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Hey Heika: What's the biggest move that Stars need to make?

DallasStars.com's Mike Heika talks trades, scoring, coaching changes and more in his latest mailbag

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The Stars' world got turned upside down last week, and it caused all sorts of turbulence for fans.

The musical chairs that the coaching staff has had to go through is one place to study, as is the fact the players have to simply put their head down and keep working to stay in a playoff spot.

Lots to talk about, so let's get started with another Hey Heika:

 

What's the biggest move the Stars need to make? Defense depth? Forward depth? Adding another playmaker? Also is the cap space funds available to go after a big name? -- @Douglasbeezy

Mike Heika: So much of this is going to depend on whether or not Stephen Johns will be able to get back onto the ice in the next month. If Johns is able to play and play well, the Stars might get just what they are looking for in a big (6-foot-4, 225 pounds), young (27), right-handed defenseman. If you were to go out and trade for a blueliner right now, it would be someone who can add a little bit of sandpaper and still move the puck. When Johns was playing well, that's what he was. But because his head injury is so mysterious, the Stars just have to be patient and see if he can return to play.

If he can, they might stand pat or try to add a play-making forward, If he can't, the guess is they will be in the market for a top-four defenseman. Who might be available changes as teams go on winning or losing streaks.

The cap space is liquid, because they would have to rely on LTIR from Martin Hanzal that would give them wiggle room. They also can send salary back, or get a team to retain salary, the way Arizona did with Taylor Hall.

 

How often does Stephen Johns skate and practice with the team? Do the Stars have a plan to assign him also to Texas Stars for conditioning, once (if) he is clear to play? Also, as a Slovak fan of Stars, when do you see them play meaningful game in Europe? -- @KralikJuraj

Heika: Stars defenseman Stephen Johns has been out since training camp last season when he started to experience headaches. He has not played since, but he has been back on the practice ice on a regular basis in recent weeks. The Stars are not talking about Johns' progress publicly because they are hoping to reduce the amount of anxiety that might be caused by predicting a return. He looks good in practices, but only he knows how he feels afterward.

If he is going to return to play, the guess is he would have to have a conditioning stint in the AHL just to see how he's doing. The anticipation is he would work up to that decision with some physical play in practices, but we have not yet seen that.

I really do think they need to make a decision in the next six weeks or so whether he can return to play, so it will be interesting to watch his progress and see what the next step is.

As for games in Europe or overseas, you would think Finland would be a natural. We'll see if they are included in that group?

Video: Current and former Stars unite at Liiga Alumni Game

 

Do you think Denis being on the 4th line without Pavs is hurting him? Do you think Roope is that much more effective with Mattias Janmark? -- @lunaticonice

Heika: I personally see a lot of Roope Hintz in Denis Gurianov, so I would love to see what he could do on a second line with Hintz and either Joe Pavelski or Alexander Radulov. I know a lot of you out there would like to see Gurianov get more minutes, and I agree with you. Gurianov appears to have upside that should be explored.

 

What are your thoughts on Thomas Harley not making Team Canada for the World Junior tournament? -- @jeffjjoy

Heika: It's disappointing. We've heard a lot of explanations about lefty/righty options and whether or not Thomas Harley played his best in tryout camp, but the bottom line is you would have liked to see the Stars' first-round draft pick (18th overall) from 2019 get that experience at the World Juniors. The big defenseman has 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) in 30 games with Mississauga this season, so he looks like he's on the right track.

NHL training camp should be fun next season, just to see if Harley is ready to make a big step up.

Video: Harley's first hours after being picked by Stars

 

Do you think the Stars wait until the trade deadline to solve their scoring issues or they pull the trigger sooner? -- @mikenick87

Heika: I think the best plan for them is to wait until they get close to Feb. 24. One, the cost of the contract is lower for the player you acquire. Two, the market should be more open with teams deciding to sell by that time. Three, they'll have a more clear picture of this roster and what they need to acquire. We'll see if that's a forward who can help or a defenseman.

 

We had a great scoring run during that seven-game win streak, but have gone back to being inconsistent. What happened during that streak that we aren't doing anymore? -- @tynanedwards

Heika: Scoring in the NHL is a constant puzzle, especially for this team. They really do want to create offense from a defensive base by forcing turnovers and scoring in transition. They can do that, as the analytics website Natural Stat Trick has them third in scoring chances for and fourth in expected goals for. So, then the question is: Are their scorers simply not scoring when they are getting great chances?

The fact that since the coaching change last season, every player's numbers have declined seems to indicate this is a system issue more than an individual issue. Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn and John Klingberg are on pace for their worst seasons in years. Joe Pavelski had 38 goals in San Jose last season. He's on pace for 17 this season.

Could that change with the changes to the coaching staff? Could the players simply start converting their scoring chances at a higher rate of efficiency? Could the Stars' defensive forwards start chipping in more, they way the did in the win over Nashville? All are possible solutions.

As you said, during the 11-1-1 streak, they scored at almost four goals a game clip. It seems like they should be able to at least get close to three goals a game on a regular basis. I know they are trying everything they can to increase their scoring back to that level. 

 

Why weren't Gurianov and Hintz played more against Edmonton? The "FCC" line took two penalties, yet still had a lot of ice time in the 3rd. -- @Tweetergreeter4

Heika: This is a team that likes to keep games close and likes to play a defensive brand of hockey, so Radek Faksa, Blake Comeau and Andrew Cogliano are always going to get their minutes. Mix that with the fact they had to kill six penalties and neither Hintz nor Gurianov are used much in that capacity, and the minutes start shrinking.

That said, interim coach Rick Bowness is aware of that situation and is working toward getting balanced minutes for everyone. We'll see if he accomplishes that.

Video: DAL@NSH: Hintz sends puck through Rinne's five-hole

 

With the coaching changes, is there any hope for our power play? -- @JLinkTX

Heika: Sure. Dallas was 11th in success rate last season at 21.0 percent, and has added Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry to the power play, so they definitely have the ability to be better. We'll see what Derek Laxdal can do with them.

 

What went into choosing the performers for the Winter Classic? -- @cdturner40

Heika: That is an NHL decision, and they have very much wanted a "Country Western" vibe seeing as the game involves Dallas and Nashville. So then you get management that targets certain groups, and then you have to make sure the schedule works, and then you begin financial negotiations, and that creates the schedule.

The NHL is taking over as this is a league presentation, and they want to have the right look.

 

Do coaches like Laxdal and Bowness get pay increses when promoted like this or do they continue to work under their existing contracts? -- @mbherzog

Heika: They don't talk about those contracts, but I'm sure they do, especially Bowness, as head coaches make a lot more than assistants. The guess is there was a negotiation with management and new deals were reached for both coaches.

 

We're almost halfway through the season and our "big boys" still have yet to consistently produce. Do we overvalue them -- i.e maybe they just are not that good anymore? Or is it simply a lack of practice time? -- @JustinSchmidt24

Heika: It's clear that scoring in this system is harder than past systems, so you have to take that into consideration. I think they might be getting more practice time going forward, as the schedule allows.

Video: EDM@DAL: Seguin regains blocked pass, nets goal

 

With just under $5 million in cap space available and (theoretically) no need for additional offensive talent, what sort of defensemen might the Stars pursue considering the pool of pending UFAs? What assets would they realistically be willing to offer in exchange? -- @nialleamonn

Heika: I think they are going to be very cautious. Dallas had just four draft picks last year and they have already traded their second, third and seventh round picks from 2020. One of the most interesting things about this season is the Stars have done a good job of keeping their bubble players in non-waiver situations. That means they can be called up or play in the minors without having to go through waivers. To do that going forward, you need a nice group of prospects. To build that nice group, you need a lot of draft picks.

Because of that, the Stars are going to be a little more hesitant to part with draft picks as part of a deal to get a rental player. They have balanced some of that with free agent signing, and will continue to do that, but they don't want to give away many more picks. So we'll see what kind of pond they can play in when it comes time to talk with other teams.

The guess is there are a lot of factors that are going to complicate negotiations this year.

 

Any forward help coming from the trade market? Also, it was said Hall didn't fit here, who available does? -- @RussellSimmon19

Heika: I think if they acquire anyone, it might be just one player, so we'll see if that's a forward or a defenseman. There are a lot of factors that could go one way or the other. I think the Stars have added enough big names in the off-season that they believe there is enough depth there. I think they wait to see if those players start to score first before they make a significant move -- and then try to find the right talent and price tag closer to the trade deadline.

 

Hey Mike, what's your opinion on the Hall trade? -- @aaronschickWX

Heika: I think it was good for both sides. We saw Taylor Hall play his last game for the Devils against the Stars, and that team clearly needed to do something. I like what the Coyotes are doing this season, and I have a soft spot for Sunbelt teams that work to draw fans, so I like it for Arizona.

It was a good swap, and we'll see if it works out.

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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