The Dallas Stars were an intriguing team coming into the 2018-19 season. Their defense improved over the first half along with the goaltending. However, one nagging concern kept coming up. It was the offense.
As the trade deadline approached, Jim Nill (Dallas Stars general manager) needed to make a move for scoring. On Friday night, Nill pulled the trigger acquiring Mats Zuccarello from the New York Rangers. The move cost him a second round pick this year and third rounder the following year. There were conditions attached to the deal where the picks would become first-round picks.
That appears to be a moot point now.
Zuccarello enjoyed a productive afternoon with Dallas featuring a goal and an assist. Every shift he was on the ice, Chicago had problems containing his accelerations and chances were created often. A blocked shot off his arm in the second period changed everything and maybe the Dallas Stars’ season for good.
Early reports indicated a break in the winger’s arm. The initial prognosis is at least four weeks for the injury. Surgery is recommended but more will be known later Monday. That matters little now. What matters is hours from the deadline, Jim Nill must decide what to do. Does he try to acquire another winger (albeit cheaper) and hope for the best? Salary cap wise, Dallas could place Stephen Johns on LTIR and possibly Tyler Pitlick as well. That opens some space but is it enough?
Dallas may be in too much shock or lack the resources to pull a deal off this fast. The key for Jim Nill will be does his sudden lack of leverage hurt even more. Teams know Dallas needs help and will make the Stars pay a bit higher premium. Unfortunately, that is the cost of doing business.
Fortunately, the Stars held on to defeat Chicago 4-3 behind 44 saves from Anton Khudobin. That puts them at 67 points which is two points ahead of the Colorado Avalanche. There are 20 games left in the season. What may be worse is the fact that Jamie Benn is banged up. Benn hurt his shoulder possibly on Saturday then re-injured it on Sunday. He is day to day and listed as probable for Tuesday versus the Vegas Golden Knights.
Benn has struggled with just 41 points in 60 games. Power play points dropped in half and goals wise, the forward is on pace for just 28. The hope was the acquisition of Zuccarello would jump start Benn a bit. However, on Sunday, Benn lasted a shift before bowing out and then later his linemate hurt his arm. Can the left winger find a way to put it together? Dallas needs the Benn from last season. The problem is that player may not be healthy enough. Benn’s performance dips too often just to dismiss it as a slump.
Now, the Dallas Stars must find a way to navigate the last quarter of the season and make the playoffs. Defensively, they could make some noise. However, the goals need to come at a high enough rate to hold off Colorado and Arizona among others. Averaging 2.53 goals per contest will not help. Scoring needs to rise and players must step up. The middle-six for Dallas getting a boost would help.
This is where Jim Nill must find a way. Pieces are there to create a move. With hours to go, the clock is ticking. What Dallas does next not only determines their fate for this season but maybe a new direction next year. The time is now.
By Chris Wassel