Before the Stars’ training camp was halted by a coronavirus outbreak that included six players and two staff members, the team’s training camp lacked much intrigue.
The team’s leading scorer was hurt. The top two goaltenders hadn’t taken the ice. There was one new offseason addition. The coaching staff was back intact. For the most part, the Stars who practiced three times before COVID-19 paused camp and delayed the start of the season were the Stars the hockey world had seen last year.
On the periphery of the lineup, a couple of spots looked up for grabs, but given their usage last week, Jason Robertson and Nick Caamano appear to have won the fourth-line winger roles. So instead of position battles for roster spots, the Stars have battles to get on the taxi squad.
The taxi squad is a 4-6 player group (requiring at least one goalie) that will travel and practice with the team and be available to fill in. Players on the taxi squad do not have to quarantine to join the NHL roster, making their inclusion into games a seamless one. They get paid their AHL salary while on the taxi squad and would have to pass through waivers (if not exempt) to get there.
The Stars have an idea of whom they want to include on the taxi squad, but there are still many unknowns for the team’s roster construction.
When does the team put Stephen Johns on long-term injured reserve —
(during training camp or during the regular season)? Which players are impacted by COVID-19 during training camp? Are there any more injuries that would affect regular-season availability? Does the delayed start to the regular season allow the Stars more flexibility with the salary cap?
Given the factors still up in the air, let’s look at a couple of different scenarios for who is on the taxi squad. Rosters are due Tuesday afternoon.
The Stars opt not to put Johns on LTIR until the start of the season, which would allow them to use his $2.35 million cap hit during the season — potentially for a trade deadline acquisition — instead of training camp. In this situation, the Stars would fill the roster with 20 players instead of the 23-man maximum.
To get to 20 players, the Stars could waive defensemen Taylor Fedun and Joel Hanley and reassign Robertson. While Robertson appears to have a step on a job, he is waivers-exempt and carries a cap hit of $795,000. Once Johns is on LTIR, Robertson could easily be recalled once the Stars have more space to do so.
Hanley is probably the player most likely to be claimed by another team, even if teams around the league are dealing with cap crunches. He’s a veteran defenseman who had a decent Stanley Cup Final and is making the league minimum.
That leaves us with a roster that looks like this:
Potential Stars roster
Jamie Benn Roope Hintz Denis Gurianov
Joel Kiviranta Jersey Joe Pavelski Alexander Radulov Jersey
Andrew Cogliano Jersey Radek Faksa Blake Comeau Jersey
Justin Dowling Jason Dickinson Jersey Nick Caamano
Esa Lindell John Klingberg Jersey Anton Khudobin
Jamie Oleksiak Miro Heiskanen Jake Oettinger Jersey
Andrej Sekera Mark Pysyk
If this is the roster, the taxi squad fills in pretty easily, one would think.
Hanley and Fedun would be on it, as the coaching staff has shown it trusts both players to enter the lineup should they need to. Robertson is a lock if he’s not on the NHL team.
To get us ready for the season and a new alignment of divisions in the NHL, we’re answering five questions about the Dallas Stars for those teams that don’t see them more than twice a year under normal circumstances.
Allow us to introduce you to the Dallas Stars experience.
We should preface all answers with one major caveat: whatever you think is going to happen with Dallas this season, you’ll never see all of it coming. Since the start of the 2018-2019 season, the Stars have:
Drafted an elite defenseman after winning the draft lottery
Hired a coach from the college ranks
Had the team’s captain and top center both publicly called “fucking horseshit” by their own CEO
Eliminated the Nashville Predators in a thrilling overtime in the first round as an underdog
Were eliminated by the St. Louis Blues in Game 7 in double overtime
Started the next season on a 1-7-1 downward spiral
Followed that up with a 14-1-1 stretch
Abruptly fired that coach for conduct unbecoming
Hosted the second-most attended Winter Classic in league history in the league’s first non-traditional market
Hit a 0-4-2 skid and saw the season halted due to COVID-19
Came two wins away from hoisting Lord Stanley — all in a bubble in Edmonton
Removed the interim tag from Rick Bowness
Were the first team to have training camp shuttered due to a COVID-19 outbreak
We never know what the next installation of the Stars saga is going to give us, but we’ll do our best to try to make sense out of this team for those not familiar with them.
1) How would you describe your team’s style of play?
This is the million dollar question for the Stars heading into this season. The last couple of years, they’ve been known as defensive stalwarts with Vezina-caliber goaltending from their tandem. When the league went on pause, then-interim head coach tweaked the system the team played. It looked absolutely awful in the round robin.
But all of a sudden it clicked, and the Stars through a combination of luck and timely goal scoring (GOALS?!) played their way right to the Western Conference crown and a date with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Final. The biggest change was an activation of the blueline. With guys like John Klingberg and Miro Heiskanen on the backend, the Stars found a deadly weapon that’s tough to stop. After all, you have to pick your poison when you’ve got two elite defensemen on the ice for more than half the game.
2) What players should opposing fans know the name of – and why?
If you haven’t learned Miro Heiskanen’s name by now, you have been living under a rock. The smooth-skating defenseman in just his second full season in the league has vaunted himself into the Norris discussion. He’s quietly efficient on defense and deadly on offense and can skate as fast as the best in the league.
Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov represent the next wave of the Stars forward corps. They’ll have heavier responsibilities this season to help contribute offense consistently for a team that struggles with goal scoring in the regular season. Joel Kiviranta made a name for himself in the playoffs, scoring a hat trick as a rookie forward that barely saw any time in the NHL last year. He’s a question mark for Dallas this year and could be an x-factor.
3) Why could your team win the division?
Defensive structure will be what wins Dallas the division (if they can do it.) Having defensive responsibility drilled through them for the last couple of years means that when the blueline does activate, the forwards have a responsibility to cover for them to limit any damage that could be caused being aggressive in the offensive zone. If they can do that consistently, and get another stellar season from Anton Khudobin, the “additions” of Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin from off-season surgery recoveries at the end of March or early April could put Dallas over the top — and give them some fresh reinforcements for another potential deep playoff run.
4) Why could your team be the caboose of the division?
With the news that the Stars will not start their season on time thanks to a COVID-19 outbreak among the players (six tested positive, along with two staff members), it’s going to come down to what could undo any team this year: health, injuries, and season start.
The Stars are going to have to play an even more compact schedule with at least three games expected to be rescheduled. Also, because their training camp has been halted for the foreseeable future, if they get off to a rocky start, the divisional nature of the schedule this year could sink them before they ever get off the ground.
Tack on the fact that Bishop won’t be available for much of the season and rookie Jake Oettinger is going to be relied upon to help the team earn some wins in this crazy year, it’s easy to see how the Stars could sink out of the playoff picture. But all the way to the bottom, behind the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings? That would mean some things went epically wrong for Dallas this season.
5) On a scale of baby kitten to Tiger King, what’s the potential of the heated matchup of your team with your new division mates?
Dallas has recent history with the Nashville Predators. Between the playoff elimination and the Winter Classic drama, there could be some fireworks between these two this year once again. This has the highest potential of Tiger King energy of any match-up between the Stars and any new Central division mate this year.
Closely behind that would be the storyline of the Stanley Cup winner and the Stanley Cup runner-up will be written about ad nauseam this season, considering they’ll play each other eight times — more than any other final rematch in a regular season ever before. The tiger versus lion debate to see who is king of the jungle every time these two go head-to-head.
The closest to one another on paper, the Carolina Hurricanes and Dallas Stars will be like two lions trying to determine who will be the leader of the pride. Big Lion King energy.
Dallas fans always get irked at how well Chicago Blackhawks fans travel to their home arena under normal circumstances. Tack on having to watch a divisional rival lift a few Cups and some pretty epic tilts between the two, and there’s bound to be some fireworks between these two. It’ll be like watching a lion and a gazelle. The lion will try to pounce and draw first blood early, and the gazelle will try to outsmart and outlast the lion’s attack. Who the gazelle is and who the lion is will change from game to game throughout the season with these two.
The Columbus Blue Jackets and Florida Panthers are rarely seen by the Stars each season, so there’s not much real bad blood here. The Panthers could get interesting, and the Blue Jackets might try to bore the Stars to death, so let’s call these baby kittens with sharp claws that could do a little damage.
Last you have the Detroit Red Wings. They used to be in the same division as the Stars, and the two meet a number of times in the postseason in the 90’s and early 00’s. But with both teams in very different points in the sports team lifecycle, we’d say this matchup would be Paper Tiger soft. The Red Wings might get some pleausre from occasionally punching up when they play the Stars, but we all know who the better team is right now — and as Stars fans know, living in the past only takes you so far in the lean years.
Defenseman Thomas Harley Jersey should find a home there, given the organization’s added belief in his defensive game. Harley is the team’s top prospect and is fulfilling his quarantine requirement after playing for Canada at the World Junior Championship. The Stars could also want Harley playing in the AHL (if allowed) instead of serving as the team’s ninth defenseman in the NHL, but giving Harley time with the NHL team is something the Stars liked doing in Edmonton.
Center Ty Dellandrea Jersey should also make the cut, able to provide a two-way, right-handed center on a team that is lacking in them with Tyler Seguin hurt.
Goaltender Landon Bow is a better option than Colton Point to be the taxi squad goalie.
Taxi squad (Scenario 1)
Ty Dellandrea Taylor Fedun Joel Hanley Jersey
Jason Robertson Jersey Thomas Harley Landon Bow
The Stars choose to put Johns on LTIR during training camp, meaning Dallas can use his entire $2.35 million until the season starts. After that, though, the Stars can no longer use Johns’ cap hit. Dallas would have minimal flexibility during the season should it do this.
Should the Stars go this route, they would want to maximize the amount of his cap hit used, and potentially with as many bodies as they can. This scenario would mean the Stars do not have to waive Fedun or Hanley, and Robertson can be in the opening night lineup. Instead, by including those three players on the roster, they would use $2.232 million of the available $2.35 million.
That roster looks like this:
Potential Stars roster
Jamie Benn Jersey Roope Hintz Jersey Denis Gurianov Jersey
Joel Kiviranta Joe Pavelski Jersey Alexander Radulov
Andrew Cogliano Radek Faksa Jersey Blake Comeau
Nick Caamano Jersey Jason Dickinson Jason Robertson
Justin Dowling Jersey
Esa Lindell Jersey John Klingberg Anton Khudobin Jersey
Jamie Oleksiak Jersey Miro Heiskanen Jersey Jake Oettinger
Andrej Sekera Jersey Mark Pysyk Jersey
Joel Hanley Taylor Fedun Jersey
Injured reserve LTIR
Tyler Seguin Jersey Stephen Johns Jersey
Ben Bishop Jersey
Dellandrea, Harley and Bow would probably still be on the taxi squad, which leaves three spots open. Rhett Gardner appears to have an inside route to one of the jobs. He played last year in the NHL and can fill in on the penalty kill if needed. Joel L’Esperance appears to be the best option of the other forwards since he can provide some offensive punch if the Stars need a center.
That means Riley Tufte, Adam Mascherin, Tanner Kero, Tye Felhaber and Riley Damiani are destined for the AHL.
Could the last spot on the taxi squad belong to Julius Honka Jersey?
Honka would have to be waived to get there, and the best-case scenario for him could be that another team claims him (since he would be on an NHL roster with a chance to play his first NHL game in two years). He has previous NHL experience, and impressed Bowness enough during Wednesday’s scrimmage for the head coach to mention him during his media availability.
It would also be somewhat fitting that in Honka’s return to North America, he was stuck in an endless loop of practice and buried as the No. 10 defenseman in the organization.
Dallas’ other options on the back end are Ben Gleason, Ryan Shea, Jerad Rosburg, Joseph Cecconi and Dawson Barteaux.