Let’s Wrap Up The Crappy 2017-2018 Season For Your Dallas Stars By Handing Out Grades To Every Single Player On The Roster.

Welcome to Forechecking™, our weekly Dallas Stars column that looks back at the hockey week that was, and the hockey week that will be.

For the eighth time in 10 years, Your Dallas Stars will not be participating in the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs.

But, man, it sure seemed like they were going to make the second season for a while there. Early on in this year’s campaign, the Ken Hitchcock-coached squad looked like it was going to wholly turn things around after last year’s disappointing, basement-dwelling effort. Then came a string of untimely injures, which, coupled with an historically atrocious losing streak, doomed the bois in Victory Green to yet another long summer away fro m the ice  as the questions surrounding the state of the franchise swirl around general manager Jim Nill and the rest of the brass back at Dallas Stars HQ.

Before we can look forward, though, we must look back. As is tradition here at Forechecking™, we’re ending the season by grading every single Dallas Star’s effort using a highly scientific and mathematically sound formula that factors in player expectation, position expectation, salary, the eyeball test, statistics (with or without corsi), highlights, lowlights and blacklights.

Let’s get to it.

Front Office.

Jim Nill. The man seemingly makes all the right moves during free agency year after year just to see his creation underwhelm and disappoint when the puck drops. Big free agent signings Ben Bishop, Martin Hanzal and Marc Methot each saw limited ice time due to injury, but where would this team be without the addition of Alexander Radulov? Some vocal fans were quite, uh, vocal about Nill’s inaction during the trade deadline — and, yeah, in hindsight, standing pat proved to be costly. But with Dallas hosting the NHL Draft in June, the Stars weren’t about to toss around picks to score a rental for a team that was clearly (at the time) in the second rung of the West. So we won’t fault the him there too, too much. But there were definitely effective forwards to be had for peanuts at the deadline, and the Stars should could’ve used some of them. Still, Nill is usually reactionary to team deficiencies, and it will be interesting to see how he adjusts/overhauls this roster in the coming months. Grade: C.

Coaching Staff.

Ken Hitchcock, Stu Barnes and Rick Wilson inherited a dumpster fire of a team that was bottom of the league in positives, and league leaders in negatives. Many were happy to see the Lindy Ruff era end and were confident in one of the NHL’s most winningest coaches odds at turning around the team’s fortunes — and, to a certain extent, Hitch came through on his promise. His team peaked midway through the season, posting quality numbers in most defensive categories as well as improving its special teams play in that usual Ken Hitchcock way, but it was unable to effectively adjust to adversity once the wheels started to shimmy and shake. It certainly seemed as though the team bought into Hitch’s system as several key players improved their respective games to new career heights, but the mental fragility of the group as a whole was remarkable. Most of the shiny toys signed from the offseason were flat out broken for the majority of the year, and the youth in the lineup failed to embrace the opportunity of increased playing time. Hitchcock can’t be blamed for losing key personnel down the final stretch of the season, but he is directly responsible for scratching more offensive-minded talent from the lineup in favor of bigger players with less skill. In the end? Some good. Some bad. So sad. Grade: C.

Forwards.

Jamie Benn (GP: 82 G: 36 A: 43 P: 79 +20). Jamie get new coach, Jamie grow goatee, Jamie get new winger, Jamie not play as good as BFF Tyler, Jamie not play as good as new winger Alex, Jamie looks disinterested, Jamie try sometimes but not try so hard most times, Jamie coasts into defensive zone, oh look Jamie hit someone! Jamie coasts through neutral zone, oh no Jamie turn puck over! Jamie new friend Alex fights to get puck back, Alex pass Tyler the puck, Jamie coasts into offensive zone and shoots and scores! Yay Jamie! Jamie sit on bench, Jamie not say much, Jamie daydreams, Jamie take a nap, Jamie score hat tricks when games don’t matter, Jamie stats look good! Jamie misses playoffs again, Jamie ready for another long summer. Jamie go back to Six Flags with friends, Jamie even buy friends churros with his allowance! Life is good! Jamie like his life! Grade: B-.

Remi Elie (GP: 72 G: 6 A: 8 P: 14 +5). Last season, we were pleased to see the super speedy winger crack the lineup for a few games to ignite a bit of spark for last year’s lackluster group. We were also leery of the Texas Stars AHL talent getting significant playing time, stating specifically of Remi, but meaning the entire Texas Stars roster: “His game is really rough around the edges and he needs to work on puck control and awareness, but we like him as an emergency call up.” That sentiment hasn’t changed since last season, and unfortunately is a significant reason why the Stars forwards were so ineffective this year. AHL talent makes up the bulk of the Dallas Stars forward roster. No knock on Remi, though. He showed great effort on the year and, while he disappeared as the season collapsed, he was a good call up if not an everyday player. Grade: B-.

Radek Faksa (GP: 79 G: 17 A: 16 P: 33 +21). When the season opened with Hitchcock starting Radek as the 4th line center, we were miffed at the insult to Faks, but knew it would only be a matter of time before the responsible young Czech earned bigger minutes. Cue the inevitable centermen injuries to Martin Hanzal and decline of elder Spezza and Faksa centered the best shutdown counter-punch checking line the Stars have had in some time. Even though Faksa actually saw less average ice time this season than last, he managed to score a career-high 17 goals while flipping last season’s -6 to a +21 (team high) all while battling the opposition’s best line night after night. Fantastic. He’s grown more comfortable in the NHL, and has developed a snarl and confidence that has translated to yet another year of improvement. Grade: A.

Martin Hanzal: (GP: 38 G: 5 A: 5 P: 10 -14). We weren’t exactly shouting from the mountaintops when Jim Nill decided to sign the veteran to a three-year contract, but we were happy enough to have a center that could win crucial faceoffs and occupy real estate in front of the net. Hanzal showed that he can do both, when healthy. Playing in only 38 games in a Stars sweater, the former first-rounder was shut down for spinal fusion surgery after months of various injuries. How healthy (and honest) was Martin when negotiating his contract with the Stars? He had an ankle injury before training camp even started! Whatever is left of Hanzal after rehabbing will be interesting to see, because his lack of presence just ain’t gonna cut it on such a shallow roster. Grade: Incomplete.

Mattias Janmark (GP: 81 G: 19 A: 15 P: 34 -13). The fact that Mattias is even able to effectively skate in the NHL after missing a year recovering from surgery is fantastic. The Stars’ Masterton nominee returned to the lineup seemingly without missing a step (even though off the ice, he maintained a bit of a hobble). The Stars leaned more heavily on Janmark this year than in his rookie year back in 2015, and he played well in his 2017 sophomore season on the disastrous second line. Unable to rekindle his chemistry with Spezza at center, Janmark often seemed like a dancer without a partner, plying his trademark high-speed wide stance stride to generate scoring opportunities that too frequently didn’t connect. Too bad whatever combination of line mates he was given couldn’t exploit his efforts with the puck. As the calendar turned and games became more frequent, Janmark certainly looked fatigued. But you can’t blame the kid after all he has been through. Grade: B.

Tyler Pitlick (GP: 80 G: 14 A: 13 P: 27 +9). The former Edmonton Oiler finally found his groove and health in Victory Green. Spending most of his ice time on Faksa’s hip, Pitlick posted career highs in, well, everything. Honestly? We expected Tyler #2 to have a breakthrough season, and he accomplished that modest task for his modest role. The checking line winger skated well through 80 games (previous high was 31) and provided quality minutes down the lineup on a squad desperate for responsible play below the top line. He’s cheap, he’s fast, he’s skilled with the puck and he’s deceptively physical. Nice little year for Pitlick. Grade. A-.

Alexander Radulov (GP: 82 G: 27 A: 45 P: 72 +4). Color us impressed. We had some misgivings signing the burly winger to a large and lengthy contract on account of his tumultuous past in the NHL and his age, but damn was #47 impressive. Whatever negative stereotypes enigmatic Russian scorers carry in this league were thoroughly smashed as the 31-year-old gave every shift 110 percent this year. Sure, Alex was prone to the stick swinging penalties from time to time, but his exuberance on the ice had the Stars faithful all in a tizzy. This sonofabitch is the most fun player we have ever seen play in a Dallas sweater, and we ain’t Jokinen. A true throwback player of a bygone era, Radulov’s physicality, offensive creativity, work ethic and yippee ki-yay attitude is some true Captain material. Radulov also set career highs in every category worth mentioning and immediately clicked with the Stars’ top line while dragging his team into battle night in and night out. Dallas is lucky to have a player of his caliber and makeup. Grade: A.

Brett Ritchie (GP: 71 G: 7 A: 7 P: 14 +1). Well it’s our fault, really. We thought Brett would develop into a solid second line winger with a respectable scoring touch and penchant for the physical under Ken Hitchcock. We were only half right. While Brett continued his strong physical play from years past, what little offensive upside the 6-foot-3 wing once showed completely disappeared. His possession numbers are good, and he managed more hits in less ice time than last year, but boy golly this big man has the most befuddling shot we’ve ever seen (hyperbole?). His release is slow, his velocity weak and his offensive awareness is well below NHL quality. Damn, we missed on this one. After it became obvious to the Stars coaching staff that Brett was not a viable option on the second line, he was deployed as a grunt on the powerplay with true scoring talent doing the dirty work along the boards to mixed results. Eventually, he found himself winging it on the 4th line. We don’t know what to do with this guy, and neither does this franchise. Yeesh. Grade: C-.

Antoine Roussel (GP: 73 G: 5 A: 12 P: 17 +1 PIM: 126). The French fan favourite saw his offensive game slip as he entered his sixth NHL season, all with the Stars. His numbers across the board dropped noticeably as his time on ice plummeted, rivaling the low average time on ice he faced his rookie campaign in 2012. What happened? Antoine helped the Stars’ formidable checking line disable the opposition on most nights, but his time in the penalty box ballooned for how little he was used. Yes, Roussel is the victim of reputation call, and yes, Roussel usually would draw the offsetting minor, but for a five-goal scorer, this isn’t ideal. Antoine enters the summer as a UFA and we’d be surprised if he returns to Big D with the inevitable raise someone is willing to pay him. On a contender, his services will go a long way. On a team desperate for someone to put the puck in the net, Antonie sadly isn’t the guy you seek. Au revoir, Antoine. Have fun in Pittsburgh next season. Grade: B-.

Tyler Seguin (GP: 82 G: 40 A: 38 P: 78 +12). We’ve spoken so highly of #91 this season, and awarded him our NHL Hitz Pro Player of the week over 50 percent of the time this. So heaping more praise his was feels redundant. Still: Tyler killed it this year. The best skater on the team saw his greatest growth as a player and was at his most consistent ever. Seems he is finally over his taking-icky-naked-pictures-for-public-consumption phase. What more could you want from your No. 1 center? His game has improved in every facet, and hockey pundits have declared Seguin as Modano 2.0 under coach Ken Hithcock — and they ain’t wrong. The first-time 40-goal scorer was a force in both ends of the rink, and he managed to flip last season’s -15 to a +12. Nice! Sure, he is angling for a fat pat payday with a new contract on the horizon, but, really, if Dallas trades Tyler, what could they possibly get in return? A couple first rounders that they’ll waste on players that will never see NHL action? A bird in the hand is worth fifty in the bush here in the city of awful drafting. Just an excellent season for the maturing centerman. Grade: A+.

Devin Shore (GP: 82 G: 11 A: 21 P: 32 -30). We hate this, we really do. Devin seems like such an affable fellow and a good teammate. We can see the effort he puts into every game and the ridiculous left wing assignments the coaching staff throws at the natural center. We see how his confidence charging the net for scoring opportunities eroded to chipping the puck into the corner in fear of making a mistake. We know his possession numbers are absolutely dreadful and that his game has completed stunted. Yes, his -30 on the season was sixth worst in the NHL. Yes, he is posting worse numbers across the board than in his mediocre rookie year. Yes, we understand he is not a player you can win with. Yes, we are super bummed about it. Maybe the Penguins can take him and develop his game in a way the Stars can’t. Or maybe Devin isn’t that dudeGrade: D-.

Gemel Smith (GP: 46 G: 6 A: 5 P: 11 +5). Another AHL talent that some Stars fans demanded gets more ice time. Gemel split time between the 4th line and the press box during the season and showed spark and speed in the limited time he spent with the big club. Gemel’s biggest knock is that he is small, listed at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds (nope). His speed is evident and his heart apparent, but if we are truly being honest, Gemel is a talent that is suited for the infrequent emergency call up, not to save this Titanic of a team. Grade: B-.

Jason Spezza (GP: 78 G: 8 A: 18 P: 26 -12). Oh Jason Spezza, where to begin. Was last season’s woeful production a sign of things to come? Was the hiring of defense first coach Ken Hitchcock the nail in his career? Was the signing of Martin Hanzal for second line center duties the tell-tale sign by management in their lack of confidence in Spezza? No matter, the results speak for themselves. Eight goals and a -12 from a 34-year-old unable to keep pace. You can slice this situation 7.5 million ways, but the cold hard truth is that this well-compensated veteran needs to be given his golden parachute and part ways with the team. He’s done as a Star. Grade: F.

Defense.

Dan Hamhuis (GP: 80 G: 3 A: 21 P: 24 -6). The elder third pairing defenseman performed noticeably better this season as a Dallas Star. Reaching 1,000 games career games is quite the accomplishment, and he earned 80 of those while being paired with AHL defenders for most of this year. Since his rookie season in 2003-2004, Dan Hamuis has never taken a faceoff — until 2018, where he went 0-1 between the dots. Hey, that’s pretty fun to think about! He must have been super excited to try something new on the fly like that! Will this UFA be back to patrol the blue lines for Victory Green next season and get mucked up with Ben Bishop? Probably not, and we thank him for his service. Grade: B-.

Dillion Heatherington (GP: 6 G: 0 A: 1 P: 1 +3). I mean, Hitch suited Dillion up for six games this year for the sole purpose of spiting a cocky Julius Honka. So… Grade: INC.

Julius Honka (GP: 42 G: 1 A: 3 P: 4 -1). Is it because Honka is small? Is it because Honka has a chip on his shoulder? Is it because Honka thinks he’s better than everyone? Is it because we were suddenly told that Honka isn’t nearly as skilled as we’ve been told for years? Whatever the case, the Stars coaching staff decided to do the ol’ “you’re in one game, you’re out the next” D man shuffle that has plagued this franchise for far too long. Sure, the diminutive Finn didn’t exactly light the league on fire with his lone goal on the year, but by golly, for a team that had the offensive punch of a super soaker, maybe put some puck movers in the lineup? Either trade this former blue chip for an everyday player for your inept team, or start this player everyday on your inept team. Honka is losing value by the minute in the meantime, and looking less appealing as the Miro Heiskanen era nears. Grade: C.

Stephen Johns (GP: 75 G: 8 A: 7 P: 15 +10). Two steps forward, one step back for the talented former Blackhawk asset. On the plus side, he scored as many goals as Jason Spezza while being $6.7 million cheaper. On the negative side, Johns was unable to establish himself as a steady defender capable of eating the game’s toughest minutes. Prone to costly turnovers, his average time on ice has dipped to a career low at a time when he should be blossoming as a Duncan Keith Lite on the backend. We fully expected Stars assistant coach and D man guru Rick Wilson to develop Stephen into the impact player we know he can be, but the progress has been slow. He missed the last week of season with an upper body injury but we hope to see Stephen at 100 percent, and take the next step in his young career. Grade: B.

John Klingberg (GP: 82 G: 8 A: 59 P: 67 +10). What a bounce back season for our workhouse Swede! John led all NHL defenseman in scoring for long stretches of the year — and by a wide margin at that — before fizzling out during the Stars’ collapse and eventually ending up tied for second. Being the team’s only viable option for zone exits, #3 was tasked to carry more than his share of the load on the backend, consistently feeding the top forward line while wearing a huge bullseye for the opposition’s gameplan. The league knows that, to completely derail the Stars offense, you need only to suffocate Klingberg. We do wish he could have maintained his mastery for the entirety of the season, but, hey, we get it. Averaging 24 minutes a night is no easy task when your team can’t score without you on the ice. Grade: A.

Esa Lindell (GP: 80 G: 7 A: 20 P: 27 +27). Quick, what was your favorite Esa moment of the season? Yeah, we’re drawing a blank too, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. The sophomore was tasked to ride shotgun with Klingberg while providing a safeguard to the antics of Kling and his high-scoring buddies. Esa plays with the poise of a much older player and understands his role as a shutdown defender,. His good positioning is a byproduct of stick work directing opposing forwards to less lethal areas where he is efficiently strong along the boards. One area we would like to see improve in his game is puck possession — his 50 giveaways to 19 takeaways is concerning for a defender not tasked to make difficult plays with the puck — and we’d also like to see him fire his ankle high wrister more often from the blue line as his shot reminds of a light weight Mattias Norstrom. In all, though, a good year for Lindell. Grade: B+.

Marc Methot (GP: 36 G: 1 A: 2 P: 3 +11). When you hear Marc give interviews and see how he presents himself, you imagine how unifying his leadership qualities can be in the locker room, which makes his absence from the team even more depressing. Signed during the offseason to help shore up the league’s worst defense, hopes were high for the former Senator. But Marc only suited up for a grand total of 36 games this season, and he never seemed to find his way or develop chemistry with a defensive partner. His +11 surprised us as he was deployed extensively in the defensive zone and carried very average possession numbers. What’s even more puzzling is that the Stars’ fortunes were greatest with him out of the lineup due to injury. Surely this is some sort of fluke! A bust of a year for the veteran, and hopefully not a sign of things to come. Grade: C.

Greg Pateryn (GP: 73 G: 1 A: 12 P: 13 +6). Never having played more than 36 games in a season, the fourth year defender picked up right where his trade partner Jordie Benn left off. He’s solid in the defensive zone and plays a heavy game, but is completely out of his depth once the play enters the neutral zone and beyond. For a hot minute, Rick Wilson effectively used the Pateryn/Hamhuis duo as their de facto shut down tandem to close out games and stifle any late period goals against. Their ability to do that diminished as the season wore on, and Greg in particular saw his game deteriorate from over exposure and over pursuit of “the big hit”. Kudos for him for trying, though. He has always given his best effort. But, fact is, Pateryn is a 7th defender in this league and should be used as such. Dallas brass also saw the UFA as the better option out of Jamie Oleksiak and Peter Nemeth, who have gone on to have respectable seasons with their respective new clubs and are both in the playoffs. Bad call on keeping this expiring asset over your own homegrown talent, which may be an admission that the system is completely fruitless in developing players. Grade: C+.

Goaltenders.

Ben Bishop (GP: 53 W: 26 L: 17 OTL: 5 GAA: 2.49 SV%: .916 SHO: 5). In a nutshell, Ben was perfectly adequate in net before suffering a freak knee injury. The team played with more confidence with Big Ben patrolling the crease, and one wonders if a healthy Bishop would have prevented the Stars season-killing losing streak. No, his numbers aren’t particularly great and were more in line with his recent years’ output rather than his Vezina quality runs. But for a team that led the league in goals against last year, his backstopping played a big role in overall defensive improvement. His injury history is concerning, and even though Dan Hamuis’ free fall on his knee was unavoidable, we don’t have complete confidence that Ben will play out his plush six-year contract. Fun fact: When you search Ben Bishop into Youtube, the top two autocomplete suggestions are Ben Bishop Fight and Ben Bishop Injury. Grade: B.

Kari Lehtonen (GP: 37 W: 15 L: 14 OTL: 3 GAA: 2.56 SV%: .912 SHO: 1). Some casual fans will lay the blame of the epic 2017-2018 solely at Kari’s skates, but the reality is more complicated than that. Kari has always been prone to the soft goal, the late period goal, the game is on the line goal, and this year was no different. But the longtime Star provided dare we say excellent back up netminding when he was used as a back up netminder and not the lead guy. There were many games this year that the Stars had no business of winning in which Kari was clearly the best Star of the game. Should he have been given a break during that insane losing stretch? Yes. A stressed-out Kari is a bad Kari, and when your team cannot find a way to score more than two goals a game for a month, you shouldn’t be surprised by the results. The UFA may very well be likely be back next year on a substantially cheaper deal, and we are OK with that. You won’t win a Stanley Cup with Kari Lehtonen, but you sure as hell should make the playoffs. Grade: B-.

Final Thoughts.

The 2017-2018 season has been quite a ride. Early enthusiasm gave way to patience which gave way to great results that gave way to an emptiness. A fully healthy squad would certainly be in the mix right now, but if you can’t adjust and don’t have the depth to maintain an 80 percent chance of making the playoffs with a month left in the season, you don’t deserve a chance at the Stanley Cup.

Oh well. It is what it is. Thanks for tuning into Forechecking™ every week this season. You boys and girls have a safe summer, and remember to always follow your dreams!

We out.

Flip it. Stick it. See ya later, bye. — LehtMoJoe

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