The Dallas Stars missed the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, but with new ownership, there is new life, an opportunity to pay the price needed to be a competitive team.
Off-Season Game Plan looks at Stars' roster and what moves could help them bid for a playoff spot next season.
While the Stars missed the postseason, their minus-11 goal differential was the best among non-playoff clubs last season, so they aren't necessarily that far away. There is a core in place, with Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Alex Goligoski and Kari Lehtonen of the age that they can grow together for years to come, but they need more support.
It's not news that the Stars need to bolster the roster, but now that new owner Tom Gaglardi has taken the reins, there is an expectation that the purse strings will be loosened and it will allow Dallas to make sufficient moves.
For his part, Gaglardi has suggested the Stars will be patient, telling the Dallas Morning News, "We want to get better and we need to get better, and that's a process, unfortunately. I wish there were quicker ways to get there, but the only way to do this the right way is with young players and through the draft and developing players."
Yet, team president Jim Lites told Fox Sports Southwest, ""We are without budget. As crazy as that sounds. We are restricted by only the CBA and fitting long and short term into that system...This is a different situation than we have been in for the last 4 seasons – which is we have an owner who is willing to spend and not being run by the league....We are prepared to spend what we need to spend, but we need to spend wisely."
Some of that wide-open budget will be eaten into with a new contract for Benn, but the Stars could go aggressively into the free agent market to try and lure a blue chipper like Ryan Suter, for example, yet if they don't land that type of player, then the Stars' new owner may want to learn a lesson from the experience of Buffalo's new owner, Terry Pegula, last summer. The Sabres shelled out big money and while it raised expectations, the money wasn't necessarily spent wisely and the results were not optimal.
In the Stars' case, there is naturally some urgency to get back to the playoffs, to remain relevant in a very competitive sports market and a new owner will likely be tempted to put his stamp on the team, but it's important that the Stars stick to the plan -- be willing to spend big money if they can get an elite player and be prepared to back off and save for another day if that isn't going to happen this summer.
The TSN.ca Rating is an efficiency rating based on per-game statistics including goals and assists -- weighted for strength (ie. power play, even, shorthanded) -- plus-minus, hits, blocked shots, giveaways, takeaways, penalty differential and faceoffs. (Stats are listed in this format: G-A-PTS, +/-, PIM, GP). Generally, a replacement-level player is around a 60, a top six forward and top four defenceman will be 70-plus and the biggest stars will be over 80. Evgeni Malkin finished at the top of the regular season ratings with a 93.12.
Salary cap information all comes from the indispensable www.capgeek.com.
Joe Nieuwendyk/Glen Gulutzan
There are seven players in the entire league that have scored at least 70 points in each of the last three seasons and Loui Eriksson is one of them (Anze Kopitar, Henrik Sedin, Martin St. Louis, Steven Stamkos, Eric Staal and Joe Thornton are the others). He's quietly efficient and plays both ends of the ice, so the 26-year-old is a very nice building block for the Stars.
Following back-to-back 18-goal seasons, Michael Ryder tallied a career-high 35 goals while playing a career-high 17:23 per game. As unexpected as last season's production was, the odds strongly suggest that the 32-year-old isn't likely to put up those numbers again. That doesn't mean he can't be an offensive contributor, it just means he's not likely to be a first-line scorer.
Mike Ribeiro continues to put up points. Even after a slow start to the season, in which he scored two goals and 15 points through the first 24 games, Ribeiro finished strong, with 48 points in the next 50 games. He's put up 50-plus points in eight straight seasons and four of the last five have been north of 60 points. Ribiero is going into the final year of his deal, so he ought to be motivated to continue producing at that level.
While Steve Ott is a known agitator, accumulating at least two penalty minutes per game in seven of the last eight seasons, the 29-year-old has become an effective complementary player as well, averaging 15 goals and 35 points over the last five seasons. He's also won more than 55.0% of his faceoffs for each of the last three seasons, so there's more to Ott than annoying the opposition, even if he does that really well too.
Years of physical play are taking their toll on Brenden Morrow, who missed 25 games with a upper body then neck injuries -- the third time in the last six seasons that Morrow has missed at least 25 games. When he did play, Morrow's role was reduced (17:02 time on ice per game was his lowest since 2002-2003) and his offensive production was dramatically down from previous seasons. He was mentioned as a possible trade target before the deadline last season, but was injured and ended up staying put but, going into the final year of his contract, he might be a candidate to move.
Checking winger Eric Nystrom defied the odds to score a carer-high 16 goals. It's not so much that Nystrom hasn't been a scorer in his NHL career, it's that he scored 16 goals on 89 shots in his first 57 games of the season before going through a 16-game goalless drought to finish the year (regression rearing its ugly head). Removing any expectation for similar goal-scoring exploits, 29-year-old Nystrom can still earn his spot in a regular checking role, but possibly playing less than his career-high 13:45 per game that he played last season.
Vernon Fiddler was brought in to improve the Stars' checking, including the penalty kill, which did improve by a couple percent, but Fiddler wasn't as effective as he's been in previous stops with Phoenix and Nashville. He still faced quality opposition with a lot of defensive zone starts, but didn't force the play to the other end of the rink as often as in years past (according to zone start-finish stats on www.behindthenet.ca).
With good size and decent skills, Tomas Vincour has been given a couple of shots with Dallas, even though he's scored a total of 28 points in 66 AHL games over the last two seasons and has managed a dozen points in 69 NHL games. Now, he doesn't play a lot and he's still just 21-years-old, so he could develop into something more, but he's battling for a spot on the roster.
The biggest priority for the Stars this summer ought to be getting Jamie Benn inked to a long-term deal. A fifth-round pick in 2007, Benn is emerging as the face of the franchise and the 22-year-old scored a career-high 63 points in 71 games last season, even as his assist totals declined late in the year while he played with less than top-line-calibre linemates. Forwards with size, toughness and scoring ability are revered, for good reason, and Benn possesses all those attributes.
Though his ice time is limited and he doesn't face tough assignments, Tom Wandell is a useful player. He was even effective in spot duty on a scoring line midseason when injuries crept up, so there is some reason to hope that the 25-year-old has more to give, but with his ice time under 10 minutes per game last season, there may not be much opportunity for development at this point.
With a capable core of forwards, the Stars aren't building from scratch to be sure, but they can use some bodies to fill out the forward ranks. Adding a proven scoring threat would allow the Stars to play Ott in a third line role, which is probably more suited to his skills.
To that end, a winger like David Jones or PA Parenteau might fill a need in the top six, while adding a veteran fourth-liner or two would help in the short-term while allowing the Stars' prospects to get quality development minutes in the AHL.
When the Stars acquired Alex Goligoski from Pittsburgh in 2010-2011, Goligoski stepped into the Dallas lineup, played 26 minutes per game and put up 15 points in 23 games. He was the puck-moving, offensive-minded defenceman they had been lacking. Last season, however, Goligoski's ice time was down (though still a career-hih 22:46 per game) and 30 points in 71 games wasn't the kind of game-changing production that he had provided the year before.
As a strong skater with good puck skills, Goligoski is the driving force of the Stars' attack from the blueline, so the Stars need more from him next season.
35-year-old Stephane Robidas isn't forced into an offensive role, as he had been prior to Goligoski's arrival, and he finished with 22 points last season, down from 41 and 30 in the previous two seasons, but Robidas' calling card is his fearless style of play. He hits and blocks shots and was one of 24 defencemen to have at least 150 hits and 100 blocked shots last season.
There is a value in the consistency that Trevor Daley provides, ranging between 22 and 27 points in each of the last five seasons, playing 20-22 minutes per game. The 28-year-old may not rise above second-pair status, but a reliable top-four defenceman can hardly be dismissed.
Last summer's signing of Adam Pardy was ill-advised at the time and he couldn't secure a regular spot in the lineup, playing 36 games last season. The 28-year-old has good size and could be a fit as a seventh defenceman, but his pay suggests that the Stars expected more from him and it doesn't look like they are going to get it.
22-year-old Philip Larsen worked his way into the Stars' lineup and, with quiet efficiency, increased his role late in the season. He played what could be considered protected minutes as a rookie, so it's important not to throw too much at him too soon, but he should be able to handle more responsibility next season.
While he's not as sound as Robidas when it comes to his complete defensive game, Mark Fistric shares a willingness to sacrifice his body and, despite modest ice time (16:31 per game in 60 games) was one of eight defencemen with at least 200 hits and 100 blocked shots. He has limitations, but Fistric proved to be the preferred choice ahead of Pardy on the Stars' depth chart.
The Stars got a solid season out of Sheldon Souray, who wasn't the big scorer that he'd been earlier in his career, but handled the most difficult checking assignments, so it wouldn't be the end of the world to have him come back, but Souray turns 36 this summer and the Stars might be better served using their new financial freedom to sign a top-pair defenceman.
The grand prize on the free agent market is Ryan Suter and, considering the Stars' needs, they could break the bank in an effort to sign the Predators blueliner who scored a career-high 46 points while playing a career-high 26:30 per game last season. There will be massive demand for Suter, so the Stars will have to prepare contingency plans, which could include Matt Carle, Dennis Wideman or Jason Garrison, guys capable of eating minutes and contributing on the power play.
Free Agent Goaltender
||'11-'12 Cap Hit
Kari Lehtonen has brought stability to the Stars' goaltending situation and is coming off a season in which he posted the best goals against average and save percentage of his career, so he would seem to be low on the list of Dallas' concerns. He is entering the final year of his contract though, so that may be an order of business to ensure that the 28-year-old spends more prime seasons in Big D.
After Andrew Raycroft struggled, the Stars gave Richard Bachman a chance in the backup role and Bachman rose to the challenge, allowing two goals or fewer in seven of his 15 starts, a respectable enough performance to warrant a crack at the backup job going forward.
||Boston University (HE)
||15-31-46, +15, 38 GP
||12-20-32, +31, 59 GP
||30-18-48, +26, 39 GP
||12-25-37, -8, 70 GP
||Sault Ste. Marie (OHL)
||21-15-7, 3.46 GAA, .897 SV%, 46 GP
||37-18-55, -13, 73 GP
||24-21-45, +27, 53 GP
||39-42-81, +6, 70 GP
||16-17-33, +14, 40 GP
||7-22-29, -6, 76 GP
A 6-foot-4 winger who scored 80 points in 83 games in his last two years at B.U., Alex Chiasson left school following his junior season and added five points in nine AHL games down the stretch. The 22-year-old should start next season in the AHL, but if he transitions smoothly, he could ascend quickly.
Jamie Oleksiak is a 6-foot-7 defenceman and while he's not the meanest, he moves very well for a big man and will be groomed as a shutdown presence. Could the 19-year-old make the jump next season? That's not unreasonable.
After scoring 58 goals in his last two seasons at Miami, Reilly Smith earned a late-season three-game audition with Dallas. Some time in the AHL will get him used to the pro grind.
Saddled with expectations after he was drafted eighth overall in 2009, Scott Glennie may never live up to that lofty selection, but the 21-year-old still has a chance at a decent pro career after his first year in the AHL. Can he take another step forward next season?
Drafted 11th overall in 2010, Jack Campbell has been one of the more-hyped goaltending prospects in recent seasons, but his mediocre play in the Ontario Hockey League casts some doubts on just how ready he is to be a franchise goalie. Campbell got into a dozen games with Texas at the end of the year and his .912 save percentage there was his best since his days with the U.S. Under-18 program. Perhaps a more structured pro game will work for him.
Matt Fraser was undrafted out of the WHL and nearly made the Stars out of training camp, but he impressed in his first pro season, scoring 37 goals. He may not be an NHL scorer, but Fraser has the size and grit to bang his way into a roster spot.
A possible power forward, or maybe just a big bodied checker, Brett Ritchie will need time to see if he's going to develop offensively, but the 18-year-old has shown promise, especially following a midseason trade to Niagara.
A sixth-round pick in 2011 after scoring 26 points in the Western Hockey League, Matej Stransky soared to 39 goals and 81 points last season. Even if his game needs further development, a skilled 18-year-old, who is 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds is worth the wait.
Another forward with good size, Alexander Guptill was the Michigan Wolverines' leading scorer as a freshman last season, a huge jump in production after a mediocre year in the USHL.
Like Fraser, Brenden Dillon was an undrafted free agent out of the Western Hockey League and he impressed in his first pro campaign too. He has size, will use it and hs improved his puck skills.
He's undersized and is already 23, but Austin Smith is a Dallas native and he scored 36 goals in 39 games for Colgate last year, so it's worth seeing if he can carry his collegiate scoring to the pro level.
The Stars' prospect list has some depth when Swedish defencemen Patrik Nemeth, John Klingberg and grinding forward Ryan Garbutt (who played 20 games for the Stars last year) are included in the mix.
13th - Matt Finn, Olli Maata, Pontus Aberg
According to www.capgeek.com, the Stars have approximately $39.7M committed to the 2012-2013 salary cap for 13 players. Check out my potential 2012-2013 Stars roster on Cap Geek here.
Needs: One top six forward, one top nine forward, depth forwards, one top pair defenceman.
What I said the Stars needed last year: Three top nine forwards, depth forwards, one top four defenceman, depth defenceman.
They added: Michael Ryder, Radek Dvorak, Eric Nystrom, Vernon Fiddler, Jake Dowell, Sheldon Souray, Adam Pardy.
TRADE MARKET Brenden Morrow, prospects.
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.