FRISCO, Texas — (AP) — Coach Pete DeBoer couldn't get a third different team to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season, though the Dallas Stars came close.
The Stars still set a promising foundation in DeBoer's debut with a core group of players — both young and old — that will remain pretty much intact for next season. They improved their scoring, maintained their defensive identity and were solid on special teams.
“To go as far as we did with a new coaching staff and a new system is obviously very promising, a lot of belief in that locker room and a good group of guys,” forward Tyler Seguin said Wednesday.
“It's a good feeling,” captain Jamie Benn said. “Expectations are going to be high now.”
The Stars did become the fourth different team DeBoer has taken to a conference final or NHL semifinal. After losing the first three games in the West final, two in overtime, they pushed the series to Game 6 before a 6-0 home loss to Vegas, DeBoer’s previous team that lost to Dallas in the 2020 NHL semifinal series in the bubble. He took New Jersey and San Jose to the Stanley Cup Final in his first season with those clubs.
“The important part is when you don’t win, have you established building blocks that you can build on for next year. And I think we did that,” DeBoer said. “It didn’t just catch fire during the playoffs. It felt like that all year. I felt like we were a legitimate contender all year. And it's a good feeling to have.”
General manager Jim Nill and the Stars have only about $7.3 million in salary cap space going into the offseason. But that is because so many of their key players are under contract for next season, and beyond.
That includes 2017 draft class standouts defenseman Miro Heiskanen, goalie Jake Oettinger and high-scoring forward Jason Robertson. Roope Hintz, a 26-year-old point-a-game player who had an NHL-best 24 points (10 goals) in the playoffs, is just about to get into the eight-year contract extension he signed last summer. Joe Pavelski, the 38-year-old center, is already signed for next season, while Benn and Seguin have multiple seasons left on their deals.
“Everyone knows what to expect. We don't have to start at ground zero,” DeBoer said. “I would expect we'll have a hungry group. You get this close and get a taste of it, you want to get back.”
OTTER IN NET
Oettinger got his first two playoff series victories, one close to his childhood home in Minnesota and then Game 7 against Seattle in the second round. But he also had two big duds in the postseason — pulled early in the second period in Game 6 at Seattle, and only 7:10 into Game 3 against Vegas after allowing three goals on five shots.
It was the first full season as a starter for the 24-year-old Oettinger, who was 37-11 with 11 shutout losses in the regular season. He had a .919 save percentage and 2.37 goals-against-average with five shutouts.
“I have so much room for growth, every area of my game,” Oettinger said. “Goaltending, you can't perfect it. But I think that’s the exciting part, is you can always get better.”
DeBoer said Oettinger was “better than advertised.” He became coach weeks after Oettinger's 64-save performance when Dallas ended last season with a 3-2 overtime loss in Game 7 at Calgary.
After missing training camp during a contract holdout, Robertson became the first Dallas player ever with a 100-point season (46 goals, 63 assists). The 23-year-old left wing has 234 career points (104 goals, 130 assists) in 210 regular-season games.
“I don't know if I'll be at training camp,” Robertson said with a laugh Wednesday.
After his $31 million, four-year deal, Robertson became a first-time All-Star and tied a franchise record with 34 multipoint games. He had five goals in the series against Vegas, after only three goals his previous 20 playoff games.
Wyatt Johnston tied the NHL rookie lead with 24 goals. Then in the playoffs, the day after his 20th birthday, he became the youngest player ever with a series-clinching goal in a Game 7 when the Stars beat Seattle 2-1. He also had the game-winner in the Game 6 series-clincher against Minnesota.
Johnston spent this season living with Pavelski and his family.
“He’ll have a key as long as he wants,” Pavelski said.
“I want him to take some time and enjoy it and reflect and relax,” DeBoer said of Johnston. “Then get back to work and realize that it’s not going to be just automatic next year.”
Max Domi and Evgenii Dadonov, forwards the Stars added at the trade deadline in March, are both unrestricted free agents and seem unlikely to return considering the cap situation.
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