Per Annual End-Of-Season Tradition, Let’s Give Each And Every One Of Your 2021 Dallas Stars’ On-Ice Performance A Letter Grade, Eh?
Well, that’s that!
As much as we would have loved to see the 2021 Dallas Stars complete their push to the playoffs and eke their way into the Central Division’s top four, we’re also pretty relieved to see the team get some rest and an actual offseason this year.
Simply put, there were too many key players out of the lineup and too many hurt players in the lineup for this year’s squad to make an actual run for the Cup, let alone survive a first-round matchup against a very good Carolina Hurricanes team.
Sure, the Stars could’ve and should’ve won a few more in overtime this season, stayed out of the box in crucial games and found ways to pull out more wins against the likes of Chicago and Detroit to clinch a playoff berth. But we ain’t mad about it.
The bois were asked to do the impossible, and they gave it their all in the process.
It does makes us wonder, though: Would the NHL have forced a franchise like the Boston Bruins or Pittsburgh Penguins into a three-month slaughterhouse schedule of four games a week as the Stars were faced to endure this season? We really doubt it — to hell and back.
Alas, it is what it is.
And, as is tradition here at Forechecking™, we’re ending the season by grading every single Dallas Stars players’ effort on the year by using our patented, highly scientific and mathematically sound formula, which factors in player expectation, position expectation, salary, the eyeball test, statistics (with or without Corsi), highlights, lowlights and black lights.
Let’s get Kraken!
It was 56 games of random faces, unusual line combinations and exhausting forechecking — a season best embodied by JT Money’s 1999 smash hit single, “Who Dat.”
Jamie Benn (GP:52, G:11, A:24, P:35, +13). The captain’s 12th NHL season went about as well as fans can expect from the veteran at this stage in his career. His consistent presence in a revolving lineup was key in giving the team an actual second line to build around — particularly later in the season when the natural winger was asked to move to center, a position he reluctantly converted to under the Joe Nieuwendyk regime. And while we don’t have any way of quantifying it, Benn seems to give the younger and less experienced players a bit of a confidence boost when big brother is in charge. Yes, we absolutely still hate his shin pad shots and turnovers at the top of the circles, not to mention his absolute reluctance to use his impressive wrister more frequently. But he was clearly more mobile this year than last, and a beast on the faceoff with 56.1 percent win-rate. A quality year overall from Chubbs! Grade: B+
Andrew Cogliano (GP:54, G:5, A:6, P:11, -18). “Cogs” is about as lunch-pail as an NHLer can get, and with the coaching staff upping the winger’s minutes this season, Cogliano slumped a bit as a member of the flagging FCC line. The 33-year-old with over 1,000 career games under his belt will head into the summer as a UFA, and although he still has the wheels, he is going to have to take a significant pay cut from his current $3.25 million cap hit in order to return to the team. Grade: B-
Blake Comeau (GP:24, G:4, A:10, P:14, -13). Has anyone seen Comeau and Cogliano in the same room at the same time? The two checking wingers play a very similar style of game with Comeau leaning more heavily towards the big hit. But with his penchant for physical play coupled with a condensed schedule, Comeau was often overexposed when chasing down the Central Division’s top lines night after night, leading the entire team with 37 penalty minutes. Like Cogliano, Comeau heads into the offseason without a contract and we wonder if the team will bring him back with younger options developing. No matter what the future holds, he has been a good soldier for the Stars. Grade: B-
Jason Dickinson (GP:51, G:7, A:8, P:15, -2). It may have been the month or so that Dickinson went with a partial razor tooth grill after an errant high stick, but no one looked more miserable in Victory Green™ this year than Dicky did. From fourth-line center to first-line winger and everywhere in between, the 25-year-old utility player stepped into whatever role was asked of him admirably, but never fully comfortably. His offensive stats this season don’t look great — they were about on par with his very modest career output, and we do wish he would develop a true net front presence — but Dickinson was a driver of play and solid away from the puck. He is clearly one of the better depth options on this team. Maybe a full bird cage is in order for the man with the magnetic face? Grade: B
Radek Faksa (GP:55, G:6, A8, P:14 -15). The Stars’ top shutdown player didn’t have a great year. In fact, this may have been Faksa’s least effective season in his career, and understandably so. Neutralizing the likes of Patrik Kane, Brayden Point and Sebastian Aho is one hell of an assignment, but having to do so on a nearly daily basis is a recipe for physical and mental failure while skating career highs in ice time. It was a circumstantially poor year for Faksa overall, but the centerman did improve on the dots; his 55 percent faceoff success rate was a significant upswing from last season’s 49.8 percent. Our recommendation? Flush the year and move on. Grade: C+
Denis Gurianov (GP:55, G:12, A:18, P:30, +0). We were hoping the Russian Sniper would build upon his breakout rookie year to become a consistent scoring threat for the Stars’ top six, but unfortunately for Denis and the Stars alike, the added minutes and responsibility saw the speedster suffer a significant sophomore slump. At his coldest, the right-winger failed to register a goal through seven games and he was largely invisible on the ice as his confidence waned, leaving coach Rick Bowness to keep him on the bench during crucial closing minutes of games and overtimes. Not ideal for a player who possesses the best one-timer on the team and a set of the quickest wheels! We’ll chalk up the subpar season to growing pains and an absurdly low shooting percentage of 9.2 percent. A more well-rounded Gurianov is still in the making. Grade: C+
Roope Hintz (GP:41, G:15, A:28, P: 43, +13). Conversely to Gurianov, Roope’s increased usage saw the 24-year-old Finn develop into a bona fide all-star-caliber player! All aspects of the center’s game has improved since his NHL debut in the ’18-’19 season, with Hintz posting markedly better statistics across the board and maturing his defensive game, allowing the coaching staff to deploy him more often. This season, he set a career high in average time on ice at over 18 minutes a night — a huge jump up from last season’s 14:45. The biggest concern with Hintz is obviously his injury issues, which has fans holding their breath before any given lineup announcement. Also, his relatively lackluster 49.2 percent faceoff win percentage, which lags the other regular centermen on the team, definitely stands out. Regardless, he’s easily the most dynamic forward the Stars can dress, and the sag in team speed is apparent without Roope leading the charge and setting the pace. Grade: A
Joel Kiviranta (GP:26, G:6, A:5, P:11, +3) Last season’s playoff surprise gave fans hopes that “JFK” would become a consistent contributor to the team. But, like many other fallen Stars, injury kept the Finn in the press box more often than the ice in 2021. What should our expectations for a 25-year-old who hasn’t seen 40 games in the NHL be? A depth grinder with offensive flair? Surely, that is what the coaching staff sees in the winger as his 12 minutes a game suggests. He’s small, but deceptively hard to knock off the puck. He doesn’t have top-end speedm but he can twist up defenders. He has a sneaky shot with a 14 percent shooting percentage, but barely averages over a single shot on net a game. A weird year for a weird (in a good way) player! We hope to see a healthy and productive season from Kivi next year. Nay, we demand it! Grade: B-
Joe Pavelski (GP:56, G:25. A:26, P:51, +22). The ’21 Stars leaned heavily on the 36-year-old, who spearheaded the Stars’ offense as the team’ leading forward in ice time, goals, points and plus-minus. Also, until the final week of the season, he lead the entire NHL in power play goals! Yep, Pavelski was extremely productive — but also healthy, it should be said. The increased workload for the grizzled veteran didn’t stop him from suiting up in all 56 games this season — a feat no other Stars forwards could manage. It’s kind of baffling how a player of his age can be so durable and still so damn good, but it’s clearly a testament to how serious “Captain America” takes his job through preparation and training. There is a chance the newly formed Seattle Kraken snag Joe in the expansion draft, thus making Pavelksi’s tenure as a Star all too brief and only 123 regular season games long after signing a three-year deal with the team back in 2019. No, we don’t know what the future holds for Joe. But we sure as hell hope it’s here! Grade: A+ and our NHL HITZ PRO Player of the Year!
Drop the knee, touch the sky.
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) January 25, 2021
Alexander Radulov (GP:11, G:4, A:8, P:12, +9). Damn. One day Rads was in the lineup just straight killin’ it, and then next thing you knew, he was done for the year. The team says he will be fully healed and ready to go next season after successfully undergoing surgery to repair a core injury, but after similar proclamations for Ben Bishop and Tyler Seguin from the front office, we aren’t holding our breaths. As annoying as his offensive zone penalties are, Radulov’s energy and offensive punch have been sorely missed. Grade: INC
Jason Robertson (GP:51, G:17, A:25 P:45, +13). The silver lining to having an entire scoring line out with injury is it opens up the opportunity for somebody to ascend the depth chart and fill the void. “Robo” was given every chance to stake his claim to the top six, and after a few weeks of unsteady baby bird steps, the 21-year-old was quickly flapping his wings up the freshman scoring class. His creativity with the puck and confident playmaking skills were the perfect compliment to Pavelski and Hintz, too, as the trio carried the team’s attack once assembled. The more ice time the rookie phenom was given, the better he played. In short order, he became the Stars’ go-to player with the game on the line. Whether he wins the Calder Trophy for NHL rookie of the year, Robertson was the most impactful rookie for his respective team this season, and he will only grow more integral to the team for many years to come. We almost have to pinch ourselves, folks. Do the Stars really have a potential homegrown superstar on their hands?!?! Grade: A+
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) March 8, 2021
Tyler Seguin (GP:3, G:2, A:0, P:2). The Stars would’ve made the playoffs with a healthy(ish) Seguin arriving back in the lineup just one week sooner, no cap. But we mustn’t lament on the year that was without Tyler. Instead, let’s celebrate the successful return of a player who put in serious work off the ice. We’re genuinely excited to see what Seguin 2.0 has in store for the team next season. Grade: INC
— Tyler Seguin (@tseguinofficial) May 3, 2021
It’s no secret that the Stars’ biggest area of strength is it’s defensive corps. And, by the power of Grayskull, the top four remained relatively healthy and in the lineup all year long. Unlike previous years, however, the group’s performance was largely forgettable and merely stable — akin to Metallica’s “The View.” I am the Table!
Miro Heiskanen (GP:55, G:8, A: 19, P:27, -9). The Norris-caliber defender won’t be receiving many votes for defenseman of the year this season, but we aren’t overly concerned about Heiskanen’s relatively down 2021 outing. The team’s average ice-time leader with 24:58 minutes a game (also the ninth most in the NHL), the 21-year-old Finn’s tactician-like approach to defending eroded at times from making the best play possible to whatever play is available. No one else was more hampered by the insane schedule, really. He just could not reliably and safely utilize his incredible skating ability to do the things that make him a special player this year. Just a fluke-y and human year for a future hall of famer. Grade: B-
John Klingberg (GP:53, G:7, A:29, P:36, -15). Fans sometimes forget just how good Klinger is and, sure, this season wasn’t the Swedes’ finest. But as the longtime rearguard enters the final year on his super team-friendly contract, we are getting all misty eyed at the possibility of him possibly being shipped away via trade sooner than later. With a huge salary bump on the horizon, and other key players due long-term deals, we aren’t envious of general manager Jim Nill’s task of navigating the salary cap. Nevertheless, we all need to appreciate the offensive zone wizardry that No. 3 provides, and realize that all the good Klingberg brings to the ice far outweighs any misadventures he has with the puck. For real: Y’all are just constantly bitchin’ about the dude nonstop and acting like we didn’t go over 13 years without a true No. 1 defenseman on the team before Klingberg arrived! Haters gonna hate, I guess. Buncha mark-ass tricks. Grade: B-
— DailyDallasHockey (@DallasStarsDDH) May 11, 2021
Esa Lindell (GP:56, G:5, A:11, P:16, +11). The Finnish “Godfather” was quietly the most consistent D-man — and possibly player — on the Stars this season. A fixture in the lineup for all 56 games, Lindell managed to stay healthy through 23 minutes a night, 114 hits and a team-leading 105 blocked shots. His defensive point shares, which estimate of the number of points contributed by a player due to his defense, was far and away the team’s highest at 4. (Heiskanen was second on the team in this state with 2.7.) In terms of physicality, Lindell took it as much as he gave it, and we can count on two hands the amount of times the defender limped to the bench after taking a rocket to the shins on the penalty kill. A strong year for the 26-year-old! Grade: A-
Jamie Oleksiak (GP:56, G:6, A:8, P:14, -3). One of only three Stars to suit up every game this season, the rough and tough 6′ 7” Big Rig has finally blossomed into the beautiful defenseman we all knew he could be! His notable growth in average time on ice — from 15:49 last season to 20:29 this season — was well earned too, as his projected statistical output through 82 games would have set career highs for him in most categories. Although paired with a more mobile defender in Heiskanen, Oleksiak has finally gained the confidence to carry the odd play or two with his above average speed, and that often draws the opposition off guard. Now he hits free agency at the peak of his value, and at 27 years old, he’s likely looking for an increase in salary and term. We would love to have him back. Grade: B+
— DailyDallasHockey (@DallasStarsDDH) April 12, 2021
Andrej Sekera (GP:46, G:3, A:2, P:5, +12).You like fun facts? OK! How’s this for fun: Sekera’s +12 was fifth-best on the team, behind only Pavelski, Roberston, Hintz and Benn. Whoa! That is fun! The Stars’ fifth defenseman was noticeably better in his second year with the club, all while playing with a carousel of LD partners. We think Sekera benefited from a rollback on ice time, dropping from 18:00 a night in 2020 to 15:38 in 2021, but don’t see that as a sign of diminishing confidence from the coaching staff. Rather, we see it as the fear of possiblt riding a 34-year-old to an early grave. Can’t really ask much more from a third-pairing defender, can you? Grade: B+
Well, with Bishop out the whole dang year, this wasn’t really the duo we needed in net. But it was the duo we deserved. And, as Rob Base told us all those years ago, it takes two to make a thing go right.
Anton Khudobin (GP:32, W:12, L:11 T/O:7, SV%: .905, GAA: 2.54, SO:3). After last season’s stellar campaign by the Kazakhstani, we were expecting a bit of a regression to the mean — especially without Ben Bishop in the rotation. And, well, we certainly got that! It was by no means a poor year for a career backup, but there is no denying the dip in quality starts that netminder produced this year — his first season as a “starter” at age 34. An offseason with COVID, a false positive during the season that kept him out of the lineup, a benching by Rick Bowness for not showing up to practice on time and uneven play all contributed to the goaltender’s goofy year. With the Seattle expansion draft looming, Dobby is on the shortlist of quality unprotected goalies available. Could this mean the end for the Bishop/Khudobin tag team? It’s very possible. Grade: C+
Jake Oettinger (GP:21, W:11, L:8, T/O:7, SV%:.911, GAA: 2.36, SO:1). While Oettinger’s rookie season didn’t blow us away like Marty Turco’s first year with the Stars did back in 2001, we’d be lying if we didn’t say we were very impressed with the 22-year-old’s first legitimate swim through the big show. All the tools are there, and with some fine-tuning on his overly aggressive telescoping and rebound control, there’s no reason why Oettinger can’t work his way into the league’s upper tier of netminders one day. Hell, he may even be good enough to be the next Jack Campbell! Grade: B+
— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) April 7, 2021
Everyone Else: Pass
The Taxi Squad and friends were absolutely crucial to the Stars being able to… well, ice a lineup at all.
So, way to go, Landon Bow, Nicholas Caamano, Justin Dowling, Rhett Gardner, Joel Hanley, Thomas Harley, Tanner Kero, Joel L’Esperance, Mark Pysyk and Sami Vatanen. Y’all really did that!
It’s silly to grade these individuals beyond just acknowledging their role as an assortment of players who weren’t regulars in the lineup and were mostly unable to actually practice.
The Stars’ official slogan this season was “Next Man Up” — and, by golly, this group certainly lived up to it.
The Taxi Squad? More like the Vengabus, lol. Amirite?
A Look Ahead
Next year promises to be a bit more normal for the bois in Victory Green™, and we have great confidence that, with a healthy roster and humane schedule, Rick Bowness and company will be in excellent position to make next season’s revenge tour a thing of beauty.
Thanks for tuning into Forechecking™ again this season, folks!
We hope you’ve enjoyed our slapstick coverage of the team as much as we’ve enjoyed bringing to you.
Stay safe, wash your hands and #GOSTARS!
Flip it. Stick it. See ya later, bye. — LehtMoJoe