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30 Teams in 30 Days: With expectations low, Stars could surprise

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TSN.ca Staff
9/10/2009 11:54:09 AM
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DALLAS STARS

2008-09: 36-35-11 (12th in the West – Out of Playoffs)
Pre-season TSN.ca Power Ranking: 21
General Manager: Joe Nieuwendyk (1st Season)
Head Coach: Marc Crawford (1st Season)

What They Did in the off-season:

The Stars made their biggest moves of the off-season in the front office as former player Joe Nieuwendyk took over the general manager's duties from Les Jackson.  One of Nieuwendyk's first moves was hiring Marc Crawford as head coach. 

Defensive responsibility was added in the form of Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woywitka, while Warren Peters will add some toughness. Jere Lehtinen re-upped for one more season, Alex Auld was acquired for a sixth-round pick to back up Marty Turco in net, while Steve Begin, Darryl Sydor, Mark Parrish and Brendan Morrison were allowed to walk away via free agency. Veteran Stu Barnes called an end to a 16 year career while long time Star Sergei Zubov returned to Russia to join the KHL.

Biggest Issue facing the team:

Unlike last season, expectations are very low for the Stars coming into the 2009-10 campaign.  Following a trip to the Conference finals two years ago, many considered Dallas a Stanley Cup sleeper heading into last year. Injuries to Zubov and Brenden Morrow, combined with the worst stretch of hockey in Marty Turco's professional career, doomed the Stars right out of the gate. By the time Sean Avery decided to shoot his mouth off in Calgary, the damage was already done. The team had dug themselves into such a hole that it would have been impossible to emerge, even if everyone was healthy. Head coach Dave Tippett was the fall guy and was fired following the club's most disappointing season since arriving in the Lone Star State in 1993.

On the positive side, the team will not have some of the same distractions that they did last season. Avery is long-gone, while former co-general manager Brett Hull has been re-assigned by the organization into a role more suited for his talents. A new coach and general manager have given the team a refreshed sense of optimism. Team captain Brenden Morrow is healthy once again and will provide leadership, toughness and scoring that the team sorely lacked in his absence last season. The team also hopes that Turco can shake off last year's struggles to return to the elite level where he has spent so much of his career. 

Players such as Loui Eriksson, Steve Ott, James Neal and Matt Niskanen took big steps forward last season, as they took advantage of the extra ice-time given to them thanks to injuries.  If Fabian Brunnstrom can follow their lead, the team may be capable of something special and have the opportunity to sneak up on a lot of teams in the wide open West.

Player to watch:

Oh how the mighty have fallen.  Just a few short years ago, Brad Richards was a playoff hero, winning the Conn Smythe Trophy en route to securing the Tampa Bay Lightning with the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. 

That was then, this is now. 

Richards suffered through the worst offensive season of his career last year, posting career lows in goals with just 16 and points with 48. Injuries to both hands cost him 25 games and never allowed him to truly get on track or build chemistry with his linemates.  He looked like a shell of the player that many felt was the second coming of Joe Sakic just a few years ago.

Although he wouldn't likely admit it, not even being invited to team Canada's Olympic orientation camp had to be a blow to a player who had been a virtual lock on the national team in the past. Richards should have the motivation for a big season and will be given the ice-time to match on one of the top-two scoring lines for the Stars.  It would be premature to completely write off a player of his obvious skills who is still smack dab in the middle of his prime.  He is far too talented to labour through another lackluster season.

In addition this could well be the final season for the face of the franchise Mike Modano.  While his offensive numbers are way down from the elite level they once were, the lifetime Star/North Star still has a great deal to contribute from a leadership standpoint as the team transitions from one era to the next.  He has earned every single accolade that has been awarded to him and has the right to leave the game on his own terms.  Should the Stars be able to reach the playoffs, and perhaps win a round, it would be a suitable send off to what has been a Hall of Fame career.

Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:

Coming off a season in which they finished with their lowest point total since 1995-1996, the Dallas Stars overhauled their front office, but the changes on the ice weren't quite so dramatic.

Looking ahead to the 2009-2010 season, the biggest impact on the ice for the Stars should come from the return of captain Brenden Morrow, who played just 18 games before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Presumably healthy now, Morrow has tallied 89 points and 154 penalty minutes in 100 games over the last two seasons, showing nice chemistry with playmaking centre Mike Ribeiro in the process.  

Read more of Scott Cullen's fantasy analysis of the Dallas Stars, including a look at Stars' projected depth chart for next season.

Niskanen, Eriksson and Neal  (Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

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(Photo: Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
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