Let’s face it: Roope Hintz, Jason Robertson, and Joe Pavelski aren’t enough. Well, maybe they are; they’re that good together. But the Stars must be certain they’ve got enough offense if they intend to contend, and nothing is guaranteed beyond this team’s top line. Hintz’s line represents 50 percent of the team’s production in all situations. At even strength, they’re 43 percent of Dallas’ point totals. Even if you don’t buy into fancy stats, you’ll probably buy into this one: Dom Luszczyszyn’s model at The Athletic estimates that the Stars’ top line is 76 percent of the team’s total forward value. That’s a testament to how good the Hintz line is as well as an indictment on how little everyone else contributes.
With names like Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov, and Denis Gurianov on the roster, you’d think Rick Bowness would have more to work with. We can’t address the problem of secondary scoring without talking about Benn and Seguin, in particular. They used to be who Robertson and Hintz are now, so the organization expects (as they should) them to produce more than the 13 even-strength points they combined to score in the season’s first 29 games. The good news is things appear to be turning around.
Over the last 23 games, the pair has combined for 21. It’s not groundbreaking production, but it’s a noticeable uptick. And it turns out there’s a perfectly explanation for what took them so long to get going: they weren’t playing with Gurianov.
Early in the season, Bowness was committed to keeping Benn and Seguin with Radulov. Say what you will about the coaching staff’s decision-making, but they had every right to believe the trio of veterans could eventually find a rhythm. The group used to be a nightmare for opposing teams. Dallas rationally assumed they’d eventually find their footing. They didn’t.
Gurianov has had his own ups and downs this season, but his chemistry with the two veterans is undeniable. And when he began getting second-line minutes on January 6 (a high-scoring bout with Florida), the trio began to take off. Not only have Benn and Seguin seen an uptick in their production, but so has Gurianov. Through the first 29 games, he had 10 points. Through the last 23, he has 13.
Below are the heat maps for Benn and Seguin with Radulov (left) versus Benn and Seguin with Gurianov (right). In case you need a refresher on how to read these, areas in red indicate a higher-than-average shot rate, while areas in blue indicate a lower-than-average shot rate.
At last, the Stars have a second line they can expect to produce. It also helps that they’re threats in multiple high-danger areas of the ice (especially right on the doorstep), whereas with Radulov, the only high-danger areas they were getting to was the right off the crease. When paired with Radulov, Benn and Seguin were on the ice for all of two even-strength goals together. The Benn-Seguin-Gurianov trio, meanwhile, has shared the ice for 11, a rate that is top 25 among forward trios with at least 150 minutes together. They’re right alongside Toronto’s powerful second line of Alex Kerfoot, John Tavares, and William Nylander. There’s a serious asterisk, though. The second line with Gurianov has also been on the ice for nine goals against, making them a modest +2, or 46th out of 71 trios in total goal differential at even strength per Evolving-Hockey. As good as they are offensively, they’re almost as problematic defensively.
And then there’s the bigger picture. Even with the second line emerging, the Stars still struggle to score. With 90 even-strength goals scored, they rank 29th in the NHL, just above the Montreal Canadiens and below the Arizona Coyotes. And if you think this may be unfair to Dallas since their scoring relies on the power play, well, think again: Dallas’ all-situations offense ranks only 23rd leaguewide.
On the surface, none of this makes sense. Dallas has two scoring lines, but they’re still having trouble scoring? Enter the checking line of Radek Faksa with Michael Raffl and Luke Glendening. At even strength, they’re a -10 when it comes to shots on net and a -15 in shot attempts. They’ve been on the ice for four even-strength goals for and nine goals against, which makes them a -4 overall. For perspective, that is the second-worst even-strength goal differential in the entire NHL among trios with significant minutes together.
This might seem like a small thing. Faksa and his crew aren’t asked to score, after all. They’re asked to defend. Except they aren’t played like a checking like. Instead, they’re deployed like primary support for the Hintz line. Per Natural Stat Trick, Faksa has more ice time than Benn at even strength (13:01 to 12:59, respectively) while Raffl plays more than Gurianov (12:09 to 11:57). Benn and Gurianov are on pace to score 40 points, while Faksa and Raffl are on pace to score 20. Yet those pairings are treated roughly the same.
In other words, Dallas doesn’t have one designated second line. They have two, each with distinct characteristics and flaws. Behind the top line is a scoring line that can’t defend and a defending line that can’t score. It’s there in Bowness’ clearly defined, if overly binary, usage. The Seguin line is deployed for goals needed, and the Faksa line is deployed for goals that need stopping.
All of these players have something to offer. The Faksa line may be a black hole offensively, but they’re a top-25 group in goals (per hour) allowed at even strength. Gurianov may often find himself in the proverbial doghouse, but he’s historically been a slow starter who can be devastating once he’s in a groove. Take away cap-hit discussions, and Benn is still a strong playdriver, not to mention one of the Stars’ better forwards when it comes to breaking out of the zone and getting into the opponent’s. To me, Seguin provides the most room for optimism of all. His recent performance feels a lot like a player gradually shaking off injury rust rather than a player abruptly sinking into a natural decline.
But there’s still the matter of balance. I think that’s why we’re seeing this contradiction of a team with offensive talent that can’t produce offense: the defensive forwards are deployed as if they can impact the scoresheet, and the offensive forwards are deployed as if they can control it. Too many one-way players can nuke a team’s Cup chances, which makes things tricky for Jim Nill as the trade deadline nears. He’s already made it clear that if the Stars make a move, it will be to add a forward. Within that is quite the riddle: “Which second line do I help?” More offense, or more defense?
There’s no easy solution, although one number provides guidance. There are 15 teams scoring fewer than 2.4 goals per hour, and only three have real hope of making the playoffs. One is a flawed team comfortably in a wildcard spot (Boston). Another is top-three in their division, for now (New York, although the underlying numbers point to a paper tiger). The third is Dallas. Which is to say: if the Stars don’t find a way to juice their goals, they’re a lot more likely to be making early plans for the draft instead of a parade. Importing more talent would probably help. Failing that, it’s on the Hintz line to keep proving their best is more than what should be enough.