Mike Heika: Most of the questions asked this week involve a potential trade acquisition, so I'll handle them all in one answer here.
The Stars do not share their internal discussions with anyone, so this is all speculation on my part, but I believe these are educated guesses.
It is my belief that the Stars could use help in their top-six forward group, that players will be available, and that there are ways for the Stars to acquire one of those players.
If you talk to most people who understand the team, the long-term needs are a second-line center and a No. 4 defenseman. That means Dallas could look at either area as a place where it could improve now and then also carry that over to long-term improvement with a possible contract extension. That would allow fans to bring up names like Matt Duchene (Senators), Kevin Hayes (Rangers), Alec Martinez (Kings) or Micheal Ferland (Hurricanes).
Now, if you simply want to look at this team in its current form, it seems to scream out for a winger who can either score goals or facilitate scoring. Players on expiring contracts and on teams that look like they might miss the playoffs include: Wayne Simmonds (Flyers), Mats Zuccarello (Rangers), Mark Stone (Senators), and Gustav Nyqvist (Red Wings).
Once you get to that part of the conversation, then you have to find a way to create room for a new contract and also see what the other team wants in exchange. By sending younger players on the roster, you can open up some cap space. If you can get a team to take a bigger contract, you open up even more. If you want to use LTIR, you can also do that (see below). So, now, what do you give up? The guess is that rebuilding teams will want younger players or draft picks. The first names that will probably get tossed around are Jason Robertson and Ty Dellandrea. You also could hear teams asking about roster players such as Radek Faksa, Esa Lindell, Julius Honka or Valeri Nichushkin. Again, each team will have its own scouting reports, so that will dictate the conversations.
If the Stars continue to stay in contention for a top-three spot in the Central Division, the guess is management will look for a trade to boost the roster. Who they might get and who they might give up is something that will certainly dominate discussion for the next month or so. It's almost impossible to predict how things will shake out, but the Stars could have an opportunity to upgrade the roster if they can get creative.
Heika: It's a great question, and it has several answers based on the interviewer. I typically want to have a conversation, so I don't always ask questions, I just want to exchange ideas. That doesn't work with a lot of players, and I understand that some even get annoyed by me not asking questions, so chemistry is a big part of this. I personally enjoy talking to John Klingberg, Jason Spezza and Marc Methot, among others. Ben Bishop also can be really good in the "let's have a conversation" category. All four of those guys are also good at answering questions, too.
I think Devin Shore and Jason Dickinson are really good at explaining how they feel about certain situations, so I love their insight. Klingberg too will talk about his mental process, and I think that's great for media and fans. We all want to put ourselves in the athlete's shoes, and that gives us a glimpse into their minds.
As far as fun and different, both Anton Khudobin and Alexander Radulov give you a different way of looking at things, and can be great at finding new ways to say things. I like words, and I often like how they use English words. Esa Lindell is also becoming a fun interview on a regular basis.
Heika: I really like Vancouver, Toronto, New York and Chicago. I miss certain parts of winter, so I like getting a taste on the road. Going to New York or Chicago around Christmas is spectacular. I like the melting pot vibe in Toronto. I always imagine that it's a really good example of how all cultures can fit together and thrive (although I'm not there every day to try to live in it, I picture it as a sort of great example to the U.S. in my mind). Vancouver is simply one of the most beautiful cities in the world.
Every town has something that's appealing, so I'm lucky I get to see so many.
Heika: This is one of the most frustrating topics for fans, but pretty much every coach employs the same philosophy: If it isn't working, you have to change it.
I've long held the belief that maybe trusting in your original idea is the best way of doing things. You scout and plan and practice, and then when that plan doesn't work, most coaches change. I also wonder about how when a coach gets on a winning streak, he keeps things the same because it's working. Do you keep it the same because it's working? Or is it working because you are keeping things the same? Just something to think about there.
On the good side, the players are used to it and ready for it. On the bad side, you do wonder if it adds to the inconsistency.
Getting to know Jim Montgomery this season and knowing his past, I think he loves the art of coaching. He has studied coaching in different ways his entire life, I believe, and likes to impact a game with his decisions. That's natural for any coach. Ken Hitchcock and Lindy Ruff were the same way.
With all of the coaches, there is a great deal of video teaching and on-ice teaching with all players to get them prepared to come in and out of the lineup or go up and down between the AHL and NHL. Players get a lot of information in this league.
But also relevant is how each individual handles the process. Coaches and managers put a lot of emphasis on the individual forcing his way into the lineup. When these players are challenged, these coaches want to see a response that they are demanding a place in the game. That, of course, causes a great deal of mental stress in the young player, and makes it hard to play the game. If you are trying to not make a mistake, that's a hard way to play hockey.
So we go through this every year with a long list of players. The ones that either gain the trust of the coaches or simply find a happy place in their mind, succeed. Esa Lindell is a great example of that. Jason Dickinson has learned how to handle it. Same with Devin Shore. Stephen Johns got to that place last season. Right now, players like Julius Honka, Connor Carrick, Roope Hintz and Denis Gurianov are still fighting that battle.
When we talk about development, the mental battle is a huge part of it, and I'm not sure teams really know how to handle that yet. Individuals are different, coaching staffs change, and every season is different. It's one of the great challenges of pro sports - maximizing the potential of your young players. I paraphrased Rustin Cohle from the TV series "True Detective" on Twitter when I said, "Hockey is a flat circle." That, to me, is the frustration of the fan. Every situations we are seeing, we have seen before, and every situation we are seeing, we will see again. It's a never-ending fight to solve the same problems.
Heika: Definitely. Bottom line, the defensemen create the movement up ice by getting the puck to the forwards, so that chemistry is often just as important as the chemistry between linemates. Fans go back to the 2016-17 Stars and comment on just how much they missed Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers the next season. Combine their absence with injuries to Mattias Janmark and Ales Hemsky, and the Stars lost a lot of the stretch passes they used the year before. Just like a football team, those deep threats opened things up for underneath, so it all works together. Klingberg's return shows just how much he means to this team. They are at their best when he is up and running and getting the puck to forwards so that they can move forward with speed, possession and confidence.
Heika: It's tough in today's media-driven society to hide anything, so if a player is doing something good, you are going to hear about it. If I had to pick one player who really makes regular contributions and doesn't get huge praise, it's probably Esa Lindell. Lindy Ruff made the statement that "not a lot of bad happens when Esa is on the ice," and I think that sums him up pretty good. He is quiet and calm, and this team often times needs quiet and calm.
Miro Heiskanen also does so many good little things that go unnoticed. He is going to be special. But he gets plenty of attention.
Heika: It will be tough for him. This is a good class, and Pettersson has such a lead in scoring. The guess is Pettersson will be back with plenty of time to add to his numbers. I think we get caught up in the awards a little too much sometimes. Appreciate Heiskanen for what he is, and know that the Stars have a really good player for years to come.
Heika: Every player on the bubble has a short leash right now. That's what happens when you haven't won and you want badly to win right now. After the game in Winnipeg, we were walking down for the post-game interviews and I saw assistant coach Rick Bowness pacing in the hallway. It was weighing heavily upon him that they lost that game. That's how it is in the NHL when you are on the bubble. Every decision, every second of play matters.
I think the one thing that we have seen from Nichushkin is he creates some great scoring chances, but then does little with them when he gets there. I'm not sure if he is struggling with confidence or simply doesn't have good hands, but he's not forcing goalies to make great saves. It's the same in practice. It's frustrating, but I think that's why Jim Montgomery said the other day they see him more as a contributor than a scorer. He can be good on a line that has a scorer, but I just don't know if he will become a dependable scorer himself.
Heika: The process is very complicated, and what actually happens is the Stars are allowed to exceed the cap because of the injuries. Bottom line, though, you shut down a player for the season, and that increases your ability to add a player to replace him.
Because Martin Hanzal, Stephen Johns and Marc Methot are all working toward playing again, it would be a hard decision to shut any one of the down. The good thing for the Stars is that unless they have a trade near happening, they don't need to use LTIR, so they are being patient. I believe they understand their needs, and they're still trying to see what kind of team they have. I also believe that several teams are hoping to acquire or trade players, so the situation for a possible acquisition is very fluid.
If the Stars can put LTIR to use to help improve the team, I think they will. But I don't think they are going to explore that option until they are sure it is needed.
Heika: I know fans have strong opinions on individual players, but management tries to be much more measured and patient.
If the Stars are going to go forward with this current roster (and that is a possibility) then they want to make the most of each individual. That makes sense for the production of the team as a whole and for the value of the player as an asset. So, I don't think the Stars are looking to specifically trade any player.
Now, to improve the team, every player has to be considered to be part of a potential trade. As such, their performance, the value of their contract and the length of their contract is always weighed on a daily basis. The Stars' self-assessment then is put up against any request from a potential trade partner, and decisions are made. It's the old theory for preparation meeting opportunity. Every player could be traded, but so much of a trade depends on what the other team wants and what it is offering.
That's a long way of saying that, yes, there are a lot of potential deals that could be made, and Julius Honka could be included in any of them.
Heika: I do not. I really like Jason a lot. He's a great person, a hard-working player, and a great dressing room presence. However, he's best used as a second-line center, and I think the Stars need to get younger in that area. I just don't think he would be a good fit as a depth winger or fourth-line center going forward.
Heika: I'm an old-school guy, so I would love to see some use of Victory Green with black and white in an old-school look. However, I also understand the current landscape, so I do wonder if silver would be a great color to lean on. The redesign has a lot of cool silver in it, so you wonder how they could parlay that into something different in the realm of actual silver over grey.
I mean, if you want to go for some futuristic chrome helmets, my guess is the kids would be all over it.
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.