Most Improved Team

The Dallas Stars are coming off a very disappointing season. Jamie Benn did not have the type of season he is capable of. The goaltending was near the bottom of the league. The roster did not seem fit to play the style of hockey Lindy Ruff wanted them to play. It is now three days into July, and the Stars are now looking like the potential Central Division Champions.

It all started on May 9th. With the rise of Andrei Vasilevskiy in Tampa Bay, Ben Bishop was traded to the Kings at the deadline and was set to hit free agency on July 1st. Dallas stepped in and traded their 2017 4th round pick for the rights to Bishop, and soon after signed him to a 6-year, $29.5 million contract. Just under $5 million a year is a pretty good deal for an elite goaltender like him. This led to the buyout of Antii Niemi, leaving Kari Lehtonen to serve as the backup. I believe keeping Lehtonen is the better move. He has been the better of the two, and Niemi seems to be on the decline since leaving San Jose. Lehtonen is very similar to Cam Ward as a goaltender who had his elite seasons, but has lost that step through the wear and tear on his body. While he and Ward aren’t the goalies they once were, you still see glimpses of the past from them, and I think they would be considered top-end backups. Bishop and Lehtonen, therefore, should be a very good tandem.

Dallas’s defense was also a problem last season. Their next move was to address that need. In the expansion draft, Ottawa lost Marc Methot to Vegas. Jim Nill traded a 2nd round pick and goalie Dylan Ferguson for Methot. It was one of the many questionable moves by Vegas, but a fantastic deal for Dallas. He will be a big help in the top 4 for Dallas.

Vegas took Cody Eakin from Dallas in the expansion draft, which seemed like a bit of a loss to their depth at center. In 60 games this past season, however, he finished with just 3 goals and 9 assists, a big drop off in production from him, so even just a 4th line replacement would be an upgrade from last season. Still, I was saying before free agency started they should go for a top 9 center like Martin Hanzal. Sure enough, they signed Hanzal to a 3-year, $14.3 million contract. He has had some injury-riddled seasons, but, at 6’6″, 226 lb, he is a big body who can give you about 15 to 20 goals in a season. He will definitely be an improvement in their top 9.

Losing Colton Sceviour in 2016 was a blow to Dallas’s bottom 6. For depth, they added Tyler Pitlick, who will be a good replacement for Sceviour.

Just today, they signed Alexander Radulov to a 5-year, $31.25 million deal. While the cap hit is high, this is a very good move, at least for the time being. Montreal has now taken another step back, losing one of their best offensive outputs, while Dallas has taken a step forward. He scored 18 goals and tallied 36 assists in 2016-2017. Putting him with Seguin and Benn could lead to a very lethal line offensively. If they can convince Nischuskin to return, that could make this move even better. Even so, their top six has been enhanced with this acquisition.

So, recapping their offseason so far, with the trade for Bishop, they improved their goaltending immensely. Acquiring Methot strengthens their defense. Signing Hanzal and Pitlick increases their depth and adds about 20-30 goals to their team. Radulov solidifies their top six. I see them competing for the top spot in the Central with Nashville (who also is a team that has improved) this season, and most likely taking St. Louis out of the playoff picture. For me personally, I will be rooting for the Stars to make the playoffs since I will be living just outside of Dallas and would like the chance to experience the Stanley Cup playoffs live in person.

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