Dark magic, voodoo, sooth saying… you can call it whatever you like, but when you look at the Dallas Stars right now you have to wonder if something mystic hasn’t been going on behind the scenes.
Let’s rewind for a moment and look at the moves the GM of the Dallas Stars have made since he took up the mantle of General Manager, shall we?
First he trades away our number one defensive prospect for Kari Lehtonen; a goalie who was drafted high, but had had nothing but problems since coming into the league. The idea that a team whose largest perceived flaw was on defense was trading their best prospects away for a 50/50 goaltender was blasphemous when it happened to say the least.
Another move was Adam Burish. While he didn’t have the aroma that Avery may have had coming in, I certainly couldn’t deny the fact that I was having the same thoughts I had when Avery was brought on by the tandem of Hull and Jackson. “Why do we need another Steve Ott? Don’t we have enough of those types of players already?”
During the draft came probably the most questionable move. To everyone’s bewilderment the two top defensemen in the draft had slid from top 5 all the way to where the Stars sat at 11th. Under the assured assumption and to my delight, we all expected them to name Cam Fowler as their pick only for them to name Jack Campbell. We all saw the struggles in goal, even the Turco-loyalists were growing tired of the troubles we were having in the crease… but to pass up someone who could possible some day take over the whole in the line-up that has been present since Zubov left for Russia… well it seemed ludicrous at the time.
His latest move was the much publicized Langenbrunner trade. Joe brought back a player from the past… so far in the past that he was on the Stanley Cup winning team of 1999. Giving away a third round pick that could possibly turn into a second round pick should we win a playoff round or try to re-sign him in the offseason. While all of the long-time fans (including myself) felt their hearts leap when we all imagined in unison how #15 was going to look in all-black… my head couldn’t help but wonder where he was going to fit in and what toll it was going to take on the development on some of our younger players, namely Tom Wandell who seemed to be finding his stride again on the third line. I honestly didn’t see a place for Jamie Langenbrunner – “We have plenty of sandpaper”, I said to myself.
Now that we’ve all relived the events that may have seemed tragic at the time, let’s re-assess the situation at the half-way point of the season…
Kari Lehtonen has been a savior in net, to say the very least. While his numbers aren’t that far from Turco, it isn’t the number that matter. It’s the saves he makes at the times he makes them. It has become more and more apparent just how big an effect a goaltender can have on the rest of the team and that it doesn’t start or stop at just stopping the puck. It’s a game of ebbs and flows and if a goaltender can orchestrate just when an ebb stops and a flow starts, then a team can come back when they are down 2 goals, they can win games by one point, they can step on an opponents throat when the game is on the line in OT. Ivan Vishwhovski?
Then we have Adam Burish. Let me just start this out by letting you all know my belief on why this team is so much better than the were the last 2 seasons. Chemistry. It’s that simple. You can tell by the way the celebrate. They cheer for each other, they get excited about winning. Because they are doing it for each other. I don’t think any of us ever thought we would breath a sigh of relief about Modano’s departure. But for all intents and purposes, it seems like with Turco and Modano out of the locker room it has allowed it to grow into the TEAM’s locker room, not just the house that Mo built. And I don’t think it could have made that transition so fast if Adam Burish wasn’t a part of it. He is a character guy who will speak up when guys like Brendan Morrow are too busy leading by example. He can make a joke when a guy is having a bad game. He brought the camaraderie built in the locker room at Chicago and instilled it there in Dallas. And I assure you the team would not be at the top of the Pacific Division without him.
The draft… ah, yes… the draft. Cam Fowler is playing great in Anaheim. But, Campbell just won the Bronze at the World Junior Championships and was the only reason the USA vs. Canada game was as close as the 4-1 final score read. Now that he has ironed out the wrinkles he’s also off and running in Windsor with the Spitfires. So, while it remains to be seen as far as who will pan out to be a bigger piece of the puzzle for their respective teams; I think it’s safe to say that with players like Climie and Krahn generally out of the picture as far as future #1 goalies go… it may have been a more vital move than any of us could have assumed at the time.
And now we’re at Langenbrunner. “The Old Jamie” if you will… Well, we only have one game worth of evidence, but it’s hard to argue with a 4-0 shut out win against a hot Minnesota team coming off of a 4 game win-streak. And while his line didn’t score, they were just as good as the first and second line. When your third line is getting as many chances as your top two… then you’re doing something right. He had 8 or 9 shots, 3 blocked shots and at least 2-3 grade-a scoring chances that were sure-goals if not for the hot hand of Jose Theodore (who by the way, is the only reason this wasn’t an 8-0 game).
So you tell me, is this all chance? Or is the man fueled by the blood of the hockey gods? I guess we’ll see if Lehtonen can play 2 full seasons without any major injuries, whether the guys can keep a playoff spot by avoiding the now annual second-half-slump and whether or not in 3-5 years Jack Campbell becomes the next blue-paint prodigy for the Stars in net.
We will also have to see whether he can make the Richards extension happen in an ownership fiasco that seems to make such a high-end contract impossible…
But for now, here’s to you Mr. Nieuwendyk.