With the team taking a day off on Wednesday, it seemed a perfect time for DallasStars.com's Mike Heika to interact with the fans. So here are a few questions and answers that are on your mind today.
Friendly reminder: You can submit questions for future mailbags on Twitter by using the hashtag, #HeyHeika.
Mike Heika: He was skating with the team in August and early September, but he has since not been around. He lives in Dallas and also has connections to Atlanta, so the guess is he will live in one or the other (or both). I should check in him with to see what he's up to. He's a very good dude.
Heika: Because he is a right-handed, skilled defenseman, I think Julius Honka does have more value around the league than say Jamie Oleksiak. That's also a reason the Stars might want to keep him. Righties are more rare, and teams like a perfect balance if they can get it in their defense group. Plus, the Stars have put a lot into Honka's development. That said, there is a surplus of defensemen when this team is healthy, and players like Gavin Bayreuther have moved ahead of Honka in the pecking order, so he might be a player who could be traded.
The guess is the team will wait until some of these other defensemen get healthy and also wait to assess Stephen Johns and Marc Methot for the long-term before they look at making any trades.
Heika: There is a very good chance Bayreuther remains on the NHL roster. He has turned a lot of heads with his play, and really seems to be gaining confidence with more experience. Now, all of that can change in a couple of weeks, but the guess is Bayreuther is in the top six when both Klingberg and Connor Carrick are healthy (possibly before Christmas).
If Stephen Johns and/or Marc Methot are also healthy, that could change the situation with the top six, and Bayreuther could be odd-man out at that time.
Heika: I think a lot of credit goes to the call-ups in Gavin Bayreuther, Joel Hanley and Taylor Fedun, a lot of credit goes to players like Roman Polak, Esa Lindell and Miro Heiskanen for taking tougher minutes, and a lot of credit goes to Rick Bowness. The veteran assistant coach has shown not only a calm hand, but a confident presence. He has said from the start that this group is talented and can do the job, and I really believe that's been a big part of them going out and doing the job. That, and the trio of defensemen is pretty good and has a ton of AHL experience.
Heika: With all of the question marks on defense and the cap so tight, I think the Stars need to wait before making any kind of trade. One, they need to see which defensemen might be able to return and when. Two, they need to see if there is a chance that either Marc Methot ($4.9 million) or Stephen Johns ($2.35 million) are candidates to be shut down for the season and placed on long-term IR.
If either is, that cap money could potentially be used, and that changes the kind of player the Stars could acquire. It also would change whether they might be interested in bolstering the forward group or the defensemen.
Heika: One, you are not going to lose him. Marc Methot's $4.9 million will come off the books next season and the cap is expected to go up to $83 million. The Stars will re-sign Esa Lindell for sure. Two, I hope he continues to play as well as he can and gets a fair salary because of it. You are never going to be hurt by paying players who earn their pay. Three, I think he'll fit in fine on the payroll.
The real question on defense will be what Miro Heiskanen will make in two more years.
Heika: It's a great question and a tough question to answer. I think Lindy Ruff was in a tough place in the last season, and so that was a different culture than the team had seen in his three previous seasons. I think Ken Hitchcock helped establish a defensive base, and a little more discipline. And I think Jim Montgomery is walking into a great situation where he has fairly young talent that is ready to listen and win right now. I think that's one of the reasons he took this job.
We're still in the honeymoon phase with Montgomery, but the players love him and love the process right now. There is a lot of communication between the players and the coaches -- and a feeling of shared responsibility -- and that is a wonderful environment.
Heika: Jim Montgomery said the other day that he views it like Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin. There is a feeling that either could start any game, and so both have to work for their starts, and he hopes the forward group will have a similar edge to it. My guess is that Valeri Nichushkin and Brett Ritchie still are battling to prove themselves every game, and that Roope Hintz still could potentially be sent to the AHL again. We'll see. There will be a lot of tough decisions in the coming weeks.
Heika: Everybody I talked to loved it. There is a bit of a surprise from people on how big and polished Dallas is, and how hungry and knowledgeable the hockey fan is here, so it was good to expose the city in that regard.
I really do think if the team starts winning playoff games on a regular basis, the league-wide view will get even bigger.
Heika: The Stars PR Staff and press box crew rotate it among the media members, and that's why it's different. It is a wonderful privilege, and a responsibility and a chore. They usually want your three picks with five minutes left in regulation, and that's why sometimes the picks can look confusing at the end of the game.
We each try our best to adjust to whatever late scoring is done.
Heika: Yes. He is a veteran who has seen it all, yet he's also a positive person who believes things will turn out well. It's hard to believe he's 63, because he projects a lot younger than that, but that's kind of his secret -- he has all of the experience in the world, and also has energy and drive like a younger coach.
The Stars were very lucky he was available.
Heika: Yes and no. This is not the way that Jim Montgomery wants to play hockey, so the Corsi is a huge red light that building "The Process" is sort of on hold right now. That said, the team is adjusting to an incredible injury burden on the blueline and has found a way to adjust and win games. So, the Corsi is not a concern for right now as long as the Stars are keeping shots to the outside and getting good goaltending.
But it will be something that needs to be addressed when the defensemen get healthy and Montgomery starts trying to push for more of the puck possession and aggressive attack that he is known for.
Heika: They actually were a very fun team in the first years under Lindy Ruff. He loved offense, he loved skill, and he loved fun. He really was a player's coach. But, the injuries mounted, the need to win got intense, and he didn't get the contract extension he was seeking, and the fun seemed to go out of the team in that last season.
They are trying to build that "team" feeling again, and Jim Montgomery is definitely a coach who relates well to players, so we'll see if he can keep that attitude. Pressure is high in pro sports, and winning cures all ills. We'll see if the Stars can continue to win.
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.