With 17 days remaining until the start of the NHL regular season, it’s time to take a look around the league! Using a multitude of different measuring tools (and opinion), Matt Anderson analyses the Western Conference and predicts how he thinks the 15 teams will shake out.
In this edition, Matt reviews the Dallas Stars – his #13 finisher.
IN: Michael Ryder, RW; Jake Dowell, C; Radek Dvorak, RW; Vernon Fiddler, LW; Sheldon Souray, D; Adam Pardy, D
OUT: Brad Richards, C; Jamie Langenbrunner, RW; Karlis Skrastins, D; Jeff Woywitka, D
While the Stars were active in the free agent market this has been an offseason to forget down in Dallas. With no new owner in sight and the subsequent filing for bankruptcy, these are dark days for Dallas’ organization. As a result of their financial difficulties, GM Joe Nieuwendyk notified the hockey world that Dallas would not attempt to retain their star playmaker, center Brad Richards, well before the start of free agency. Richards wound up signing a long-term deal with the New York Rangers on July 2nd. After losing Richards, they pursued several ‘grinders’ in free agency and managed to squeeze in Michael Ryder and Sheldon Souray. Add to this situation that they fired head coach Marc Crawford and you have a recipe for disaster.
After missing the playoffs by one game last season, the Stars are entering 2011-12 with uncertainty surrounding the ownership situation, having to adjust to a new head coach, and multiple personnel question marks.
The Stars offense will largely be dependent on the successes or failures of five forwards: Loui Eriksson, Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, Brendan Morrow, and Michael Ryder.
In losing Brad Richards, Ribeiro becomes the Stars’ first line pivot. He’s been surprisingly good over the past few years while enjoying his most productive professional hockey seasons with the Stars. Much of his success was result of playing behind Richards, however Ribeiro will finally get the chance to showcase his skill while playing on the first line and prove the doubters wrong.
Stars’ captain Brendan Morrow plays a dominating power forward game which resulted in 225 hits (14th in the league) last year. The good news for the Stars is that he also knows how to score. While his numbers have taken a dip over the past few seasons, much that can be attributed to returning from injuries. Look for Morrow to get his goalstick going this season and reignite the offensive skill he possesses.
Loui Eriksson is a blooming star in the NHL who continues to get better every year. However, Eriksson is missing his partner in crime, Brad Richards, who is credited as being a large factor in Eriksson’s development. A decrease in Eriksson’s production is likely, due to the loss of Richards and having to establish chemistry with a new center (Ribeiro).
Fresh off of a strong Stanley Cup-winning performance, Michael Ryder signed a lucrative $7 million ($3.5 million cap hit) two year deal with Dallas. Although “Ghost Ryder” is notorious for disappearing in the regular season, he has proven to show up when it’s needed the most – maybe Ryder takes on this role while playing for the Stars who will surely need all the offensive help they can get. Ryder will be featured on the second line and is slotted to suit up alongside Jamie Benn. A positive correlation between increased ice time and heightened production has been proven many times which bodes well for the Newfoundland native.
The rest of the offensive lines consist of a group of pugilists, grinders, and instigators: Steve Ott, Adam Burish, Vernon Fiddler, Radek Dvorak, Jake Dowell, and Krys Barch. As you can see, this is why the offense will be reliant on the few skill guys.
Alex Goligoski is one of the better puck-moving defenseman in the NHL and was acquired by the Stars in the James Neal trade with Pittsburgh. Although Goligoski’s numbers may have been amplified while playing on the Penguins’ power play, he’s still an effective passer who is on the better side of 30. He brings a premium transition game as well as power play savvy that Dallas will need to be successful.
If Sheldon Souray can get his act together, he will be a much welcomed addition to the Stars’ offense. With Souray comes a booming rifle from the point that was the driving force behind Montreal’s feared power play back in 2006-07. Dallas’ management hopes he can recoup this form and improve Dallas’ man advantage. If Souray comes into training camp with the same mindset and attitude that has tarnished his otherwise good career, it could mark the last days that we see him playing in the NHL.
While Stephane Robidas (34) may be getting up there in age, he’s been relied on by the Stars to play the most minutes on the team for three consecutive seasons, and most among defenseman for four consecutive seasons. Robidas will be the largest beneficiary of the Souray and Goligoski acquisitions, who will both enable Robidas to play more crucial minutes. A drop in Robidas’ production is likely, but that is due to the two additions rather than deteriorating play.
Trevor Daley (27) has been a trustworthy mainstay on the Stars’ blueline over the course of his six year career. He’s a minute-eating machine who can play on any unit for Dallas. While Daley may not be overly physical, he’s not one to shy away from blocking a shot in an effort to stop scoring chances and wound up with a plus/minus of +7 for the Stars last year – tied for third on the team.
The last two spots on Dallas’ blueline will be battled out in camp between Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric, and newcomer Adam Pardy.
Despite Kari Lehtonen’s 2nd overall draft selection (2002), I’m not sold that he’s an upper-echelon NHL goalie. Lehtonen’s numbers over the past few years are skewed by the fact that his goals against averages are respectable while his save percentages are close to .900 – not something that you’re looking for in a starting goaltender. Perhaps Lehtonen finally puts it all together with a huge amount of pressure resting on his shoulders, but I doubt it.
Andrew Raycroft saddles up for his second year as Lehtonen’s backup. Beyond Andrew’s Calder Trophy winning season his rookie season was clearly a mirage while being shaky at best. The Stars are Raycroft’s fifth team over the course of his career, the majority of which has been spent as a backup. If Lehtonen goes down, the Stars are in for a long season.
YOUTH MOVEMENT AND BREAKOUT YEAR
Jamie Benn is really the only impact player currently on the Stars that is primed for a breakout year. While he’s played the majority of the past two seasons with Dallas, he’s still a mere 22 years old. Benn plays the role of a sniper/power forward hybrid that is evidenced by his 124 hits last year – good for 6th on the team in only 69 games.
Early inklings around the Stars indicate that Benn will be slotted to center the second line, pivoting Michael Ryder and Steve Ott. Although Ott is more of an instigator/enforcer, Ryder could be the catalyst of Benn’s emergence. Regardless of who is on his wing, Benn should eclipse his early career high of 56 points that he earned last year.
Scott Glennie, the Stars’ 1st round draft choice in 2009, will be given a chance to earn a spot out of training camp. Glennie posted great numbers playing for the WHL’s Brandon Wheat Kings (91 points last year) in his overage year, and has an outside shot of starting in Dallas due to their lack of scoring forwards. If Glennie makes the opening night roster, I could see him turning heads around the league this year.
ON THE TRADING BLOCK
With ownership problems looming behind closed doors, it’s not out of reach to believe that there is a salary clearing plan that the Stars are likely to impose in February. Will they be selling off their high-priced forwards in an attempt to grab Nail Yakupov 1st overall? With an offense screaming for help, and Benn and Goligoski up for new contracts at the end of the year, it could mean just that.
Matt has a Twitter account and can be followed @Anders0n74 or E-Mailed at Matthew74Anderson@GMail.com