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Hey Heika: What is Stars' offseason focus after playoff exit?

DallasStars.com senior staff writer Mike Heika answers Twitter questions from fans in his latest mailbag

by Mike Heika @MikeHeika / Senior Staff Writer

The Stars' season ended abruptly Tuesday night in double overtime of Game 7 against the St. Louis Blues, but that doesn't end Stars talk. So here is the first of what will probably be many #HeyHeika segments during the offseason.

You asked questions about the Stars and I tried to answer them. Let's see if we can solve any problems:

 

Future bleak? Barely made playoffs (would have been 10th place in the East). Gave up 3 picks for rentals. Honks and Val are busts. Benn disappointing season, and in decline. Bishop injured 3 times per year without being contacted. -- @DALcoholic

Mike Heika: I actually disagree quite strongly on this. The Stars were second in the West to the Blues after the All-Star break with a record of 19-11-3, and they clearly were a playoff caliber team in the playoffs. First-year coach Jim Montgomery made the team better as the season went on, and you could surmise that they will be better to start with next season. Mix in improvement for players like Miro Heiskanen, Jason Dickinson and Roope Hintz, as well as experience for players like John Klingberg and Esa Lindell (who was in his first NHL playoffs and led the Stars with an average of 26:58 in time on ice per game), and you have to be fairly optimistic.

Yes, the amount of injuries on defense did force some difficult decisions with draft picks, but you can look at the group that should be in Cedar Park and guess that players like Denis Gurianov, Jason Robertson, Tye Felhaber, Adam Mascherin, Joel L'Esperance, Ben Gleason, Joseph Cecconi and Jake Oettinger offer players who could provide help next season or in the near future. As for Bishop, he looks like a great goalie when he's healthy, and you have a pretty solid backup in Anton Kudobin, so I think the plan next year is the same as it was this year: Make sure Bishop is healthy when you get to the playoffs.

I know I work for the team website, but I don't know how you can look at this team and not see the positives. They should have salary cap flexibility and they should have learned quite a bit throughout the organization from this past season. I just think they're in a good place going forward.

Video: Montgomery calls Stars' run a 'good building block'

 

What is the situation with Johns? Any chance he'll be able to return to the Stars lineup next season? Heard he's contemplating retirement. -- @chevjr

Heika: It is completely unknown, and I think that is the same for the organization and for Stephen Johns. They need to see how Johns' body responds to heavy workouts, high heart rates and the stress that a player undergoes when he competes at a high level. They hope to be able to do that in the summer. My guess is we will get some clarification in the exit interviews or at some point in the near future, but I just think everyone needs more time with this.

It's a huge question because he is a great player. So we'll wait and see.

 

I know it's a little early, but are you able to give any insight as to whether a deal with Zuccarello is probable, or when discussion may be started? -- @Scorpio1998

Heika: So much depends on what Mats Zuccarello wants to do. He did not want to talk about contract while the season was going on, so we'll see what happens now.

Zuccarello will turn 32 on Sept. 1 and is coming off a four-year contract that averaged $4.5 million a year. There was speculation that he wanted a five-year extension in New York, but we'll have to wait to see what he's thinking with the Stars.

Zuccarello had 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in 13 playoff games with the Stars and that was while recovering from a broken arm, so he clearly proved he can be a useful player in this lineup. He's a great passer, and the Stars are at their best when they are passing, so the guess is they would very much like him back.

That said, Zuccarello can shop himself to the entire league on July 1, so that has to be a little bit enticing.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm7: Zuccarello scores off favorable bounce

 

If Zucc doesn't work out or if they decide to let him go, do you see Panarin or Duchene as realistic options? Also, is it reasonable to buy out Val and/or Hanzal? -- @atxhorns11

Heika: I just don't know if they can get into another six- to eight-year contract, and that's what it would take for Artemi Panarin or Matt Duchene. They have to re-sign Esa Lindell and also think about what it's going to take for Miro Heiskanen in two seasons, so my guess is they will look for shorter-term deals.

I also wonder if they might go into the season with open ice time for younger players, knowing that they could add a player after Christmas if they wanted to. That's one way to get around the long-term free agent deal. If you can develop your kids and add a key veteran late, that might be the new way of doing business in the NHL.

 

Could you explain Honka's fall from grace? From being our top prospect to 4 straight months as a healthy scratch within a year is a pretty astonishing fall. -- @Old_Ironhead

Heika: This is a tough one, because I really do believe Julius Honka will be an NHL player somewhere next season. My first indication is that Honka is a small (5-foot-11, 180 pounds), skilled player, and the Stars already had two small, skilled defensemen in Klingberg and Heiskanen, and so Honka just didn't fit. But the Stars played Joel Hanley (5-11, 190) over Honka, so maybe size wasn't everything. Hanley is a 27-year-old veteran who makes fewer mistakes, so maybe that was the decision.

Bottom line, the coaching staff lost trust in Honka, and he just was not an option after a while.

Honka did a good job of being a professional during the process, and I think he has earned the respect of the front office. My guess is they will try to make a trade that will give Honka an opportunity on another team. We'll see what happens. I'm not sure what the feeling is on him throughout the league, but I would think a team that has a need for a small, skilled right-handed defenseman could take a chance on him.

He's 23 and he's an RFA coming off a contract where he made $863,333, so it seems like he would be worth the risk.

Video: LAK@DAL: Honka blocks shot with his skate

 

What injuries were the guys playing with during the playoffs. Also, what's the update on the guys on LTIR; Johns, Methot, Hanzal? -- @sizzlepuck

Heika: We'll find out on Thursday. Hintz obviously took a puck to his foot and then took a few more in Game 7, so we'll see how he is holding up and if other players had significant injuries they were playing through.

We talked about Johns earlier. Methot is 33, coming off of knee surgery and is an unrestricted free agent. Not sure what his plans are, but the guess is the Stars will be moving forward.

Hanzal has a year left on his contract $4.75 million, so the team will try to help him rehab from his back surgery.

 

What are the specifics on the Zucc trade? What does New York get in the way of picks? -- @realdoug21

Heika: The Stars will give New York their second-round pick this season as part of the Zuccarello trade. They would have given the Rangers their first-round pick had they advanced to the Western Conference Final, but they did not.

The Stars are currently scheduled to give their third-round pick in 2020 to the Rangers as part of the trade. If they re-sign Zuccarello, that third-round pick will become Dallas' first-round pick.

 

Where do you see as the team's strength, and what do we need to focus on this offseason? -- @EmilyStraley

Heika: I like the team's youth and speed. Players like Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen and Jason Dickinson added energy and speed to the lineup, and that made the Stars tougher to play against. The team became better at passing and handling the puck late in the season and into the playoffs, and they should be able to build on that next season.

When they play a fast, relentless game, they really are tough to play against.

I also think they do very well at the defensive details of the game, and that makes them hard to score against. They should be better at that from the start of next season with Jim Montgomery getting his system in place. If they re-sign Mats Zuccarello, they also should be a better passing team from the start of next season.

I do think they need to shore up the group of defensemen. That might just be adding a defenseman who fits with Heiskanen, which would mean a high end defender who can log 20-plus minutes.

If they can do that, they really start looking a whole lot better on paper.

Video: DAL@STL, Gm2: Hintz fires home Zuccarello's pass

 

The Blues were largely successful in keeping the Faksa line out of their zone, which begs the question: Were the Stars outmanned or outcoached? Assuming they practiced against Bishop, they knew what to expect from Binnington's puck handling. Too reliant on them? -- @jjbonney

Heika: The Faksa line starts out in the defensive zone, so it makes it harder to get into the offensive zone with regularity, but I see what you're saying. I actually think their Corsi was not terrible compared to their teammates, but their ability to create high-danger chances was low.

My take on coaching and strategy is this: The Blues were trying to get into the offensive zone, set up the cycle and pound shots from the point with screens in place. The Stars were trying to counterattack in open ice, move the puck east and west, and get their scoring chances in transition. As a result, the Blues had more time in the offensive zone and more shot attempts, but the Stars had a similar amount of high-danger chances.

I'm not sure Binnington really reduced the forecheck that much, I think the Stars were trying to create off the rush and not dump the puck as much.

All of that said, St. Louis was the better team at executing its strategy in Games 6 and 7, and all of the Stars lines were victims to that. I have one theory that the Stars benefitted heavily from having the two-day breaks in the first round because it allowed them to keep fresh legs, and they need fresh legs to do what they do. Going from Friday night to Sunday afternoon with travel probably hurt the Stars more than the Blues.

Now, people can call that an excuse, but I think it's worth talking about as we dissect the reasons the Stars' ability to execute diminished.

 

What is Bishop's contract status? -- @techdoug33

Heika: He has four years left on his deal at $4.9 million. He will turn 33 in November.

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.

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