After acquiring an all-star goalie (Ben Bishop), hiring one of the winningest coaches in National Hockey League history (Ken Hitchcock) and being a massive underachiever last year, the Dallas Stars are a popular pick to be the most improved team in the NHL this season.
But while all the experts are talking about why Dallas should be so much better, no one really seems to be talking about how the Stars are going to do it.
We see the potential for the Stars to play a lot differently this season than the way we’re used to seeing in Big D. If that’s the case, there should be a lot better betting opportunities in Dallas games than simply taking an improved Stars team to win the game.
Here are 3 reasons the Dallas Stars could play some of the lowest-scoring hockey games in the NHL this year.
1. They’ve finally got decent goaltending
— SportsDay Stars (@dmn_stars) August 29, 2017
Bishop is coming off a poor season last year and is 30 years old, leading to some debate about whether or not he was worth the 6-year, $29.5-million contract that the Stars signed him to this past spring.
What can’t be debated is that even if Bishop’s best days (he was second in Vezina Trophy voting two years ago and third in 2013-14) are behind him, he still represents a massive upgrade on what the Stars have had in net over the last two seasons.
For almost all NHL teams, we wait to hear who’s the starting goalie (or at least try to predict who will be) before pulling the trigger on a wager. But we didn’t have to do that with the Stars last season, because Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen were both horrible. Dallas finished dead last in save percentage last year (.893), and former coach Lindy Ruff had to pull his starting goalie an incredible 14 times.
The Stars allowed the second-most goals in the NHL last year, but they held opponents to the 12th-fewest shots per game in the league. Now that they’ve got a legitimate #1 goalie to stop most of those shots, and that Lehtonen is appropriately slotted in the backup role, we should see a pretty big improvement on those goals-against numbers.
2. The Hitchcock Effect
With snipers like Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and Jason Spezza, it makes sense that the Stars would want to play a wide-open game and make the most of their skill advantage.
But that’s not how Ken Hitchcock likes to play. Just check out the goals-for and goals-against rankings of Hitchcock-coached teams over the years (we threw out years in which he didn’t coach the entire season.)
|Season||Team||Goals For||Goals Against|
(Statistics compiled from Hockey-Reference.com)
So in the 14 full seasons that Hitchcock has coached, his teams ranked higher in the league in goals-against than goals-for in 13 of them, and finished in the Top 5 in fewest goals against 10 times. And we’re not even counting 2011-12, when Hitchcock took over the Blues 13 games into the season and led them to the lowest goals-against total in the NHL.
Hitchcock also wastes no time in implementing his defensive strategy. The Stars went from 19th in the NHL in goals against to third in Hitchcock’s first full season. Philadelphia was 7th in goals against before Hitchcock, and 1st in his first season. St. Louis went from 18th before Hitchcock arrived to 1st in the year he coached 69 of the team’s 82 games. Hell, even Columbus went from 26th in 2006-07 to 17th the following year (when Hitchcock coached the final 62 games), and improved to 9th in Hitchcock’s first full campaign.
It’s not always exciting hockey to watch, but as evidenced by Hitchcock’s 781 career victories (which ranks fourth all-time), it’s effective. Expect him to keep sucking the fun out of hockey this year in Dallas.
3. They’ll probably be priced as an ‘Over’ team
— DefendingBigD (@DefendingBigD) March 15, 2017
At the start of a season, oddsmakers often have to base a lot of their betting odds on what happened the previous year. If that’s the case with Dallas, we should be seeing a lot of high totals to work with.
Here’s a breakdown of the Over/Unders in Dallas games in 2016-17, which reflects the Stars’ well-earned reputation as a high-scoring, bad defensive team in recent seasons:
- Over/Under 5: 1
- Over/Under 5.5: 68
- Over/Under 6: 9
- Over/Under 6.5: 4
The only game that Dallas played last year with an Over/Under lower than 5.5 was against the offensively-challenged Devils, and it went Under as New Jersey prevailed 2-1 in overtime.
As we’ve written before, 5.5 is a pretty key number in hockey betting because in order for a game to go Over 5.5, it either requires one team to win by 2+ goals (not that common) or both teams to score 3 (also not that common).
If sportsbooks continue to post 5.5 totals on Dallas games because that’s all they did last year, we should see some tremendous value on the Under.
Under Lindy Ruff, the Stars became known for playing firewagon hockey. Dallas scored the most goals in the NHL just two years ago, was third in offence in 2014-15, and allowed the second-most goals in the league last year.
That’s sure to change under Ken Hitchcock, especially since his players should be eager to buy into a proven system after missing the playoffs last year.
Look for Hitchcock to put his defensive stamp on this team pretty quickly, for the Stars to stop taking as many chances in the offensive zone, and for the goalies to start holding up their end of the bargain.
Even if Dallas doesn’t become one of the league’s better defensive teams right away, the high totals that will almost certainly be posted on Stars games early in the season might still make Dallas a sharp Under bet in 2017-18.