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Hey Heika: Can Stars take page out of Nationals' book with turnaround?

DallasStars.com senior staff writer Mike Heika answers Twitter questions from fans in his latest mailbag

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

DENVER -- It has been an eventful season, but the Stars are 4-1-0 in their past five games and are coming off one of their most exciting and inspirational wins in years.

So, let's talk about it.

You dedicated Stars fans asked questions on Twitter with the hashtag #HeyHeika, and I've answered them here. Continue to discuss as the Stars get ready for back-to-back game Friday at Colorado and Saturday at home against Montreal:

 

What do you think the Stars need to turn this start to the season around? Think we can come from behind like the Blues and Nationals? -- @taylorsstern

Mike Heika: I think it's a combination of things. I would love to see them play with aggression and purpose from the start of games and then use that emotion to improve their ability to score goals. I think the fact they are the lowest scoring team in the league means that every mistake (goal against) is magnified. Then, as a team, I think they play not to make a mistake instead of trying to make a positive play. Hopefully, they will be more aggressive going forward.

As for the Blues and Nationals, I do think there is a trend in sports where these types of season are possible -- especially in hockey, where the playoffs often reward a different style of game than in the regular season. So, if you have a style of hockey that can be effective in the post-season, then simply getting in allows you the ability to seriously contend for a championship. We are seeing in all sports that home field/ice doesn't mean as much as it once did, so earning it from a good regular season really doesn't help you all that much. You can even speculate that by starting on the road in any give seven-game series, a team can be relaxed and play aggressively as opposed to playing scared and afraid to make a mistake.

So, yes, I believe this season can be saved, but they have to go out and play a lot better and play to their potential.

Video: Montgomery talks about tough meeting with Avalanche

 

The popular quote is that hockey is a "young man's" game. While we added names in Pavelski and Perry, could it be that we didn't actually get better due to them being older? Would we be better off giving Caamano a lengthy shot? I fear 14, 16, 10 and even 47 could be slowing down. -- @bqaggie

Heika: I am all over the map on this subject right now, but I think I am coming to the side that says this is a young man's game. I really didn't mind the contracts for Perry, Pavelski and Sekera, because they are shorter term and I do believe the window for this team to win is now.

Because you have built around players like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Ben Bishop, the feeling is their seasons will not be getting better as we move ahead. That means this season could be the best remaining for each one. In that regard, it made sense to me to try to load the roster while still keeping future options as open as they could be.

However, the Roman Josi contract really made me sit up and think. Josi is a really good defenseman and he certainly earned the right ask for his deal, but he's 29 years old and the Predators just committed to paying him for eight more seasons at an average of $9 million. That is just shocking. The guess is you will not get the best years out of Josi on this deal and that the contract level will limit you from doing other things.

If you want to make the same argument for Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin on the Stars, I think that is a debate worth waging as we go forward. I know giving contracts like this are how the league works and that both deals were seen as quite reasonable at the time they were signed, but you do have to ask if that's the best way to build things going forward. You almost would rather give a big money deal to a player like Miro Heiskanen that ends at age 32 and then start trying to keep him around on one-year deals after that.

Bottom line, I do think it might behoove all NHL teams to start looking at younger players sooner. Maybe the Stars should have kept Ty Dellandrea and Thomas Harley around this season. Maybe they should allow the younger players to get more minutes more quickly. I can definitely see that side of the argument now.

My problem with changing that philosophy at this minute, however, is the fact the roster and contracts are structured to go with a veteran team in 2019-20, and I have always believed you built your plan for a reason and probably need to stick to it (or at least stay close to it). I truly believe that trying to win right now with this group is the best option for this team and this roster. But if this doesn't work out, I think you could see a team that is greatly different next season.

 

Why do the official Three Stars of the Game have to be selected so far in advance of the end of the game? -- @ascottdundon

Heika: We are asked to make our choice with about five minutes left in the third period. They want a graphic on the big board and an announcement as soon as the game is over, and that's the timing they need. It's been an issue for a while, especially when you have OT and shootouts.

It's not an ideal situation, but we try to do the best we can and sometimes will even give choices like: Winning goal, losing goalie, game-winning goal when it is tied.

 

First and most importantly, how are you Heika? Second, you are named coach for a week's worth of practice, what are you going to talk to the team about and what would you practice on? -- @CsBeau

Heika: I'm just happy to be here. It's a fun job, and I'm lucky to have it. As a coach, I would do a lot of the same things that the current staff is doing. But if they named me and I wanted to prove a point, I would lay out my lines and D-pairs and stick with them in practices and in games. I would push to drive chemistry every second the team is on the ice and would run drills that promote chemistry and creativity among the players. I'd also love to talk to some sports psychologists and see what they think in terms of motivating a team. Are there tricks and buttons to be pushed? Can you really change a player's mindset not with yelling or rah-rah speeches, but more with subtle changes in practice or in talks?

My personal experience with this was watching Ken Hitchcock and Bob Gainey work the room back in 1998, 1999, 2000. They were masterful at getting the most out of some veteran players. I know the current staff is trying to do similar things, but it would be interesting to hash out a few new buttons to push and see if it worked.

Video: Benn discusses Friday's matchup against Avalanche

 

The Stars switched something on after the Wild's third goal; our intensity and offensive pressure was amplified! The point is WE ARE CAPABLE OF THIS! The question is, why aren't we playing like that all the time? Is it leadership (coaches) or execution (players)? -- @arrik22

Heika: It's the most frustrating part of being a fan. You see a player or team do something, and you wonder why they can't duplicate it more regularly. Why can't Jamie Benn be in "beast mode" every game? Why does Alexander Radulov disappear for long stretches and then jump out to become the most noticeable player on the ice?

I don't know. On one hand, the opposition is always trying to beat you, so that does change the environment in which you are performing. On the other hand, that can't be the only reason teams or players are so inconsistent. It's a great area for discussion. Maybe the teams need to dedicate more time to the mental part of the game.

 

What have we learned from this year's start or more so what have we learned that has been implemented into the way we are playing now? -- @laabshier

Heika: Consistency is not easy to accomplish. The Stars started with a tough schedule and a lot of travel, and so the plans they came up with in the summer did not play out on the ice. In recent weeks, with more rest and practice, they have been better.

I believe they need to stay on track with their plans, because that's where they are. Certainly, you have to adapt and you have to try to do the things you set out to do in the summer (possess the puck more, be more aggressive in getting to the net, be smarter defensively), but you also have to understand that the pieces on the ice might be different than the ones you imagined.

I think they can get to where they want to get to, but they definitely have to learn from each game. Both the players and the coaches have to find a rhythm and a confidence in what they are doing. They have to believe in what they are doing and all buy in.

 

Can the Stars consistently play the way they did against Minnesota during the come-from-behind victory? I feel that's the team this team can be, just wonder if it's sustainable? -- @chalkXoutline

Heika: Jim Montgomery said the other day that there is no way a team can play like that every period, and I agree with that. There was desperation and the energy of a team that could have gone to a very bad place had they lost.

They also played in a risky style because giving up another goal wasn't really going to hurt them much more.

So, they need to find a balance in an aggressive offensive style that still comes out of a responsible base. Because the responsible defensive base has not been great at times this year, you do need to allow for more risk right now. It's like anything, you push it until you fail and then you pull back. Trial and error.

Video: MIN@DAL: Radulov fuels Stars' comeback with hat trick

 

If Jim Montgomery had a full head of hair when he was hired, how much of it would still be left today? -- @travcurrie

Heika: He's a young man, so I would say he would be fine. That said, all of those aging of the president videos can also apply to NHL coaches. As they say, you are basically on the clock from the moment you step behind the bench. It's a stressful job.

 

Do you think Monty's belief in short shifts is a detriment to the team? -- @grimvox

Heika: I'm not a huge fan of the process. I think it can help provide structure, but I don't think gearing hard numbers to performance is always the best way to evaluate. I think it's tough to define what is good and what is not in an NHL game, which is one of the reasons I think analytics only show so much.

That's a bit of a cop out, but I really do worry about putting such finite limitations on a game that is so liquid and mercurial. I think you do need structure and you do need an identity, but I also think some of the good teams know how to read the flow of a game. As such, John Klingberg can play more minutes and take longer shifts because he knows when to coast in a game. Tyler Seguin or Alexander Radulov can overstay a shift because they sense a goal might be coming.

Structure does help, and it creates a base for what you want to do, but I just think you need to lean on your better players and give them more wiggle room. If you have superstars in their prime, I don't know that you want balanced lines and short shifts for everybody.

 

I often see comments about how the Stars should have tried harder to keep Zucc rather than go for Pavs and Perry. I personally really like that we have both Pavs and Perry, but do you think there would have been a boost if they kept Zucc or would they be about the same? -- @JoJoE5150

Heika: It's tough to say. Pavelski is a goal-scorer and Zuccarello is a facilitator, so it seems like Zuccarello's skillset fits better for what the Stars currently have in the lineup. But you couldn't give Zuccarello five years and also lose a first-round draft pick to the Rangers. It just didn't make sense.

Pavelski was a lower-risk signing, and Perry is a bonus because he believes that this team can win and wants to prove to the league he can still play. We'll see if it works out.

Video: MIN@DAL: Pavelski scores tying goal off defender

 

I appreciate @MikeHeika's Michigan pronunciation of Reese's Pieces -- @nessa_marks

Heika: I like regional accents. We say "crick" for creek, "ruhf" for roof and say "kitty corner" instead of caddy corner. It makes us special.  : )

Some submissions have been edited for brevity and clarity. Have a question for a future Hey Heika mailbag? Tweet it to @MikeHeika and use #HeyHeika.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club.

Mike Heika is a Senior Staff Writer for DallasStars.com and has covered the Stars since 1994. Follow him on Twitter @MikeHeika.

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