traded for some low-end draft value to a team looking for a third pairing defensemen with some NHL experience. The Stars offense is much different than the defense and is in an older, win now, mode that means the team can’t just be sellers at the deadline. While it’s not clear what moves need to be made, the lineup this year has far from gelled and could use a shake up. With the expansion draft coming up this offseason the trade deadline could see some very surprising deals to help teams on both sides of the spectrum.
Finally Dallas can’t afford anymore loser points. The Stars are the only team in the league yet to go to a shootout this season, and that is because of horrific play in the extra period this season. Dallas with eight trails only Buffalo who has nine losses in overtime, but five of those have come in the shootout. Dallas has seen the extra frame ten times this season, dropping eight of them. Teams competing for the playoffs need to pick up those valuable two points to move up the standings and the Stars have flat out dropped the ball this season in that aspect.
The Stars still are within reach of both a divisional playoff spot and both wild card spots, but still drastically need to improve play in the final 42 games. Sorting out the shaky defense and over time woes are a start, but most importantly they need to win the four point divisional swing games if they want to see the playoffs in consecutive years for the first time since 2006-07 and 2007-08.