The Dallas Stars took the eventual Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights to six games in the Western Conference Finals. Despite some shoddy defensive play, the Stars still managed to get on the precipice of the finals. It would have been their second trip to the finals in four seasons, but their young core continues to improve. The Stars have plenty of hope that their time is coming to reach the pinnacle of the NHL.
The Stars finished with 108 points last season, Jason Robertson exploded for a career-high 109 points, and the rest of their talent produced behind him. Roope Hintz, Wyatt Johnston, Miro Heiskanen, and Jake Oettinger round out the young core. While Jamie Benn, Joe Pavelski, Tyler Seguin, and newcomer Matt Duchene bring the veteran leadership. Here are 3 bold predictions for the Stars in 2023-24.
The Stars will be the 2024 Stanley Cup Champions
The Stars almost made it to the Stanley Cup finals last season while battling through internal issues. Their defense struggled the entire playoff, and Jake Oettinger was uncharacteristically shaky. The Stars have a very young team, with most of their contributors under 25. Robertson, Heiskanen, Oettinger, Johnston, and Hintz will all improve year-by-year as they approach their primes. The team already had considerable forward depth but opted to bring in Matt Duchene, Sam Steel, and Craig Smith. Their forward depth now, featuring Duchene and Tyler Seguin possibly making up the third line, can go toe-to-toe with anyone else.
Their defense returns the same as the 2023 playoffs, but three of them are also under 24 and will use their experience in the playoffs to improve. We have seen what Oettinger can do when he stole the show in the playoffs two seasons ago. If all the stars align (no pun intended), Dallas has to be among the favorites to lift the Stanley Cup next June. The team has enough in the system to improve their team at the trade deadline and will likely be all-in.
Stars make a big splash at the trade deadline
As I outlined earlier, the Stars' defense let them down in last year's playoffs. The team will return with the same six players holding down positions and will hope the young guys will show some improvement. Even if they have a great regular season, it will be hard to trust the same group without having some reinforcements. There could be a team that struggles during the season and ends up selling off some pieces on expiring contracts. The Stars could use a shutdown defenseman to help Ryan Suter with the duties and take a bit of defensive heat off of Heiskanen so he can focus on what he does best. I predict once the trade deadline comes around, Dallas will make the biggest splash for a defenseman and make themselves one of the betting favorites going into the playoffs.
Oettinger and Heiskanen will be awards finalists
Usually, if a team is among the best in the league, their players get plenty of award recognition. Miro Heiskanen had 11 goals and 62 assists in 69 games last season and led the team with 25:29 of ice time per game. He will likely be the main reason if the Stars are tops in the West. His stats took a hit last season due to only playing 69 games, but if he scores at the same pace and gets a full 82 games, Heiskanen can get close to 90 points. A 90-point season as a defenseman will get him a trip to the awards show as a Norris Trophy finalist, and maybe even earn him the award.
Jake Oettinger took his performance in the playoffs personally and will come back this season looking to prove it was just a fluke. He had a 37-11-11 record last season with a .919 save percentage, 2.35 goals-against average, and five shutouts. He only finished fifth in Vezina trophy voting, which was too low. His inability to get many votes doesn't scare me off of this prediction. The Vezina trophy voting was torn between great seasons by Linus Ullmark, Ilya Sorokin, and Connor Hellebuyck. It's possible that any other year Oettinger's numbers would have gotten him a nomination, but it was just a great year for individual performances by goaltenders. You give Oettinger another year of experience under his belt and motivation from the playoff performance, and you'll see his best season yet in 2023-24. Jake Oettinger is my pick for the 2023-24 Vezina trophy.