The Oilers are looking for two big points tonight as the Dallas Stars visit Rogers Place. The Stars have struggled to find any sort of balance this year. They’re ailing in goal, their penalty kill has struggled mightily, and they’re allowing shorthanded goals like there’s no tomorrow.
Defending Big D’s editor Taylor Baird helps me understand what’s going on in Dallas, as she takes some time to answer my questions.
Copper and Blue: For years, Dallas appeared to be a model of efficiency in net. This year, things look to have changed a bit. Kari Lehtonen is battling with a .902 SV% and Antti Niemi has only turned in a .895 SV%. Both goaltenders are 33 years of age and are signed through next season. Is the plan to stay the course with Lehtonen and Niemi next season?
Defending Big D: Dear hockey gods, please no. With just one year left on both contracts, they are going to either need to figure out a way to either trade one or buy one out and get an upgrade in net. Last season, the Stars were able to outscore their issues in net. With injuries and losses of two forwards to basically season-long injuries and Valeri Nichushkin to the KHL, they haven't been able to click the same way this season and outscore their problems. Goaltending has been great 5v5, but on the penalty kill they're the worst in the league. That's sunk a lot of games for them this season, and that cannot be how they go into next season in net.
Copper and Blue: Edmonton has had some recent issues with their penalty kill. The Stars have had trouble on the PK all season, which is currently dead last in the NHL at 74.1%. Why are the Stars having such trouble while shorthanded?
Defending Big D: We've been asking that ourselves for a while now... http://www. defendingbigd.com/2017/3/14/ 14549374/dallas-stars-penalty- kill-officially-the-nhls- worst-in-20-years-historic- records-milestones*
*Editor’s note: Dallas has a .824 SV% while shorthanded. It might not be THE reason, but .824 while shorthanded is dead last in the NHL.
Copper and Blue: Tell us about a player that's overachieved this season.
Defending Big D: Adam Cracknell's signing in the offseason was thought to bring some veteran depth to the Texas Stars, the Stars' AHL affiliate. With injuries out of training camp, Cracknell found a place on the NHL roster and hasn't looked back. He's potted 7 goals this season, which is 7 more than anyone expected of him before the season started.
Copper and Blue: Let's talk about coach Lindy Ruff for a second. This is his fourth year in Dallas. After an exceptional year in 2015-16 that saw the Stars win fifty games, they will likely miss the playoffs this year. It will Dallas' third season out of the dance in Ruff's four years as head coach. Is his job safe? What the general consensus of the head coach's performance?
Defending Big D: With the lack of success, and the top forward talent on the team, it feels like Dallas should at least be closer to a playoff spot than they are. However, Ruff can only do so much with the roster he's been given, particularly the whole "8 defensemen on the NHL roster" aspect.
I just don't see how Ruff is re-signed this summer after this season, if for no other reason than the message it sends to the fanbase, regardless of whether there is a better option available. Nill said when he signed Ruff originally that he wanted a coach for the long-haul, but with his contract expiring, this might be the most natural time to transition to someone else.
Copper and Blue: Fans of the Oilers have gotten really good at draft prep over the last decade. Should the Stars not win the draft lottery, they'll probably pick between the fifth and eighth spot. What is the Stars' most important organizational need? Is there a specific player that you'd like to see drafted? Or, do you select best player, regardless of position?
Defending Big D: In terms of organizational need, it's probably right wing with hockey IQ and play-making ability. However, that high in the draft, I could see the Stars' taking the best player available and then use the rest of their picks to fill that need with some diamond-in-the-rough scouting (looking at you, future 5th round pick All-Star player a la Jamie Benn and John Klingberg...)
Thanks to Taylor for her time!