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Off-Season Game Plan: Dallas Stars

Scott Cullen
5/30/2011 1:11:03 AM
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The Dallas Stars missed the playoffs by a mere two points last season and now go into the summer with some major issues.

Off-Season Game Plan looks at a Stars franchise that is in the midst of being sold, making it all the more challenging to forecast what personnel options will be available to GM Joe Nieuwendyk this summer.

There are a lot of holes that Nieuwendyk needs to fill this summer, and the coaching vacancy and the status of Brad Richards are but two of them; they just happen to be the most important issues and neither can be adequately addressed without ownership.

After a good start to the 2010-2011 season, the Stars faded down the stretch, winning 13 of 35 games to finish the season and it ultimately cost head coach Marc Crawford his job, leaving Nieuwendyk with a hole to fill behind the bench.

Associate coach Willie Desjardins, former Stars coach Ken Hitchcock and Canadiens assistant coach Kirk Muller would all seem to be among the leading contenders to take over as head coach of the Stars.

Of course, the process of hiring a new coach is affected by the state of the franchise's ownership, as top coaching candidates may not be willing to wait for the ownership situation to settle in Dallas, even if the Stars job, based on talent available, would appear to be relatively desirable when compared to some of the other coaching vacancies in the league.

The Stars are reportedly in the process of being sold to Tom Gaglardi. When that deal is completed, presumably, the Stars will have more financial flexibility and perhaps even a chance to keep their prime free agent.

Brad Richards is going to be in significant demand as a free agent, one of the few legitimate point-producing centres set to hit the market. Even with a settled ownership situation, the Stars would face stiff competition to retain Richards' services, but if new ownership isn't in place, the Stars can't reasonably be expected to pay the price necessary.

Whether the Stars can or can't keep Richards, they are going to have to do some work as the season ended with eight unrestricted free agents on the roster. Some will be easy enough to replace but the real objective for Nieuwendyk (and the new owner) should be to upgrade on the talent that is already here so that the Stars have a legitimate chance at the playoffs next season.

Three straight years out of the playoffs matches the longest drought in franchise history (1974-1976, in Minnesota), but if Richards leaves and there aren't corresponding moves to upgrade the talent in Big D, the streak could very easily hit four.

GM/COACH
Joe Nieuwendyk/Vacant

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Cap Hit
Loui Eriksson 78.27 $4.267M
Jamie Benn 76.16 $822K
Mike Ribeiro 73.80 $5.0M
Brenden Morrow 73.65 $4.1M
Steve Ott 65.37 $2.95M
Adam Burish 63.28 $1.15M
Tom Wandell 59.89 $775K
Toby Petersen 58.48 $775K
Krys Barch 55.82 $838K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Brad Richards 79.20 UFA $8M
Jamie Langenbrunner 65.07 UFA $2.8M
Brandon Segal 61.07 UFA $550K
Brian Sutherby 56.86 UFA $813K
Jason Williams 59.60 UFA $500K

With 144 points over the last two seasons, Loui Eriksson ranks 10th among wingers in scoring over that time. He's a quietly excellent two-way player who could be faced with the prospect of trying to maintain those scoring numbers without his playmaking centre if Brad Richards departs in free agency.

If there is a Stars forward that is set to become a breakout star, it would figure to be Jamie Benn, the second-year forward who scored a point-per-game after the All-Star break.

Benn has size, skill and can play in all situations; if he continues to build on his offensive numbers, he's set to become the face of the franchise.

Mike Ribeiro remains an effective point producer, topping 70 points in three of the last four seasons, making him one of only nine centres in the league to achieve that feat.

While Ribeiro has improved his play without the puck, there is always the feeling that there is room for further development. Now 31, he may just be what he is: a good point-producing centre who can run into trouble defensively because of either lack of focus or lack of physical strength, or some combination of the two.

Brenden Morrow finished the 2010-2011 season with a career-high 33 goals while playing in all 82 games. He's made his career as a hard-hitting forward who can create chances off the forecheck, registering more than 220 hits in three of the last four seasons.

Steve Ott's made his name by annoying any and all that cross his path, but it would be selling him short to only acknowledge his pest tendencies. He's been a useful contributor offensively, too, scoring 53 goals over the last three seasons. He's the only player in the league to have at least 50 goals and 450 penalty minutes in that time.

Signed from Chicago after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks, Adam Burish saw a significant boost in ice time upon arriving in Big D, averaging 14:21 per game last season, after playing nine minutes per game in the previous two seasons with the Blackhawks.

Burish's production (eight goals, 14 points) was miniscule, but he didn't have a bad shot differential per 60 minutes (from www.behindthenet.ca) and finished as a plus player, so he was effective enough in his role.

A knee injury cut short Tom Wandell's rookie season in 2009-2010, and while he was healthy enough to play 75 games last season, he played fewer minutes and wasn't as productive. Perhaps now that he's another year away from his injury, he'll have a better chance to develop into a solid third-liner next season.

Toronto's Fredrik Sjostrom was the only other forward in the league to play at least ten minutes per game and have less production than Toby Petersen's .1 points per game (six points in 60 games). Like Burish, though, Petersen's shot differential wasn't bad so, really, it would just be nice if he could contribute more than two goals on 58 shots.

He's not merely the last bastion defending physical old time hockey on Twitter (@krysbarch), he's also fought 81 times in 253 games in his NHL career against the biggest and baddest the league has to offer. He plays a minimal role -- a career-low 5:13 per game last season -- which is probably for the best.

This summer's biggest free agent catch, Brad Richards has scored better than a point-per-game three times in his ten-year NHL career, including each of the last two seasons.

Certainly, the Stars would prefer not to lose Richards, but with an uncertain ownership situation, it could be difficult to put forth the $8-million or so per season on a long-term deal that figures to be required to keep him.

If Richards does indeed go, his departure will leave a sizeable hole that needs to be addressed in Dallas' top six forwards.

After compiling the best years of his career in his thirties, 35-year-old Jamie Langenbrunner endured a miserable season, struggling in New Jersey, then Dallas, on his way to a career-worst minus-18 rating.

His 32-point total was his lowest since 2003-2004, so it's not like he has to be a priority to re-sign but, at the same time, if Langenbrunner wants to stay in Dallas, he should come at a reasonable cost.

The other unrestricted free agent forwards are more easily replaced. Adding a playmaking centre would help limit the effects of Richards' departure, so Tim Connolly might hold some appeal, while more defensive-minded centres like Michal Handzus or Eric Belanger might also fit.

Additionally, because Jamie Benn is versatile enough that he could possibly move into a scoring centre role, the Stars might be better off looking to the wings for scoring help, as it might be easier to address than finding a scoring centre in a free agent market that is lacking in proven point producers down the middle.

Alex Tanguay, Tomas Fleischmann, Brooks Laich, Ville Leino and Simon Gagne are all potent offensive wingers that might be had for a fraction of what Richards' likely price will be on the open market. If Langenbrunner is gone too, then another winger would be required to leave the Stars with a solid top six and a couple more checking forwards will be necessary to round out the lineup.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Cap Hit
Alex Goligoski 73.72 $1.833M
Stephane Robidas 67.95 $3.3M
Trevor Daley 67.07 $3.3M
Nicklas Grossman 62.47 $1.625M
Mark Fistric 59.80 $1.0M

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '10-'11 Cap Hit
Karlis Skrastins 65.36 UFA $1.375M
Jeff Woywitka 62.35 UFA $650K

Coming over from Pittsburgh, Alex Goligoski gave the Stars a puck-moving presence on defence that they've desperately needed since Sergei Zubov was last patrolling the Dallas blueline.

Goligoski played more than 26 minutes per game for the Stars after the trade and finished the year with 24 power play points (combined between Dallas and Pittsburgh). If he can provide similar production next year, the Stars ought to be thrilled.

34-year-old Stephane Robidas has been the workhorse on the Dallas defence in recent years, playing more than 24 minutes per game in each of the last three seasons, ranking in the top four in the entire league in hits by a defenceman in each of those seasons.

With Goligoski on hand, Robidas wasn't required to play so much in an offensive role, which is a better fit for his natural abilities.

Trevor Daley provides a measure of consistency on the Stars' defence. He's missed 21 games in the last six seasons and scored between 22 and 27 points in the last four years, while his ice time has increased in each of the last six years, to a career-high 22:29 per game last season.

The Stars would like to have Nicklas Grossman emerge as a shutdown defenceman, as he has the size to do the job, but he was hindered by knee and hip injuries last season and ended up playing just 59 games.

Mark Fistric is a bruiser, who doesn't play a lot of minutes, but is very physical in the limited ice time that he gets. He's just fine as a sixth or seventh defenceman.

Dallas' blueline could use an upgrade and at the very least will have to address potential holes created if unrestricted free agents Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woywitka move on.

Prospect Philip Larsen might be able to earn a spot, but another veteran, experienced D-man would seem to be in order. The quality of which will be determined by how much the Stars can afford to spend.

Maybe Jim Vandermeer could provide some muscle, Brent Sopel a shot-blocking presence or possibly ex-Leafs Ian White or Tomas Kaberle would add some puck skills to solidify the group.

Returning Goaltenders

Player Rating Cap Hit
Kari Lethonen 71.57 $3.55M
Andrew Raycroft 66.80 $650K

Dallas made a commitment to Kari Lehtonen when they traded to get him from Atlanta in 2009-2010 season, and he rewarded that faith last season, playing a career-high 69 games, recording a career-best 2.55 goals against average and .914 save percentage.

A healthy Lehtonen has the capability of being an above-average starter in the league, so if he he can get strong defence in front of him, the results should be favourable.

While Andrew Raycroft has had trouble when asked to play a substantial role, he seems to have settled in as a quality backup in the last couple of seasons. Provided he doesn't have to play more than 20 games, he should be able to help the Stars and he comes at a reasonable price.

Top Prospects

Player Pos. Team/League Stats
Jack Campbell G Windsor (OHL) 3.80 GAA, .884 SV%, 45 GP
Scott Glennie RW Brandon (WHL) 35-56-91,+4, 70 GP
Philip Larsen D Texas (SEL) 4-17-21,+3, 54 GP
Alex Chiasson LW Boston University (HE) 14-20-34,-5, 35 GP
Reilly Smith RW Miami-Ohio (CCHA) 28-26-54,+27, 37 GP
Patrik Nemeth D AIK (SEL) 1-6-7,even, 38 GP
Tyler Beskorowany G Texas (AHL) 2.58 GAA, .921 SV%, 18 GP
John Klingberg D Springfield (AHL) 5-7-12,-1, 44 GP
Richard Bachman G Texas (AHL) 2.20 GAA, .927 SVPCT, 55 GP
Brenden Dillon D Seattle (WHL) 8-51-59,-25, 72 GP

Jack Campbell is supposed to be a franchise goaltender, but the 11th overall pick in last summer's draft struggled in his first year in the Ontario Hockey League. It's much too soon to pass judgment on a 19-year-old goaltender, so Campbell has time to get back on the right track.

The eighth overall pick in 2009, Scott Glennie is ready to test his mettle in the AHL, having completed four years in the Western Hockey League. He didn't produce much in late-season and playoff turn with the Texas Stars, so all the more reason to expect at least a full year of development at that level.

Danish defenceman Philip Larsen was a fifth-round pick in 2008, but has made very good progress since, getting into eight games with the Stars over the last couple of seasons. He needs to get stronger, but his poise makes him a good bet to land a spot in Dallas next season.

Lanky collegiate winger Alex Chiasson has become a more intriguing prospect after putting up nearly a point-per-game as a sophomore at Boston University. If he has a big junior season, he'll be ready to try to the pro game.

Reilly Smith enjoyed a monster season as a sophomore at Miami-Ohio, scoring 28 goals in 38 games. He'll need to get stronger to handle te pro grind, but there's a lot to like about a prospect who knows how to put the puck in the net.

A second-round pick last summer, Patrik Nemeth has good size and has potential as a shutdown-style defender, though expectations need to be reasonable for the 19-year-old as he matures.

Tyler Beskorowany spent half the year in the ECHL, but excelled in the AHL when given the opportunity too. At 6-foot-5, he has prototypical size.

Selected in the fifth round last year, John Klingberg is a mobile defenceman who has offensive upside, but he's only 18, so is still more of a long-term proposition.

Had a tremendous season for Texas in the AHL, playing 55 games and putting up a .927 save percentage, but the 24-year-old is facing long-term competition from younger prospects in the organization.

Defenceman Brenden Dillon was signed as a free agent in the spring as he suddenly developed an offensive component to his game in his fourth year of junior and saw some late season AHL action.

Check out a possible roster for next season, on www.capgeek.com, with a bunch of free agent additions (and a big departure) up front: http://bit.ly/jHbG9R

DRAFT
14th - Joel Armia, Nathan Beaulieu, Zack Phillips.

FREE AGENCY
According to www.capgeek.com, the Stars have approximately $37.9M committed to the 2011-12 salary cap for 16 players.

Needs: Three top nine forwards, depth forwards, one top four defenceman, depth defenceman.

What I said the Stars needed last year: One top nine forward, one top pair defenceman, backup goaltender.

They added: Adam Burish, Brandon Segal, Andrew Raycroft.

TRADE MARKET Mike Ribeiro, Mark Fistric.

Scott Cullen can be reached at Scott.Cullen@bellmedia.ca and followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/tsnscottcullen. For more, check out TSN Fantasy on Facebook.



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