The Dallas Stars are a wagon. After coming within two wins of defeating the eventual champion Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference Final in 2023, the team has remained a contender early into the 2023-24 NHL season. The Stars are 13-5-3 through 21 games, and were just usurped by the Colorado Avalanche for the top spot in the Central Division.
At the time of this article being written, Dallas has opened up a 3-1 lead on the Tampa Bay Lightning in a Saturday matinee in Texas. The club continues to roll along, and they are certainly an early contender in the Western Conference. A big part of that has been the offensive depth the team has built.
We all know about Jason Robertson, Joe Pavelski and Roope Hintz. But the complementary pieces have been excellent in the early going. Wyatt Johnston is breaking out in his second full NHL campaign; the 21-year-old has scored a fantastic nine goals and 16 points in 21 games. Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, who have played in Dallas forever, have combined for 31 points. And Matt Duchene, who was bought out by the Nashville Predators and subsequently signed to a one-year deal by the Stars in the offseason, has been absolutely superb. The 32-year-old Canadian is fourth in team scoring (after the top line) with 17 points of his own.
Clearly, the offense is alright. And the goaltending remains strong, with Jake Oettinger off to another promising start for his team. He's won nine of his 15 starts, while compiling a very solid 2.53 goals-against average and .916 save percentage. He continues to provide excellent play between the pipes, and backup Scott Wedgewood has also found success in a limited role.
So, where can this team improve? Obviously, it's on the back end. Miro Heiskanen remains an elite option, but it starts to fall off after that. The decline continues for Ryan Suter, which is understandable considering he's turning 39 years old in January. Esa Lindell has also struggled at times. Although it's still a solid blue line, with Thomas Harley and Joel Hanley making up a surprisingly effective third pair, it could get better.
Stars could use a Flames defenseman
Stars GM Jim Nill should look no further than their Western Conference rival Calgary Flames. The Flames are preparing for a firesale, with Nikita Zadorov already shipped to the Vancouver Canucks, and both Chris Tanev and Noah Hanifin are surely soon to follow.
Both of those D-men would provide stability and a veteran presence on the Stars' blue line. Dallas is currently giving up 2.86 goals per game, which is good for ninth in league standings. That's very solid, but could get even better for a team looking to bring a Stanley Cup to Dallas for the first time since 1999.
The Athletic insider Chris Johnston is high on both Hanifin and Tanev, and has the pair at No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, on his first trade board of the season.
“A 6-foot-3 defenseman who ticks multiple boxes, Hanifin is a strong skater who can be trusted to log 20-plus minutes per night and contribute at both ends of the ice. And he’s in the absolute prime of his career,” wrote Johnston regarding Hanifin. “Hanifin is also playing out the final year of a cap-friendly contract that will appeal to contenders trying to limbo under the cap ceiling.”
“Considered a team-first warrior who still profiles as an effective shutdown defender, Tanev will be in demand among those looking to upgrade their blue lines. He has some say in his next destination courtesy of a 10-team no-trade list,” Johnston echoed regarding Tanev.
“A right shot with penalty-killing chops, he’s garnered a reputation of playing the game the right way over 12 NHL seasons. That means finishing checks, blocking shots or keeping opponents to the outside — whatever it takes to give his team the best chance at success. Tanev can be had as a rental, but it wouldn’t be surprising to see a team try to get his signature on an extension when swinging a deal with the Flames.”
There are a ton of NHL teams who are interested in both Hanifin and Tanev, as was the case with Zadorov. The Stars might not have the draft capital to bring one of those players to Texas, but either could slot in on the second pairing and be a huge upgrade over Lindell or Jani Hakanpaa.
At the end of the day, the Stars don't have to get better; this is a Stanley Cup contender as currently constructed. But they are still buyers ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline next year, and Jim Nill should at least be picking up the phone and inquiring about one of Calgary's soon-to-be-traded blueliners.