One of the biggest storylines for the Dallas Stars last season was Jim Montgomery’s line decisions. Early on, it seemed like the lines would fluctuate almost every game. It felt like he was in search of answers early and was struggling to find that magical combination.
Finally, he found some combinations that he liked and, generally, kept the lines stable. Changing lines to make adjustments to the other team, trying to give the team a spark or an injury really were the only reason for the changes by the end of the season.
The players benefited from the chaos early though, as it gave the Stars flexibility in knowing other players tendencies and force the other team to adjust to the Stars’ moves. It was a risky strategy that paid off, even though it drove many fans mad early on. But with the addition of two new forwards, all of the talent at the AHL level waiting to break through, how do these new pieces fit and how do they impact the line combinations?
Where Does Joe Pavelski Play?
Depending on where Joe Pavelski slots into the lineup, has a dramatic impact on how these lines play out. Jamie Benn, Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, and Pavelski all have to be thought as locks in the top 6. Monty loves to get creative with his lines and he certainly has that option given the ability of many of these forwards being able to play multiple positions. Some people have pointed out that Corey Perry and Jamie Benn looked really good playing together for Team Canada, and it is something to consider, but realistically, Monty will probably slot Perry in the bottom 6. The Dallas Stars have some of the best skaters in the NHL and they have speed. Hintz, Seguin, and Denis Gurianov gives you the speed you need to break out while still having two good face-off players. This would leave the second line of Benn, Pavelski, and Radulov together. Roope and Gurianov on the wings with any center would be incredibly fun to watch as they fly down the ice.
Let us consider that Monty opts to play Pavelski on a wing. Well, this is where things can get interesting. Pavelski could play on the right wing with Benn and Seguin, leaving Roope centering Dickinson and Radulov most likely, leaving Gurianov to play in the bottom six. Monty prefers to have multiple players who can take face-offs so by putting Pavelski on a wing, someone has to move out for Dickinson. Roope and Seguin were, late in the year, the two best face-off players for Dallas, so beginning with them occupying the center spots in the top six makes sense. Playing Pavelski on the wing is the most likely outcome to at least start the year for Dallas.
How Does Corey Perry Fit?
The FCC line last year was the shutdown line for the Dallas Stars, but unfortunately, they struggled on the offensive end. In their defense, they were consistently asked to shut down the opposing team’s top line on a night in night out basis which makes having the energy to convert on offensive opportunities difficult. Radek Faksa, Andrew Cogliano, and Blake Comeau did have some big moments, including Comeau helping propel Dallas to a Game 4 victory against Nashville in the first round. Despite their defensive prowess, it may be time to break the line up by moving Cogliano down and replacing him Corey Perry. Cogliano had many opportunities last season but missed some big opportunities to finish chances, leading the Stars to often pay the price.
Alternatively, if Gurianov does not make the top 6, Monty could opt to play him on his natural left wing, as he shoots left, than the off-wing right wing position. Depending on how Gurianov slots into the line combinations, Comeau or Cogliano could be forced to play in an off-wing position. This is predicated on Corey Perry lining up with Faksa otherwise, Gurianov will be playing with Perry and Janmark in his natural left wing position. To start the season, it would not surprise anyone if Monty elects to maybe hide Perry on the fourth line to start the season so as to ease him into the season given his decreasing amount of games played over the last 3 seasons.
New additions to a team will always bring excitement and the question of how they fit in with the existing pieces. Monty continued to improve as the year continued on and found his way to finding line combinations that worked for the team. How he navigates the lineup with new pieces coming in will determine the team’s success.
The Dallas Stars and their fans should feel comfortable with how he will handle this challenge as he handled Zuccarello coming in mid-season well, so imagine how he can do with a full offseason to figure it out.
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