STARS MAILBAG: Hockey in Houston? And Honka is actually good

I think we’ve finally reached the offseason.

Sure, the Dallas Stars haven’t played since April, but the past three months have been rather busy with a new coach, expansion draft, NHL entry draft, trades, free agency, and development camp.

The Stars have their roster set (Jamie Oleksiak’s RFA deal is the final contract to sign, which should be done sooner than later), and we’ve officially reached the slowest stretch of the year for hockey fans.

So, how will the next six weeks look at Wrong Side of the Red Line?

For starters, on Monday we’ll be recording a “futurecast” edition of the podcast. We’ll talk prospects, their development, and what to expect with potential future Stars — on that note if you have any prospects you want to hear about in particular comment here or shoot me a Tweet.

Next week I’ll be starting a series of stories for subscribers on the roster players for the upcoming season. This will be a collection of stories looking ahead for each particular player, while I’ll also empty the tape recorder and notebook for notes from the past season.

The mailbag will take a two-week break in August when I’m on vacation, but it will remain on a weekly basis before and after that break.

And with that let’s get started:

Houston could be an ideal fit for the NHL.

It would give the Stars a better geographic rival and travel partner, while the city has the infrastructure and population size to support a team. And with Les Alexander selling the Houston Rockets the new NBA owner could open the doors for an NHL team in Houston.

The prospect of an NHL team is actually in the lease for the Toyota Center. Article 23 of the document reads:

In the event that an NHL Team not owned or operated by Tenant or any Affiliate of Tenant desires to play its home games at the Arena, Tenant shall, subject to the approval of the Sports Authority, and subject to such NHL Team being a Creditworthy Person, negotiate in good faith to enter into a Use Agreement with such NHL Team, which Use Agreement will be consistent with the terms and conditions described on Exhibit E attached hereto and made a part hereof. The Sports Authority’s approval of an NHL Team that is not an Affiliate of Tenant may be made subject to the payment of a one-time fee to the Sports Authority in exchange for an annual operating consideration from the Sports Authority on terms to be negotiated when such approval is requested. The Sports Authority may not use such one-time fee for any purposes other than to pay the Arena Rent Supported Debt, Subordinated Obligations or Arena Bonds, satisfy its obligations with respect to the Arena under the Principal Project Documents, or for enhancements to the Arena made in accordance with this Agreement. The Sports Authority shall not provide to any owners or prospective owners of an NHL Team that is not an .Affiliate of Tenant and that will play its home games in the Arena any advantage (determined on a net basis), economic or otherwise, including, but not limited to, monetary incentives, operating considerations, sponsorship or advertising commitments, ticket purchase commitments, expense reimbursement or rent breaks, which it does not also make available to Tenant or any Affiliate of Tenant in connection with their efforts to bring an NHL Team to the Arena .

I’m not a lawyer, but from my understanding this means that an NHL team playing in the Toyota Center would essentially have to be owned by the Rockets owner and Toyota Center lease owner (currently Alexander and Rocket Ball Ltd), or someone affiliated with that owner.

An unaffiliated owner could bring a team to Houston and have them play in the Toyota Center, but per the terms of the lease the city couldn’t give that team any breaks or incentives to bring hockey to Houston. So essentially bringing a team to Houston could hinge on how much of a hockey fan the Rockets new owner is and if they are interested in the NHL.

None of them can play center in the NHL, so it won’t happen.

Even if one of them could it’s a group that I would hesitate to put together. The best defensive player in that grouping, or at least the one that shows the most effort on defense, is Denis Gurianov and I don’t want a 20-year-old rookie to be the defensive anchor for a line.

It’s a shame that it can’t work, because it would be a fun story to write. In addition to their common nationality, all three of those players got caught up in the NHL-KHL snafu at some point in their career.

You can’t overplay your hand when you’ve already got what you wanted. Nichushkin wanted more money than the Stars wanted to give him, he got that in the KHL. The supposed plan is for him to be back in the NHL next season, but the Stars know they’ll have to give him the paycheck he’s asking for.

Remember a couple years ago when Radek Faksa was getting labeled as a bust by some national outlets?

This reminds me of that. It’s easy to label a player a bust based on limited viewing or trying to cram a specific metric to fit your narrative. There are always other factors in play with prospects.

And in the Honka case there are two main points we have to remember:

1. He was playing in the AHL as an 18-year-old. That’s not a bad thing, I hate how there is a perception that time in the AHL is a bad thing. Each player has a different development track and AHL is the second best league in the world (KHL may have better top-end talent, but AHL is a deeper league across the board).

2. The circumstances in Dallas. Thanks to management decisions Honka didn’t have a chance to make an NHL impact until the middle of this season and the Stars had a coaching staff in place that didn’t put much faith in young defensemen.

Honka is a good player, he may be the Stars best defender in a couple years — several outside scouts have also told me that. I’ll leave it at that.

There are some exceptions, but for the most part a prospect’s contract doesn’t kick in until they’ve turned pro in North America.

Let’s use Ondrej Vala as an example, who the Stars signed last summer an undrafted free agent. Vala was signed to a three-year entry level contract that started in 2016, but he didn’t get a salary from the Stars during the 2016-17 season because he was playing junior hockey in the WHL.

His contract slid a year, called an entry-level slide, which goes into effect when a player doesn’t reach 10 NHL games in the first year of his contract (this is why you here about top-level prospects sometimes getting nine-game tryouts early in the season before being returned to junior hockey).

There are some other oddities and confusing things with the CBA — it seems like every possible loophole has been used in the Julius Honka situation — which we can get into another day.

They could sign a contract today with the Stars if they wanted to, they would just have to give up their college eligibility and turn pro.

Personally I don’t see much of a risk in Jake Oettinger or Riley Tufte copying the route Jimmy Vesey or Mike Reilly took when they opted for free agency after their college careers. Players that typically eschew the team that drafted them are often the late bloomers and later picks — players that haven’t developed as strong of relationship with the organization from the start.

The list starts and ends with the mental side of the game. Jake Oettinger is a much better mental goalie than Jack Campbell.

Ideally you could have three Stars on the American roster with Riley Tufte, Jason Robertson, and Jake Oettinger.

Oettinger seems like the best lock to me for the American roster, while Tufte has a good chance and likely would have been on the team last year if not for the broken wrist.

Miro Heiskanen should be on the Finnish roster.

There a loads of storylines, especially with all the new players. But the most intriguing one might be this: what if Heiskanen is actually NHL ready in training camp? Will the Stars change plans and have him start in the AHL?

You can read about all three of those prospects (Liam Hawel, Jacob Peterson, and Brett Davis) in the July Prospect Insider or in this story about those three players in particular from development camp.

In general the Stars tend to rely more on area scouts for their later picks. You still might be going off your organizations so-called “big board” in the fourth round, but in the fifth, sixth, and seventh rounds teams are essentially buying a lottery ticket and hoping that player will pan out.

In the case of Hawel, Peterson, and Davis the Stars were looking at a few things that they like in potential NHL player. Hawel’s size was intriguing at 6-foot-5, while the Stars Swedish scouts were high on Peterson’s skill. Davis was a hard-working player on a bad team in the WHL, and the Stars have a history of taking a flier on WHL forwards.

I have this group of forwards written in my notebook right now:

Benn-Seguin-Radulov
Janmark-Hanzal-Spezza
Roussel-Faksa-Ritchie
Cracknell-Shore-Pitlick

Scratched: McKenzie

Ideally in this situation you would carry 13 forwards, because all of the options for the 14th forward (with the exception of Brian Flynn) you’d like to see playing big minutes in the AHL if not on the NHL roster.

It’s not likely, but not impossible. He already has Ken Hitchcock in his corner, so don’t be overly shocked if R.J. Umberger makes the team.

Benn. He’ll actually enter a season healthy. (Even though he’ll never admit he was dealing with injuries last season).

With a new head coach things can change, but Adam Cracknell should have a spot locked up on this roster. Curtis McKenzie may be in fight with some of the younger players to keep his NHL job if there is a strong showing in training camp from the likes or Remi Elie, Jason Dickinson, Gemel Smith, etc…

Gritty, hard-working player with better skill than expected. If he can stay healthy he’s a nice addition to this team.

Not much. We broke this down a bit further last week.

That’s a good question, and one I’ll have to ask at the next opportunity.

The Stars (particularly Jim Lites) have been vocal in the past about helping Houston get an AHL team. They want the sport to grow in Texas.

Stars believe Kari Lehtonen is a solid back-up, and there won’t be much of a trade market for him in middle of the season. His cap hit makes him too difficult too move, and if you are trading him it’s a situation where a team has a goalie injury and they are desperate.

Either way there isn’t a realistic trade for an upgrade on the Stars end during the season.

50 to 55 games for Bishop, 25 to 30 for Lehtonen.

Oleksiak really can’t force anything as an RFA. And if he doesn’t sign with Dallas he just hurts himself, the team really has full control in these RFA situations (even more so in an era where GMs are scared to give offer sheets).

I don’t see much of a role for Oleksiak in Dallas. Theoretically he could find his game with Hitchcock, but I just don’t see how he is part of the Stars organization past the end of October.

Johns could be a very good player under the right coach. The big thing with Johns is learning the finer points of the game and paying closer attention to the details, which Rick Wilson and Hitchcock will preach from the beginning.

Too many moving parts to try and figure that out right now. A lot of it depends on how well the lineup is meshing. Sometimes the best move is the one you decided not to make.

This is tough, I’ll go with this list:

In: Dallas, Tampa, NY Islanders

Out: Calgary, Boston, Ottawa

Hamhuis and Spezza, but I could also see Methot in the discussion.

Yes, it will happen at some point.

My gut says no, but that’s just a gut feeling and lots of things can happen before Antoine Roussel is an unrestricted free agent.

Gavin Bayreuther may a higher offensive ceiling, but Esa Lindell has a higher overall ceiling and has potential to be better than Bayreuther longterm in the defensive zone.

That might have been a minor thought, but it wasn’t a major reason. I do think it could have a good impact on Faksa and if he can adopt some of Hanzal’s habits in the face-off circle he’ll take another step in his game.

I’m expecting a 40-point season for Hanzal.

Depends on how quickly (and if) he buys into what Ken Hitchcock is selling.

Nicholas Caamano.

Stanley Cup Champion. Floor is last place.

The NHL is not going to the Olympics, but there hasn’t been any real clarity if the league or teams would fine/punish players who go. The AHL has stated that AHL-contracted players (who aren’t part of the NHLPA, but the PHPA) can go to the Olympics.

They’ll be eligible. Personally I wonder if Miro Heiskanen will have a chance of making the Finnish team at the Olympics, that could be a nice showcase for the Stars top prospect.

They might do something later this summer, we’ll see. He’s back home in Russia.

Back in April I compared Tyler Seguin to Rocket Raccoon, I would still stand by that.

Rocket Raccoon: Tyler Seguin, keeps needing off-season surgeries. Type of guy who would tell you to steal someone’s leg in the middle of a heist.

Injuries make everything worse. It forces players lower in the lineup to step into a larger role, while team cohesiveness goes out the window.

Ideally the Stars won’t have nearly the injury issues this season, and if they do they have a handful of young players that gained NHL experience last season and are close to full-time NHL duty.

We should forward this idea to the Adidas/NHL marketing department.

Vegas is in the Pacific Division. Won’t really have much of an impact on the schedule, just teams get to play one extra team this season.

ESPN is a business. If they think that’s the best decision for their business, more power to them.

We are moving past an age that ESPN held as much power as it used to. When I was growing up SportsCenter was how you kept up with sports news and I would turn that on whenever I got home from school (after I finished my homework, that was a strict rule in the Shapiro house). ESPN still gets it’s share of viewers, but there are now so many options for readers/viewers that you don’t have to wait on SportsCenter highlights to get your fill.

He’s skated this summer and the times I’ve seen him he seems fine. We really won’t have a good update until training camp, we just don’t know how his knee will respond to the rigors of NHL competition.

Mint chocolate chip.

We’ve got video evidence of them skating right here.

There is a lot going on this video, but I would consider it more offensive than defensive.

Ketchup and mustard.

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