Our questions and his answers touch upon the opening week of Dallas' season, expectations through 2015 and a number of other juicy topics. Enjoy!
1) Let's start by sending one of your questions for us right back to you: Offseason move that will have the biggest impact on the organization this season?
While we're still waiting for it to pay off on the score sheet, the acquisition of Jason Spezza is certainly going to have the biggest impact on the Stars this season. He gives us something that had been lacking in Dallas for some time and yet has become essential for survival in the Western Conference: center depth. Tyler Seguin has been phenomenal on the top line with Jamie Benn, but, with Spezza, the Stars now have two dangerous scoring lines and as a result have been able to move last year's second line (the trio of Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt, and Antoine Roussel) down to the third line. Those guys had breakout seasons last year despite playing out of their depth; now they can play roles and styles more suited to their game.
And while I did say we're waiting for Spezza to hit the score sheet, that's not quite accurate. He has yet to score a goal as a Star, although he had one controversially waved off against the Penguins Thursday night, but he does have three assists, including a beautiful cross-ice setup to Seguin for the game winner in Pittsburgh, a goal that came by the way of the powerplay. Last year? A definite weakness of the team; this year, with Spezza alongside Benn, Seguin, and Ales Hemsky? A gleefully anticipated scoring machine.
*David rubs his hands together in delight*
2) Dallas is 2-1-1 to start the season. I'm guessing a decent amount of people from Philadelphia haven't watched their games. How have they looked? Coming off a thrilling win in Pittsburgh, I don't see how many of you could be disappointed.
While you're probably right in that the majority of Flyers' fans haven't yet watched the Stars play, I highly recommend it, especially the next time the Stars face off against Chicago. The Stars are fast. Against the Blackhawks on opening night, Dallas came out skating circles around them. And it wasn't just my victory-green colored glasses telling me that. Midway through the first period of that game, shot attempts were 20-3 in favor of Dallas. Twenty to three!
Of course, following Corey Crawford stealing that game for the Hawks, Dallas then went to Nashville, where they played one period of dominant hockey, and then got completely shutdown by the Predators. In short, it's been up and down. Even that thrilling win against the Penguins saw a very lackluster start from the Stars, including a parade to the penalty box, some generally sloppy play, and a number of costly turnovers. They righted the ship with a decent second period, kept the game close and exploded in the dying minutes.
So no -- not disappointed with a 2-1-1 start (not to mention the 2-1-0 road trip), but, man, this team is going to be stressful to watch, as well as ridiculously fun.
3) From the looks of things, both the Stars and the Flyers share similarities re: playoff outlook and positioning, with both teams most likely vying for a wildcard spot. Is that where you see this team heading? It's a very long season, but what are some things Dallas fans should expect?
I think a lot can change in a year. Last year I would have fully agreed with you. Dallas were a bubble team, and playoffs were this 'potential' thing that happened to work out.
I don't think that's the case this year. Sure, the Stars could end up missing out simply by virtue of playing in the uber-competitive Central Division, but most pundits are picking them as a lock for a playoff spot, and many see them competing for 2nd or 3rd in the division. I think Dallas can go toe-to-toe with anyone in the league this season (as evidenced in games against Chicago and Pittsburgh), and we have yet to see any production at all from this highly touted second line of Spezza and Hemsky. Kari Lehtonen is finding his groove in net, the defense hasn't been the liability that many feared it would be, and I'm not sure if anyone can realistically doubt that Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin will continue to be one of the best duos in hockey.
4) Lindy Ruff has been head coach for an entire season now. Is there reason to think he'll be behind the helm for the foreseeable future? Have you seen a noticeable difference in team play over the past 3 months? 6 months?
I think Ruff is here for the long haul. He and Jim Nill seem to have a great relationship, and Ruff has a good rapport (from the outside looking in) with all of his players. He's also proven to be surprisingly adaptable as a coach. I say surprisingly as I tend to think of long-tenured coaches as somewhat sticks in the mud, whether that's an accurate assessment or not. At a glance, the systems that have been implemented for the Stars really play to the team's strengths, and while Ruff typically likes a simple rolling four-line approach during games, he can also adapt on the fly, like placing Spezza on the top line with Seguin and Benn at the end of the Pittsburgh game, with almost immediate results.
The team seems to get faster and stronger on offense, but what's happening on the defensive side of things shouldn't be overlooked. The defensive breakdowns that had plagued the team for much of the first half of last season have seemed to steadily decrease, and now I think we're seeing the beginnings of a more confident blueline, as evidenced by the ability and willingness of Stars' defensemen to join the rush and really push play up ice.
5) Anything to suggest that analytics play a part in the decision-making process of Dallas' front office organization?
This is the thing about supporting a team in a non-traditional hockey market: You often assume that other people read the national news about your team. Apparently that's not the case.
Rumor has it, and by rumor, I mean Jim Nill flat out said it, that the Stars are heavily invested in analytics. He and Lindy Ruff also read our blogs, so be careful what you say!
6) Give us a prediction!
The Stars have looked dominant for stretches this season, and atrocious for others. I feel though that it's about time for things to click and for Dallas to put together a complete game. The second home game of the season sounds like the perfect time to do it. 4-2 Stars!
Many thanks to David for answering what BSH sent over to him earlier this week. The Stars host the Flyers at 8:00 PM EST -- the game should be a good one, as the Flyers should be (more like better be) desperate for a win.