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Busy offseason brings high expectations for Stars

Additions of Bishop, Radulov, hiring of Hitchcock have Dallas thinking rebound is imminent

by Sean Shapiro / NHL.com Correspondent

The Dallas Stars have high expectations heading into the 2017-18 season. 

"All of us around here are excited to get things going," captain Jamie Benn said. "It's kind of hard not to be excited, and we know that we can do good things with the group we have here." 

A lot of that excitement started with a busy offseason and the return of coach Ken Hitchcock, who won the Stanley Cup with Dallas in 1999.

Dallas improved in goal by trading for and signing goalie Ben Bishop to six-year, $29.5 million contract. Forwards Martin Hanzal and Alexander Radulov signed as a free agent, and defenseman Marc Methot was acquired in a trade with the Vegas Golden Knights.

"It's an exciting group. I never planned to leave Ottawa, but after the expansion draft, things happened and I'm really happy to end up in Dallas," Methot said. "And with what they've done here, the management has done a nice job building a team that can win now."

The Stars are looking for defensive improvements after a disappointing season. Dallas dropped 30 points in the standings, finished 29th in goals against per game (3.17), and had the NHL's worst penalty kill (73.9 percent) in more than two decades.

Benn and center Jason Spezza each missed time, and forward Mattias Janmark missed the entire season because of a genetic knee disorder.

Here is a look at the five keys for the Stars, the inside scoop on their roster questions and projected lines for the 2017-18 season:

 

5 KEYS

1. Buying into Hitchcock's system

Hitchcock is looking to implement a more disciplined defensive style. He brought in long-time assistant Rick Wilson to mold a young defense that should be bolstered by Methot's addition. Hitchcock is also looking for top players to buy in and wants to turn Tyler Seguin into a true two-way center, similar to how Hitchcock helped Mike Modano's game in the late 1990s.

2. Improving in goal

Goalies Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi each struggled last season. Dallas bought out the final year of Niemi's contract and hope Bishop's addition will help solidify the position. Bishop has been a Vezina Trophy finalist two of the past three seasons with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

"Ben signing really got the ball rolling for us," Stars general manager Jim Nill said. "To go get a goalie like that, he's one of the best in the League, that's the type of move our players and coaches were excited about."

The Stars also think Lehtonen can improve as a backup, and Nill said it could be one of the best pairs in the NHL.

3. Fixing the penalty kill

The additions of Hanzal and Methot should improve the penalty kill. Hanzal's ability to win faceoffs (56.4 percent last season) is going to be an asset when the Stars are shorthanded.

"If you win the draw and get it down, that kills a good 20 seconds right away," Hanzal said. "That's what I'm looking forward to doing."

4. Radulov could help form formidable line

By bringing in Radulov, the Stars may have constructed one of the most exciting top lines in the NHL. He has played in preseason games with Seguin and Benn, and his work ethic in practice has had a noticeable impact.

Video: Alexander Radulov channels his inner Peter Forsberg

5. Janmark's return

Janmark missing the entire season was a bit of an underrated loss. As a rookie in 2015-16, Janmark had 29 points (15 goals, 14 assists) and worked well on a line with Spezza, providing defensive coverage that allowed the 34-year-old center to focus on offense. Janmark's long-term health remains a mystery, but he's looked good so far and scored on his first shot of the preseason against the St. Louis Blues on Sept. 19.

 

ROSTER RUNDOWN

Biggest lock

After dealing with injuries the past three seasons, Benn is motivated to make the most of this season in Dallas. The left wing had at least 87 points in each of the past two seasons and won the Art Ross Trophy as the NHL's leading scorer in 2014-15. Benn regressed to 69 points (26 goals, 43 assists) in 77 games last season.

Video: COL@DAL: Benn nets PPG to cap off nice passing play

Biggest battle

The Stars have a logjam on defense with nine defensemen vying for six spots. Methot, John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and Dan Hamhuis are locks to make the roster. Rookie Julius Honka also seems to have the upper hand. That leaves Stephen Johns, Greg Pateryn, Jamie Oleksiak and Patrik Nemeth in a tight race for playing time.

Most intriguing addition

Honka played in 16 NHL games for the Stars last season and had five points (one goal, four assists). He is a dynamic player with the puck and is expected to play point on the second power-play unit with what Hitchcock calls elite puck skills.

Biggest potential surprise

Right wing Tyler Pitlick has had some rough injury luck in his NHL career and is rebounding after tearing his ACL with the Edmonton Oilers. The right wing signed a three-year contract with Dallas on July 1 and is likely going to start the season in a bottom-six role, but could move up the lineup.

Video: CBJ@EDM: Pitlick crashes the net, buries a loose puck

 

PROJECTED LINEUP

Jamie Benn -- Tyler Seguin -- Alexander Radulov

Radek Faksa -- Martin Hanzal -- Brett Ritchie

Mattias Janmark -- Jason Spezza -- Tyler Pitlick

Antoine Roussel -- Devin Shore -- Adam Cracknell

Marc Methot -- John Klingberg

Dan Hamhuis -- Julius Honka

Esa Lindell -- Stephen Johns

Ben Bishop

Kari Lehtonen

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