A new era dawns in Big D with Seguin, Ruff, Nill
Dan Ellis, Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff, Chris Mueller, Rich Peverley, Tyler Seguin.
Richard Bachman, Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, Philip Larsen, Eric Nystrom, Reilly Smith.
Last year: With a short season ahead, the Stars looked like they had the talent to do some damage in 2012-13.
A 48-game year looked like it would be kinder to the veteran legs of Ray Whitney, Jaromir Jagr and Brenden Morrow. Jamie Benn was coming off a career year at just 23 and the team had a second tier of veteran skill that looked bright for their forward corps in Michael Ryder, Derek Roy and the dependable Loui Eriksson.
But the Stars were slow out of the gate, winning just two of their first seven.
Then Kari Lehtonen’s groin gave out and the Stars started hemorrhaging goals. Over an eight-game span - including Lehtonen’s return – they gave up four goals or more six times between Feb. 13 and Feb. 28.
Despite that skid, the Stars remained in a five-team deadlock in the West that spanned sixth through 10th place at the start of March.
By the middle of the month, the Stars were still within striking distance of a Western Conference playoff spot. However, facing the prospect of losing their captain for nothing to unrestricted free agency in the summer, the Stars dealt Morrow and went into a small scale sell-off.
Within 10 days, Morrow, Roy and Jagr were all headed to new homes and the Stars – despite a five-game winning streak shortly following the deadline – finished the year with five straight losses and watched the playoffs from home for the fifth straight season.
This Year: New look, new front office, new star … new Stars?
Dallas has overhauled its team on practically every possible level starting with the front office.
They went for a winning pedigree by hiring Jim Nill away from the Detroit Red Wings and naming him the team’s replacement for Joe Nieuwendyk.
Nill then went out and grabbed Lindy Ruff to be the team’s new head coach, giving Ruff his first new head coaching gig since the Buffalo Sabres hired him back in 1997.
Nill made a couple interesting early moves before free agency, dealing for Sergei Gonchar’s rights and then taking on the last two years of Shawn Horcoff’s sizeable contract from the Oilers.
The Stars then grabbed a new franchise face to help them unveil new uniforms when they swung a mammoth, surprising deal with the Boston Bruins to land Tyler Seguin.
So, what will all the change mean on the ice?
There’s a sizeable leadership shift with Morrow and Eriksson no longer in the fold, so the Stars will have to figure out who will be their next captain and, ultimately, who is to be held accountable for the team’s on-ice production.
Luckily, the team still has some dependable, familiar faces to look to with Stephane Robidas still anchoring the blue line and Benn stepping forward to shoulder the load up front.
Lehtonen, too, has proven he has the skill to be an elite NHL netminder, but does he have another gear that will allow him to take the team on his shoulders like Sergei Bobrovsky did in Columbus last year?
The Long and the Short – How will a full 82-game slate affect the Stars' performance after a shortened season?
Time will be on their side.
With such a drastically changed roster, the Stars can’t help but benefit from as much time as is necessary to acclimatize to each other and to the new regime. A full training camp will help the team decide what to do with Benn and Seguin and see whether they respond best to veteran linemates, players closer to their own age or, even, to each other.
The Stars’ older core – Whitney and Gonchar particularly - will also be able to properly gear up for a full season instead of the rush to get ready that occurred after the lockout was resolved, which might help the team normalize early into the season.
On the Books – What off-season moves did the Stars make to get themselves back in cap shape?
Dallas has a little bit of wiggle room heading into the season largely due to taking on Horcoff’s ticket and the raise that kicks in this season for Seguin.
Nill was clearly given the green light by owner Tom Gaglardi to add payroll this off-season and despite doing so in a few transactions, the Stars still are largely in good shape cap-wise.
Next summer will be an interesting one to watch in Dallas, since the team still has both its compliance buyouts to use, but the Stars are in decent where they currently sit and have a lot of their key pieces (Benn, Lehtonen, Seguin) locked down for a few more years.
Long Division – A look at the intriguing possibilities ahead for the Stars after realignment.
To borrow a phrase from Chris Cornell, Stars fans will spend a lot of this season “feeling Minnesota”.
Dallas is back in the Central Division for the first time since 1998-99. After more than a decade in the Pacific, the Stars will leave the Far West behind and reacquaint themselves with the likes of the Chicago Blackhawks and St. Louis Blues with a regularity that will hearken back to the days of the old Norris Division when they were the Minnesota North Stars.
Speaking of Minnesota, they also find themselves in the same division as the Wild now, which could provide for some fun nights at the Xcel Center in front of a handful of conflicted life-long hockey fans. And it's pretty cool that the Stars have chosen the Wild’s March 8 visit to Dallas to retire Mike Modano’s No. 9.
Fantasy - Scott Cullen's Player to Watch
Erik Cole, RW - A five-time 20-goal scorer who tallied a career-high 35 for Montreal in 2011-2012, Cole was ineffective for the Canadiens early last season before he was dealt to Dallas for Michael Ryder. While Ryder was productive the rest of the way, Cole continued to struggle, managing six goals and seven points in 28 games with the Stars. One assist. He played nearly 17 minutes per game for 28 games and finished with one assist!
Given the talent on the Stars' roster, though, there is a real opportunity for Cole to start the year as the first line right winger, playing with Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, the kind of opportunity with skilled, young linemates that would allow the 34-year-old to fall into points. When he's on, Cole is a physical winger with good speed and a nose for the net, talents that could serve him well with the right opportunity.
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Pressing Question: Should the Stars go short or long on their captaincy?
There are generally two approaches to picking an NHL captain.
You either go with the veteran guy that’s been around long enough to command the respect of the club, or you pick a talent that stands out enough to lead by example.
The Stars have an abundance of both but no automatic answer for Morrow’s successor.
Loui Eriksson would have been an easy and logical fix, but he’s a Bruin now.
So, would the Stars be better served spending a couple years under an established vet like Robidas or Whitney or is it time to hand the team over to Jamie Benn and see if his talent is capable of carrying a team?
The Stars haven’t made the playoffs in long enough that they may not want to take that chance. Then again, they may want to give the letter to a player like Benn or even eventually Seguin, since they’re going to be counted on to carry the load for the foreseeable future.
- Dallas Stars Preview by Shane McNeil, TSN.ca