Sunday, October 1, 2017

NHL Preview 2017-18: Dallas Stars

GM: Jim Nill (since 2013). 8/10
Coach: Ken Hitchcock (second stint, since 2017). 8.5/10

2016-17 record: 34-37-11, 79 points, 24th overall, out of playoffs.

Departures: Antti Niemi (G), Ales Hemsky (RW), Patrick Sharp (LW), Cody Eakin (C).

Arrivals: Ben Bishop (G), Alexander Radulov (RW), Marc Methot (D), Martin Hanzal (C), Tyler Pitlick (LW), Brian Flynn (C).

Top forwards: Jamie Benn (75-85 points), Tyler Seguin (75-85 points), Jason Spezza (60-70 points), Radulov (50-60 points), Radek Faksa (35-45 points), Devin Shore (35-40 points), Hanzal (30-35 points), Mattias Janmark (30-35 points), Antoine Roussel (35-45 points).

Must-improve forwards: Roussel was gaining traction when he fell to injury; look for him to take another step up this season. Alternatively, Hanzal was an anchor for the Minnesota Wild, and he likely will be for the Stars as well, possibly forcing Hitchcock to play him alongside Radulov to get some kind of production out of the slow, aging Czech.

Top defensemen: John Klingberg (50-60 points), Esa Lindell (25-30 points), Methot (15-20 points), Stephen Johns (20-25 points), Julius Honka (15-25 points).

Goalies: Bishop (90/100), Kari Lehtonen (77/100).

Top rookies: Honka (21 years old, D, 2014 first-round pick), Miro Heiskanen (18, D, 3rd-overall pick at the 2017 draft), Denis Gurianov (20, D, 2015 first-round pick), Jason Dickinson (22, C, 2013 first-round pick), Riley Tufte (19, LW, 2016 first-round pick).

Like last year's Nashville Predators and the 2013-14 New York Rangers, it will take a few months for this Dallas Stars team to gel and start being consistent, but when they do, it'll be a straight road to the Stanley Cup Final for them.

After dressing the worst goaltending tandem in the league last year, the Stars bought Niemi out and added the best goalie on the market, two-time Vezina finalist Bishop. They also added the best forward on the market in Radulov, but also the most overrated one, Hanzal.

The entire team will be better just for knowing that Bishop will be behind them, adding a layer of confidence and fearlessness unseen in Dallas since the days of Ed Belfour.

Ken Hitchcock - who was also at the helm of the 1999 Cup-winning Stars team and has added two Olympic gold medals with Team Canada since then - will ensure everyone plays up to their usual standards.

I smell another Cup for Dallas.

Prediction: 4th in the Central Division. Top Wild Card spot in the West. Stanley Cup winners.

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