For the Dallas Stars, the 2015-16 season was a pretty solid run. The Stars finished first in both the Central Division and the Western Conference, though they did later fall to the St. Louis Blues in the second round of the NHL playoffs. Their record was 50-23-9, with 267 goals for and 230 goals against. Captain Jamie Benn was prepared to take his team to victory, leading them in goals, assists, and points. Coming into the 2016-17 season, it seemed like the Stars would take off with a strong head start and pick up where they left off from last year.
Unfortunately, that was not the situation. Dallas ended up falling rather flat this year, finishing eleventh in the Western Conference and sixth in the Central Division. As a result, they completely missed the playoffs. They went 34-37-11 during the season, with 223 goals for and 262 goals against. In comparison to the Chicago Blackhawks, who finished at the top of the Central Division and Western Conference with 109 points, the Stars only picked up 79 points.
The Stars’ biggest problems this year were their defense and goaltending. They relied heavily on their offense to put up high tallies last season, which ended up working in their favor during the regular season. However, with their offense faltering a little more this season, they struggled to keep up with some of their competitors and ended up falling flat. Kari Lehtonen had 2.85 goals allowed on average, while Antti Niemi was even worse, with 3.30 goals allowed on average. With a lot of money locked up between their two goalies, the entire Stars organization knew that there had to be change this year or that they would once again find themselves heading towards the bottom of the standings.
The first big move the Stars made was picking up Ben Bishop. The former Tampa Bay Lightning and Los Angeles Kings goaltender will bring a huge change to the team and really help them step up their game. During his career, Bishop has a 2.32 GAA and a .919 save percentage. He has also won in over half the games he has appeared in. With Bishop likely taking the top goaltending spot, Lehtonen will end up as the backup. He did a decent job this past season, posting a save percentage of .902.
To make room for Bishop, the Stars also had to get rid of someone and they chose to put Niemi on waivers. Once he cleared them, the team was able to buy out his contract and part ways with the 33-year old. During his time with Dallas this season, Niemi posted an awful .892 save percentage, while appearing in only 37 games. Though the Stars are stuck with a $1.5 million cap hit due to the buyout, they are certainly saving themselves some of the goaltending grief that they went through this past year.
The Stars also did some smart shopping during the 2017 NHL Draft, to ensure some strong goaltending in the years to come. They drafted top goalie pick Jake Oettinger, who is 6’4” and has a .927 save percentage. At only 18, Oettinger is still planning on finishing up school at Boston University and hopes to play for Team USA during World Juniors. The Stars also hired Jim Bedard, a goalie coach who will work with the Texas Stars, the Stars’ AHL affiliate, on developing their players.
After finishing last season at the 29th slot for goals against on average, the Dallas Stars are not looking to repeat the trend. Their newly acquired talent can hopefully give them the boost they need to tighten up the backend and allow the offense to do their job. It won’t be an overnight process, especially since the team will have to wait until opening night to see how they compare to the other teams in the league, but with some strong picks and a great pickup with Bishop, the Stars seem to have a brighter future ahead of themselves.