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Will the Braden Holtby Signing Pay Off for the Stars?

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Will the Braden Holtby Signing Pay Off for the Stars?
Goalie Braden Holtby #49 reaches back to clear the puck after stopping Jason Spezza #19 of the Toronto Maple Leafs on April 17, 2021. Rich Lam/Getty Images/AFP

The 2021-22 NHL season is just around the corner and the Dallas Stars emerge as one of the dangerous floaters in the mix with NHL odds hovering around the +2000 mark depending on the choice of your sportsbook.

Some of the top sportsbooks opened with the Stars tipped at around +3300 to win the Stanley Cup, but recent weeks have seen their NHL futures odds drop significantly. As it currently stands, Dallas’ odds are on the level of championship-caliber teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

If it feels like the 2020-21 NHL season only just finished, it’s because it did. It was merely a month ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning hoisted the Stanley Cup – their second championship victory in as many seasons.

The Lightning beat the Montreal Canadiens 4-1 in the Stanley Cup Finals, back in July.

Consequential Delays

The Covid-19 pandemic disrupted the last two NHL seasons. First, it derailed the 2019-20 NHL season, prompting a significant interlude before the league was finally able to resume proceedings months later. Doing so under the guise of a “bubble” in Canada with two hub cities (Toronto and Edmonton) hosting the entire postseason.

The setback to the 2019-20 season subsequently prompted consequential delays to the 2020-21 NHL season which, in turn, forced the league to implement wholesale changes that included shortening the regular season, realigning divisions in accordance to logistical considerations and adjusting the entire format of the postseason bracket.

The Dallas Stars defied the NHL odds when they reached the Stanley Cup finals in 2020. They beat the Flames and then both the highly-fancied Avalanche and Golden Knights on the way to the final round. They put in a good fight against the Lightning before succumbing in Game 6 of the Finals.

Alas, the Stars struggled to strike an audible chord in the ensuing 2020-21 NHL season. It was a tough slog from start to finish with the Stars falling out of the playoff frame behind a 23-19-14 mark and 60 points, which put them in fifth place in the Central Division standings and four points adrift of the Nashville Predators who finished fourth in the table.

The disparity in the outcome of the last two seasons prompted the Dallas Stars to make some big moves this offseason. On the first day of free agency, they went all out and signed experienced goalie Braden Holtby, along with four other players. Whether Holtby is the answer, only time will tell.

The Stars have four goalies on the roster after the addition of Holtby, so what GM Jim Nill has in mind is anybody’s guess.

Decisions to Be Made

The 2021-22 NHL season is set to get underway on October 14, 2021. There’s time between now and then for the Stars to make their roster decisions clearer and answer the pressing question regarding who will be their starter in the net.

Ben Bishop missed the last season in its entirety due to an injury he suffered in the 2019-20 NHL playoffs. He experienced complications in his recovery. It’s as yet unknown whether he’ll be ready for the upcoming Dallas Stars training camp.

GM Jim Nill spoke about the uncertainty surrounding Bishop recently. “There is no definite timeframe,” Nill said with regards to Bishop’s return. “Is he going to be ready to go? He may be. He may not be. And that’s why we had to make sure we covered ourselves.”

Anton Khudobin stepped in for Bishop during the 2020 playoffs and he carried the Stars all the way to the finals. It’s fair to say, he was a bit of a hero. However, Khudobin’s 2020-21 campaign didn’t live up to the expectations he set in the previous season. Granted his performance was hindered by a Covid-19 diagnosis but other off-ice issues proved to be a distraction too.

All told, he went 12-11-7 on the season and the Stars missed the playoffs.

Renaissance Period

Jake Oettinger also stepped in for relief duty when he made his debut for the Stars in the playoff bubble. This season, Oettinger finished with an 11-8-7 record that included a .911 save percentage and a 2.36 goals-against average. However, next season marks the end of his entry-level contract and that’s a consideration Nill must have factored in the Holtby acquisition.

Perhaps, by picking up Holtby in free agency, Nill showed his hand. There could have been a lack of confidence in the goaltending depth as it were. So, acquiring Holtby makes perfect sense and gives the Stars options should they need them.

Holtby’s deal is merely a one-year deal worth $2 million, so he’s more of an insurance policy than a long-term answer. That in itself is up for debate. After all, Holtby is a proven champion. He won the Vezina Trophy, the William M. Jennings Trophy, was a multiple-time NHL All-Star and won the Stanley Cup in 2018 with the Washington Capitals.

Holtby could very well light up or enjoy a renaissance if given the chance with a new team next season. He’s merely 31 years old with plenty of his career still ahead of him. So, maybe, a fresh start with the Stars will pay off for both Holtby and the team after all. If that’s the case, Dallas could be a sneaky NHL pick for the upcoming season.