How often is it that a first year coach takes their team to the playoffs? What does this say about Monty, especially coming straight from college hockey? -- @dyl_garrett14
Mike Heika: We've actually seen rookie coaches have success in this league. Dave Tippett had 111 points and won the division his first year. Ken Hitchcock had a half season warm-up and then won the division with 104 points his first full season. As far as college coaches go, Dave Hakstol made the playoffs his first season in Philadelphia.
Jim Montgomery has done a great job of adapting his expectations to his roster and pushing this team to be at its best at the end of the season. The place where he could really create interesting discussion about first-year coaches is if he makes a big splash in the playoffs.
For the first time in a while, we don't have be thinking about next year during the playoffs ... oh, what the heck. How does next year set up personnel-wise? -- @Paulbradb
Heika: It's actually an interesting topic. Among the contracts that could come off the books for Dallas are Jason Spezza at $7.5 million in cap hit and Marc Methot at $4.9 million. That could create some wiggle room for potential free agents or simply open the ice time for younger players.
The Stars seem to have figured out their goaltending, they have a very nice top three on defense in Klingberg, Lindell and Heiskanen and a top four in the forward group that can carry a team. They also have a young group of players who might be ready to step up in Roope Hintz, Jason Dickinson, Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson and Tye Felhaber. Those last two probably need some AHL time, but there is a chance that by the end of next season, this really is a team that is ready to compete with the best in the NHL.
There are a lot of ifs there -- like signing Mats Zuccarello to an extension -- but there are a lot of possibilities, too.
What's your sense on how Dickinson did on the top line? Was that a one off or something we might see more of? -- @wesalawrence
Heika: I'm a fan of allowing the younger players the opportunity to earn a spot in the top six, so I think he looks great. He's probably behind Roope Hintz in that I think coaches like Hintz better in the top six, but Dickinson doesn't look out of place. Obviously, both need to be able to score goals more consistently, but I think that will come.
I've written this before, but I truly believe it -- the reason the Stars were able to produce home-grown talent like Jere Lehtinen, Jamie Langenbrunner, Brenden Morrow, Jussi Jokinen, Loui Eriksson, James Neal and Jamie Benn is because they gave those players the opportunity to play in the top six at a young age. I think allowing players like Hintz and Dickinson to regularly play in the top six and get power play time could be huge moving forward.
It also could set a tone for players coming up like Gurianov and Robertson.
Video: PHI@DAL: Dickinson rips shot by Talbot for early lead
Seems like the D is set (3, 4, 23, 21, 42, 45 and 2 as scratch) and these ten F's are locked in as well: 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 24, 36, 47, 90, 91. Which 2 of 13, 18, 43, 25 will be the scratch in Game 1? I'm assuming Dowling and L'Esperance stay with Texas until they are done. -- @popsxV
Heika: I actually think the forward group will be a tough decision for the coaches. I lean toward Mattias Janmark and Tyler Pitlick to be lineup regulars because of their speed and defensive ability, so I think Jason Spezza could be on the bubble. We'll see.
Injuries will be important, and I also think this coaching staff does not mind making difficult decisions based on the best match-up. If this group is healthy, there will be a real battle to get into the playoff lineup.
Going into the playoffs, will Khudobin get some time in net or will it all be on Bishop? -- @greghiggins457
Heika: I think opponent and the health of Ben Bishop will play a key role. If Bishop feels great, the guess is he gets every game. He's been just a tick better than Khudobin this season, and while both have been fantastic, the team seems to play better in front of Bishop. (It might be his puck handling.)
Now, that said, the playoffs are a time for tough decisions, and if the Stars are playing Nashville or coaches think Khudobin might be the better choice, I don't think there will be any hesitation to go to Khudobin.
It should be fun. Playoffs can create some very interesting discussion in all sorts of ways.
Video: COL@DAL: Bishop makes two superb stops on MacKinnon
I heard Pitlick sits in the Finns Corner in the dressing room. Is he starting to pick up the Finnish language, or did they use telepathy on that beautiful 5-pass set-up for his drought-ending goal? -- @JL_Intramural
Heika: It is ironic that Pitlick was on the ice with three Finns Tuesday when he scored his 4-on-4 goal. I think it was just coincidence and that he doesn't speak any Finnish at all. But he does play a "Finnish" type game, so maybe that's why he fits so well.
It was a nice moment for the winger from Minnesota, and it shows just how well he adapts to all sorts of linemates on this team.
Which team would you like the Stars play in the first round? -- @gohonks
Heika: I love the Nashville angle, because the two teams are playing in the Winter Classic, and because they're building a pretty good rivalry. It also doesn't hurt that Dallas went 2-1-2 against the Predators, including a couple of nice wins in Nashville, where the series would start.
I like the fact the Stars will start on the road, because as a team that lacks playoff experience, they will be able to shake the bugs out and still possibly pull off an upset or two.
Video: DAL@NSH: Khudobin makes 49 stops, shuts out Predators
Thoughts on Winnipeg as a first round opponent? Stars seem to have had their number during regular season. Good or bad? Who emerges from Preds-Blues? -- @GeorgePannell3
Heika: They're still a tough team. Dustin Byfuglien is returning, Patrik Laine still has that shot, and that is a tough building to play in. I honestly think the Stars have a chance to beat anyone in the West -- it's just that wide open this year -- but I have a healthy fear of the Jets right now.
If I'm not mistaken, weren't you the only member of the Dallas Chapter of the PHWA for several years? How did that affect things like Masterton nominations? Did you just make decisions by yourself, or did you ask around for other opinions? -- @mairican_now
Heika: I was for a little while, but we've always tried to include as many people as we can in the voting, so there were others who helped. Whenever I discussed Masterton nominees, I did it with people inside the team and out and tried to come up with a player I felt really deserved it.
One of the hardest things about voting for any award is that there are very few easy answers, and I really wanted to try to get it right. I always sought as much input as I could get, but in the end, you have to be the one to cast the vote.
I know there's no news on Johns, but is there a concern his career may be over? -- @glenn203
Heika: The hope is the summer will reveal some answers for Stephen Johns. He has a lot of time before next season starts, and the team will do everything it can to help him find his way back on the ice.
If we re-sign Zucc and bring up Gurianov for next year, do we really need to make any other additions to the top 6? -- @JustinSchmidt24
Heika: You can make the argument that if there is a fantastic No. 2 center who fits, they could afford to sign or trade for him, as well as re-sign Zuccarello. I kind of would like to leave the slot open and see if Roope Hintz can grab that job. If he can't, you would have the cap space to try to swing a trade next season.
I'm a big fan of not over-signing in the summer. I believe there are great opportunities to add people in during the season.
How do the Stars book 30 (?) hotel rooms and work out all of the other last minute logistics when they officially find out where and when playoff games will be? What other logistics challenges come with playoff travel? -- @therealthurbad
Heika: It's a great question and shows just how many important people are working behind the scenes for the Stars.
Team Services Director Jason Rademan takes care of all of the travel and has a tremendous relationship with the hotels on the road. He makes plans for pretty much every scenario and then has to adjust when the final league decisions are made. One of the things he said that helps is that NHL teams often stay in the same road hotel. Thus, if the Stars find they are going to Nashville instead of Winnipeg, there's a good chance another team will be taking the hotel rooms in Winnipeg.
But it's a tough job, and Rademan handles it very well. I think preparation and connections go a long way in helping him.
How is Heiskanen holding up playing 80+ games this year? How do you think he'll handle the playoffs? -- @bozzmayne
Heika: I thought he hit a wall in early March, but coaches said no. He has been fantastic in recent games and seems to have ice water in his veins. I think he'll be fine in the playoffs.
Video: DAL@EDM: Heiskanen picks the corner on Koskinen
When will tentative dates be announced for Round 1? -- @Jon1443
Heika: Arenas in both Nashville and Winnipeg have concerts for next Thursday, so the guess is they will start Wednesday. The league typically waits for every matchup to be set before they announce dates.
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.