Stars' questions involve how Spezza, Lehtonen fare

Monday, 08.11.2014 / 3:00 AM
Dan Rosen  - NHL.com Senior Writer

The Dallas Stars made a surprising run to the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. General manager Jim Nill then went out and added Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky to the mix, bolstering the offense and setting the Stars up for a chance at a deep playoff run this season.

To do it, they'll have to answer the following five questions:

1. Will Spezza fit in? -- Spezza targeted the Stars for the chance to play behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and for the opportunity, as he said, "to try to win the Stanley Cup." This should be a seamless transition for him as he goes from being the captain of a team in Canada to a second-line center and likely letter-less leader in Texas.

But Spezza has to produce. He has to be the No. 2 center Dallas didn't have last season if the Stars want to have any chance to compete in the Western Conference, where the best teams have excellent center depth and win in part because of how good they are down the middle.

2. Is Kari Lehtonen the right goalie to help the Stars get to the next level? -- The words came out of Nill's mouth without even a hint of hesitation.

"We have an elite goalie in Kari Lehtonen," he said earlier this summer.

So the Stars believe in Lehtonen as they continue to wait for Jack Campbell. Elite, though, might be a strong word when you judge Lehtonen solely on his limited playoff experience.

He's 30 years old and has played in eight playoff games, posting two wins, a 3.88 goals-against average and an .874 save percentage. He had a 3.29 GAA and .885 save percentage in six playoff games last season.

If the Stars do what is expected of them and return to the playoffs, Lehtonen will have a chance to prove himself. He is signed through the 2017-18 season with a $5.9 million salary-cap charge.

3. Can Tyler Seguin do it again? -- Seguin had 84 points in his first season in Dallas and developed chemistry with Benn that should stick. He is playing his natural position and has found a home after a solid if controversial start to his career with the Boston Bruins.

Seguin isn't a one-hit wonder. He is a talented center with equal ability to score and be a playmaker. Benn benefitted from him as much as Seguin benefitted from Benn. They are one of the best 1-2 forward duos in the NHL and should be again.

4. How can Dallas improve its special teams? -- The Stars penalty kill was 21st in the NHL at 81.4 percent and their power play was 23rd at 15.9 percent last season.

Dallas' horrid start on home ice is a big reason why the power-play percentage was so low. The Stars were 6-for-80 (7.5 percent) on the power play at American Airlines Center through their first 21 home games. They went 18-for-78 (23.0 percent) in their last 20 home games.

The power play should be better with Spezza and Hemsky. Spezza, in fact, might bump Cody Eakin off the man advantage, or at the very least reduce his role, giving Eakin a chance to focus on becoming an elite penalty killer. Nill and Ruff like Eakin because of his versatility.

5. Will the defense hold up or do they need an upgrade? -- The plan for Dallas is to go with a top-six of Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Jordie Benn, Brenden Dillon, Sergei Gonchar and one of Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, Cameron Gaunce and Kevin Connauton.

Nill liked what he saw at the end of last season, when Daley and Goligoski found chemistry as a pair and Dillon, Benn and Nemeth came on and played better. Oleksiak, Nemeth and Gaunce got championship experience in the Texas Stars' run to the Calder Cup.

"I'm very comfortable with it," Ruff said. "I think there is room for growth."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl

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