Off-Season Game Plan: Stars

Scott Cullen
6/17/2008 9:20:38 AM
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A strong playoff performance, reaching the Final Four for the first time since losing in the Stanley Cup final in 2000, gives the Dallas Stars high expectations heading into next season.

Off-Season Game Plan examines a team that now has a place among the best of the West.

The deadline deal to acquire Brad Richards signified a change in direction for the Stars, giving the team another legitimate leader to go into the playoffs and beyond.

Dallas' best opportunity to win may be next season, as there is a nice balance of experience and emerging young talent that should have the Stars right back in the title mix.

Of course, in the hotly-contested Western Conference, the margin for error is so small that the Stars will need to make the right moves this summer in order to maintain their place.

The spring signing of Fabian Brunnstrom was a good start, but with Mattias Norstrom retiring and several other Stars headed for free agency, co-GMs Brett Hull and Les Jackson can't afford to be complacent.

Given their 2007-2008 success, the Stars will enter next season with high expectations; that's the kind of deal that any team in the league would take.

Les Jackson, Brett Hull/Dave Tippett

Returning Forwards

Player Rating Salary
Brenden Morrow 83.65 $4.1M
Mike Ribeiro 80.26 $5.0M
Jere Lehtinen 73.84 $4.1M
Brad Richards 72.41 $7.8M
Mike Modano 70.28 $2.25M
Joel Lundqvist 60.81 $750K
Steve Ott 60.79 $1.35M
Toby Petersen 55.91 $550K
Krys Barch 54.58 $575K

Free Agent Forwards

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Loui Eriksson 66.80 RFA $650K
Niklas Hagman 65.96 UFA $675K
Antti Miettinen 64.50 UFA $885K
Stu Barnes 62.19 UFA $900K
Brad Winchester 53.91 UFA $475K

Top Prospects: Fabian Brunnstrom, James Neal, Konstantin Pushkarev

Captain Brenden Morrow is coming off his best season as a pro, and he picked up his game even more in the postseason. A heart-and-sould winger who played in every game and put up 74 points with a plus-23 is a rare commodity. Only nine forwards in the entire league topped both 70 points and a plus-20 rating.

One of those players was Morrow's centreman, Mike Ribeiro, who had a career season in his own right, scoring 83 points. Ribeiro's game has transformed in Big D, where he's earned first-line responsibility.

Jere Lehtinen is a very reliable player who can play in all situations when he stays healthy, but the three-time Selke winner played only 48 games in 2007-2008.

While the acquisition of Brad Richards had to be seen as a positive, particularly in light of the Stars' extended playoff run, but he needs to tidy up his plus-minus after going a combined minus-46 over the last two seasons (the bulk of which was, admittedly, spent in Tampa Bay). Nevertheless, Richards' presence makes the Stars deep down the middle, keeping them right in the mix of Western Conference contenders.

38-year-old Mike Modano can still skate with the effortless grace of a much younger man but, assuming he has the desire to play another season, Modano is at the stage of his career where he's better off in a reduced role while also working for additional ice time on special teams.

At the other end of the experience spectrum, Joel Lundqvist is just trying to make his mark enough that he can be in the lineup every day. Eager to get physically involved in the action, Lundqvist has some offensive upside that should earn him a regular spot in the lineup next season.

Agitator Steve Ott tied his career-high with 22 points, increasing his value a little beyond merely what he takes away from the opposition.

Journeyman Toby Petersen only played in eight regular season games before doubling that total in the postseason, earning a new contract shortly after season's end and likely figuring into the team's plans for next season.

Krys Barch is one of the most eager combatants in the game. He's not quite a true heavyweight in stature, but Barch takes on all comers in his part-time role.

22-year-old Loui Eriksson hit his stride as an NHLer in the second half of the season and he has enough offensive upside to earn a spot on a scoring line.

One newcomer who won't be quietly arriving in Big D is Fabian Brunnstrom, the hyped Swedish winger who scored 37 points in 54 games during his first year in the Swedish Elite League, causing a bidding war for his services.

Brunnstrom chose the Stars, in part, because there are openings on the wing for him to play with a high-quality centre. Expectations should be tempered but, at the very least, Brunnstrom qualifies as a promising addition.

Though the Stars don't have room for any big-ticket signings, they could shore up their forward ranks with a second or third tier winger like Michael Ryder, Martin Straka or Ruslan Fedotenko.

Returning Defencemen

Player Rating Salary
Sergei Zubov 77.24 $5.35M
Stephane Robidas 75.48 $1.5M
Philippe Boucher 70.43 $2.5M
Matt Niskanen 69.50 $635K
Trevor Daley 64.92 $2.1M
Nicklas Grossman 64.54 $900K
Mark Fistric 60.32 $650K

Free Agent Defencemen

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Mattias Norstrom 66.69 UFA $4.25M

Top Prospects: Ivan Vishnevskiy, Jussi Timonen

A sports hernia kept Sergei Zubov out of action from mid-January through to the second round of the playoffs when he, understandably, wasn't at his peak. Even so, the 37-year-old remains a quality power play quarterback because of his superior instincts.

Injuries created more opportunities for Stephane Robidas and he responded with a career-high 26 points before adding another 11 points in the playoffs. He's not the ideal power play quarterback, but a heck of a fall-back option.

Injuries made Philippe Boucher's 2007-2008 season a virtual washout, which was unfortunate coming off his career-best season in 2006-2007. When healthy, Boucher has a heavy shot and puckhandling skills that make him a good fit on the power play.

As Boucher faded out of the lineup, rookie Matt Niskanen rose up, becoming one of seven defencemen in the league to finish with at least 20 points and a plus-20 rating. His role diminished in the playoffs, but Niskanen has a bright future as a puck-moving defenceman.

24-year-old Trevor Daley earned a contract extension after posting a career-high 24 points and growing into a more prominent role on the blueline. If Daley can build on a strong finish to the season, he'll be a good investment.

Stay-at-home defenceman Nicklas Grossman was an early-season call-up and he handled more responsibility as time went on. With Mattias Norstrom retiring, Grossman's development as a defensive stopper is important to the Stars' fortunes.

Another bruising defensive option, Mark Fistric, got his feet wet playing in 37 regular season games and another nine playoff games. He's ready for a full season, if only in a limited third-pairing role.

With everyone healthy and returning, the Stars would have seven NHL defencemen already on hand, so there isn't a great need to invest in free agents, but the Stars may want to grab some veteran depth as insurance, just in case last year's injuries were a reflection of an aging group rather than mere fluke.

Returning Goaltender

Player Rating Salary
Marty Turco 79.82 $5.7M

Free Agent Goaltender

Player Rating Class '07-'08 Salary
Johan Holmqvist 57.77 UFA $1.0M

Top Prospect: Tobias Stephan

After too many playoff stings that were too short, Marty Turco exorcised that demon with a stellar run in the postseason and the veteran is just a fraction below the league's elite puckstoppers.

With Mike Smith getting dealt away at the deadline, Johan Holmqvist was the backup and got into two games in the final quarter of the season. The Stars don't have anyone waiting in the wings on the farm, so some veteran, be it Holmqvist or someone else, needs to be on hand to spell Turco when necessary.

No first-round pick

The Stars have approximately $46-million committed to salaries for next season.


Needs: Depth forwards, depth defenceman

What I said the Stars needed last year: Two top nine forwards, One top four defenceman

Who did they add? Joel Lundqvist, Brad Winchester, Matt Niskanen

Philippe Boucher, Steve Ott

Scott Cullen can be reached at 

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