Join TSN.ca in a 30 Teams In 30 Days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Today, we examine the 2011-12 campaign for the Dallas Stars. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season and use the Your Call feature to give us your take!
The Stars' offence has revolved around Richards' acumen as a playmaker for the past four years and losing him to the Rangers - while getting nothing in return - leaves a gaping hole in the team's offence.
But even with Richards, the Stars were unable to produce when it mattered most last year, missing out on the playoffs with a heartbreaking loss to Minnesota on the final day of the season. If the team is to improve on last year's finish, they'll have to fill that void from within.
Here's a look at what's in store for this season.
Prospect Report: Though the Star have a solid No.1 goaltender in Kari Lehtonen, Jack Campbell is not far behind. Campbell had a rough go in the OHL last season, but if there's one player in the system essential to their future, it's the highly-touted American keeper. His play for the U.S. in the last two World Junior tournaments generated plenty of buzz.
The Stars also did well for themselves at the draft adding hulking blueliner Jamie Oleksiak and potential power forward Brett Ritchie to a stable of prospects that already features Danish defender Philip Larsen and forward Scott Glennie.
Breakout Player to Watch: The team would do well to get 22-year-old Jamie Benn some prime time minutes. The winger has posted 22 goals in his first two NHL seasons. Last year, he hit that total despite missing 13 games, mostly due to a shoulder injury.
If Benn can get some minutes alongside some of the Stars' top guys like Mike Ribeiro or Brenden Morrow and eat up some of the power play minutes vacated by Richards, Langenbrunner and James Neal (from late last season), then his numbers could be in for a healthy spike.
Marquee Match-Up: Oct. 7 and 8 vs. Chicago - Returning the Favour? The Stars get a chance to exact revenge on the team they helped into the playoffs last season with their Minnesota meltdown.
Other Dates to Watch: Dec. 13 at New York - The Stars get their only crack at facing Brad Richards – at Madison Square Garden of all places. Feb. 29 vs. Pittsburgh - James Neal returns to Dallas for the first time as a member of the opposition.
Reason to Get Excited: While the Stars may have to look from within to solve their scoring needs, the one thing the team won't be short on is physical, agitating forwards. For a team that was already tough to play against thanks to uber-pest Steve Ott and hard hitters like Morrow, the team went out and just got tougher.
The additions of heavyweight Eric Godard and penalty-kill specialist Vernon Fiddler will further wear down opposition. If the Stars can't get their offense going, they may very well be able to exhaust their opponents into a few wins.
Home Hardware: Only three goalies saw more pucks last season than Kari Lehtonen, who played in a career-high 69 games for the Stars. The jump in playing time seemed to agree with Lehtonen, who also put up a career-best goals-against average and the second best save percentage of his career.
If Lehtonen's back holds out and he can carry the load once again in net for the Stars, he just might be a dark horse candidate once the Vezina Trophy nominees are announced. Then again, with more overtime and shootout losses than anyone in the NHL last season, maybe all Lehtonen needs to make the jump to the NHL's elite is some better luck.
With his strong two-way play, Loui Eriksson could be in the Selke conversation. And with just eight penalty minutes last season, toss him into the Lady Byng mix as well.
On The Hot Seat: Congratulations, Mike Ribeiro, you're a No. 1 centre. Ribeiro has averaged almost 70 points a season in Dallas over the past five years, but has done so playing primarily on the second line. If he can find a spark with former Habs teammate Michael Ryder on his wing, he could continue to produce at a top-tier rate.
But with Richards gone, teams will focus a lot more time and energy on shutting Ribeiro down. If he's forced to deal with the best defenders on every team he faces, can he keep his point totals up?
It's Your! Call: Richards was the face of the Stars franchise for the last few seasons. And with Richards long gone, the pressure lies with his former teammates to elevate their game for a shot at the playoffs.
Like in just about any sport, hockey is a team game. But there always that select player that you want to depend on each night.
And who will that be now? Is it Lehtonen, who was once taken second overall in the 2002 NHL Draft and touted as a franchise goalie? Is it Ribeiro, whose production has been solid since arriving from Montreal five years ago? How about captain Brenden Morrow – the heart and soul captain? Or up-and-comer Jamie Benn?
Who is that guy who the Stars absolutely can't compete without? Which player is the key to the Stars having any chance at making the postseason?Much of the Stars' off-season was focused on who would not be suiting up for the team in 2011-12, as multiple teams lined up for Brad Richards' services on the first day of free agency.