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Hey Heika: How far can these Stars go in postseason?

From goaltending to playoff beards, DallasStars.com's Mike Heika tackles your questions in his latest mailbag

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

This is going to be one of the weirdest, wildest times for sports fans, and I'm kind of excited about that.

Yes, I would rather be at a full arena in person and talking to players every day. Yes, I'm a bit confused by how all of this is going to work. Yes, I have a lot of questions.

But I also know this is going to be new and different and surprising and unpredictable, so why the heck not. The NHL and the players have done a pretty darn good job of working through all of the details to get to this place, so I have a lot of confidence they are going to find a way to make this work.

It's a day-to-day process, but they have stacked one day upon another pretty well so far.

The Stars are practicing in Edmonton on a daily basis, they have an exhibition game against Nashville Thursday, and they start real games on Aug. 3. So let's get going and see what you're thinking as fans in another edition of Hey Heika:

 

Is it just me, or does Dobby seem to be the better goaltender at the moment? What are his chances of playing? -- @Call4Rod

Mike Heika: It's a great question and it has a two-sided answer.

On one hand, most hockey people will always lean to the goalie who has experience and will try to ride that No. 1 goalie in the playoffs. Ben Bishop had a 2.22 GAA and .933 save percentage in the playoffs last year. That's fantastic. He also was the runner-up for the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19 and was solid this year at 20-16-4 with a 2.50 GAA and .920 save percentage. He's one of the better goalies in the NHL and the Stars are lucky to have him. If this was a regular playoff situation, I would say Bishop would get the first start and would have to falter before the team looked at Anton Khudobin as a possible starter (Bishop was in that situation last season and didn't falter, so Khudobin was only used in relief).

All of that said, this is not a normal playoff situation. Dallas gets three round-robin games before it starts the first round, and that means they almost assuredly will play Khudobin. The 34-year-old journeyman had one of the best seasons of his career at 16-8-4 with a 2.22 GAA and .930 save percentage. He led the league in save percentage and was really spectacular at times. He also has been the better goalie in training camp, and has definitely earned a look-see. The only caveat is he has never started a playoff game, and that is a concern.

So is this the year, Khudobin gets a start in a real playoff game? I think it is. Not only could he challenge Ben Bishop for the start in Game 1, he also has made himself an option in case the team wants to shake up a series. I think Bishop likely gets the start in Game 1, but I also think Khudobin will play at some point.

Bottom line, the Stars have two great goalies, and that is a great problem to have.

 

Are we expecting the exhibition games to be serious or something more like an All-Star, non-checking game? -- @M_Graham17

Heika: The Stars are going in with the intent to win. Because there is just one exhibition, most teams are using as a full speed warm-up. Now, the Stars are likely going to give Ben Bishop two periods and Anton Khudobin one period in goal Thursday against Nashville - and that, in itself, tells you this isn't a real game.

But, the Stars want to make it as intense as possible. You will see a full lineup, and you will see that lineup play very hard.

 

What are your thoughts on Jason Robertson? -- @RoyalHoneyRose

Heika: I liked him in camp. In fact, I liked him, Ty Dellandrea and Thomas Harley.

Now, so much depends on the playoffs and how people perform, and what contracts look like in the offseason, and what kind of free agents are available, but as I have watched this camp, I really believe all three could be on the NHL roster to start next season. One, they look good. Two, the league is playing 20-year-olds all the time now. Three, the Stars might not be a "cap team" next season. The financial burden being created by the pandemic and its restrictions on society is real. The Stars as a business will likely have to get lean and mean - and the recovery might take a while. That means that playing young players on entry level contracts will be very tempting.

The good thing for the Stars is that all three appear to be ready for the responsibility. Robertson just turned 21. He had 25 goals among 47 points in 60 AHL games last season. He seems poised for the next step. Dellandrea just turned 20, but he had 70 points (32 goals, 38 assists) in 48 games in Major Junior hockey. He is very mature and the guess is he will work in as a fourth liner to start, so his transition will be slower.

Harley is just 18, and he needs to improve his defensive play, but young defensemen are learning on the fly now. And heck, he's a first-round draft pick with great skills. There are a lot of high-end defensemen in the NHL who have defensive holes in their game. He won't be alone in that department.

So, as I sit on these metal bleachers 10 feet away from anyone and let my mind wander, I picture all three young players on the Stars roster next season. It makes sense off the ice, and it makes sense on the ice.

 

If Rick Bowness decides to step down as head coach after this playoff (that's a big "if" I know, but he is 65), who would be some serious candidates to replace him, preferably from within the organization or otherwise? -- @MSaad_Writer

Heika: This is a great question, because I wonder how Bowness sees all of this stuff. He loves to coach, he loves to be part of a great coaching staff, and he loves the mix the team has right now. If the team does well and makes it three or four rounds, could he be swayed to return as the leader of a "coaching group?" Would that be the best way to move this team forward?

If he doesn't want the job or the Stars go out early, then it will be interesting to see how general manager Jim Nill responds. There are some great candidates out there. Nill knows Gerard Gallant well, and Gallant did a great job of coaching aggressive hockey in his time with the Golden Knights. That seems the most obvious fit.

Bruce Boudreau has been a great regular season coach in the NHL, but his time in Minnesota didn't go well. You could say that he wasn't a good fit there and would be better in Dallas, so that's an option.

The fiery comet that is Mike Babcock is still out there, and Nill does know him well.

The other option is Stars assistant coach John Stevens. That could work, although if Bowness isn't the head coach, it seems he'll certainly want to stay as the top assistant. Would that be awkward or could it all work out?

 

With all the teams in the bubble city, how much practice time are the Stars going to have before the first game on Aug 3rd? -- @AWoelfing

Heika: Because they are using community practice rinks (one of the reasons Edmonton was chosen), the Stars can practice pretty much every day. Rick Bowness is a fan of rest, and the process of getting to the rinks is a little time-consuming because of all the protocol that has to be followed, so the guess is that when games start being played every other day, the practice time will be reduced.

The Stars last season in the playoffs had a lot of workouts in the hotel, so this might work out perfectly for them.

 

With Roman Polak not returning, who will take on the role as the seventh defenseman? -- @ComebackKing02

Heika: Taylor Fedun steps into that role immediately and will likely be dressed out for the exhibition game (because they can dress seven defensemen and 13 forwards). That said, he was replaced after a couple of shaky outings in the playoffs last season, so players like Joel Hanley, Gavin Bayreuther and Thomas Harley should be prepared in case of an injury.

 

What are your predictions? Where does this team end up in the end? -- @tnowers94

Heika: This is so tough because of the circumstances and because we have no idea how the seeding will go. The Stars could end up the No. 1 seed in the West, and that would help a lot. On the good side, the guess is that Dallas would be most challenged in a series by St. Louis, Vegas or Colorado, and they won't face any of those teams in the first round. That means, I think a trip to the second round is a pretty good bet.

Once there, who knows. I believe in the goaltending and the defensive play, so I'm going to predict they make it to the Western Conference finals and lose to Vegas.

There, I said it.

 

You got to watch the team at training camp, Part 2. If you were coach for a day, what would your lines and d pairs look like? Also, how did Harley, Robertson and Dellandrea look during the scrimmages? -- @beepeear

Heika: I like what they're doing. It makes sense. Pavelski has played well with Radulov, and Benn and Seguin are good together.

In a perfect world, I wanted:

Benn - Seguin - Radulov

Hintz - Dickinson - Gurianov

Cogliano - Faksa - Comeau

Janmark - Pavelski - Perry

But I think these lines have a chance to look good.

The kids looked great. Not sure if they're ready yet, but I think they are close.

 

Exactly how many teeth are missing from the entire team? You don't have to say who is missing what. Just a total number. -- @TanyssEvans

Heika: I need to find this out. Many wear bridges or dental work, like John Klingberg, so we don't know how many are missing. I will say younger players are very good about keep their mouthguards in, so there are some who still have all of their teeth.

 

Do you think the advantage of bringing a fourth goalie outweighs the advantage of bringing an extra skater? -- @lclsportsluvver

Heika: Yes. The problem with three goalies is that if you lose one, you're down to two. That's a little scary. The odds are your fourth goalie isn't going to be needed, but I think keeping him as a safety valve is worth losing your 11th defenseman or your 18th forward.

 

After leaving training camp, which aspect of the team are you most excited about being a strength, and which aspect is the biggest question mark/weakness? -- @behale8

Heika: This is a good defensive team. You see it in pretty much every drill and scrimmage. They support their teammates, they have sticks in the lane, they skate well. They are great at killing penalties and they have great goaltending (even the younger goalies). That kind of team can win in the playoffs or at least keep games close.

The problem is they really do have a hard time stringing passes together and being creative offensively. As much as things have changed, they are still very much the same. We'll see what happens when the real games start.

 

Does the NHL have any kind of plan in place for overtime with this dense schedule? What happends if there's a 5OT game? Is the next game just moved back to 10pm local time? Not like they have many free time slots the next day. -- @dalstarsfan

Heika: As near as I can tell, you just have to wait. It's a challenge, but it's the only option.

 

Should I shave my beard completely for a potential playoff run or leave the beard as is? My wife says, "We have a wedding to go to in 3 weeks, will it grow back?" Pressure, man. Help me! -- @kashvr

Heika: Shave it off. C'mon, it'll give you a good story to tell at the wedding.

 

What are the video games of choice of the players, and will they be able to play online competitive? -- @SerenaDelhamer

Heika: I don't know specifics, but they all talk about COD and stuff like that. They will find a way to do what they normally do, I believe. I know a lot of players stay sane by connecting with friends and family while playing video games.

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, and listen to his podcast.

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