Possible Line Combinations: Forwards

We are all steeped in withdraw, right from the middle of the off-season where the free agent frenzy has ended, development camp is over and all we have left to do is sit around and wait for training camp and the pre-season to start.  So while we all wait fro the huge trade that won’t happen, we here at BlackoutDallas.com are going to put our speculation-cap on and start spouting out nonsense!  We hope you join in as we try to predict the various intricacies of next years line up.

With Richards leaving and a slew of new forwards coming in to take the place of him and other players who are leaving such as Sutherby and Segal – we have plenty to think about!  So, lets get to it.

You can go about line combinations with so many new players a few ways; one way would be to balance the lines in a stereotypical hockey line-up sort of way.  The top two lines have all of the offensive talent, third line is your shut down and forth are your grinders/fighters.  That said with Richards leaving and Joe not bringing in too much in the way of offense outside of Michael Ryder, there isn’t much to work with in the middle.  Which means that most of the lines, save the forth – are going to have to be pieced together and certain aspects are going to have to be sacrificed in order to keep the lines even.

For instance:  Steve Ott is the teams best faceoff man, but if you are going to put your best offensive threats on the top two lines, you need him on the second line at the very least and since Ribeiro and likely Benn, will be making up the top 2 centers, that means he is on a wing and away from the dot which is a huge hit for the Stars considering how mediocre they are in that area over all.  Then again if you leave Ott on the third line as the center then you have to bring one of the other wingers we have on hand up to a spot and no other player on the third/forth line has any sort of offensive threat to them.

You also have to take into consideration whether or not you as an amateur analyst think they will end up letting Jamie Benn be a center or not.  I think the kid is a first line player, no doubt; but is he a center?  I’m not so sure.  But, that’ something you have to take into account whether you think so or not – will the new coaching staff think so?   The biggest issue for me is that no matter how you do it, there is no clear first line – which could be a blessing or a curse depending on how you look at it.  Richards made that clear, but now that he’s gone it all relies on how well Ribeiro performs as opposed to Benn as well as which winger ends up where when it comes to Eriksson and Ryder.  Eriksson is the better of the two, but will they stick Ryder on a line with Ribeiro because of their past together regardless?

All of that said, I’m calling the top two lines Line 1a and 1b because I’m a fence sitter.  Take a look:


  • Line 1a:  Morrow, Ribeiro, Ryder
  • Line 1b:  Ericsson, Ott, Benn
  • Line 3:  Burish, Wandell, Fiddler
  • Line 4: Dvorak, Petersen, Barch/Godard/Dowell
  • Reserve: Barch/Godard

This is my primary set-up.  And here is my reasoning:

Line 1a:  It is unlikely the coach will be brave enough to break Ribeiro and Morrow up (though I think it might actually help the balance of everything over all if they did).  Ryder will fall into place on the other wing thanks to his history with Ribeiro to start the year.  Which is the key bit to all of this: Start of the year.  This is a line-up built on testing the waters.  Which will be a theme throughout this analysis of the above theoretical line combinations.  People seem to forget that before Richards got here, Ribeiro took over the number 1 center spot and put up 83 points in 07-08 – that’s only 8 points behind Brad Richards’ career high of 91 that he hit twice in his career (once being with the Stars in 09-10).  He’s a great center and despite what PuckDaddy thinks, he is easily one of the top 25 in the league and top 10 if you base it on points put up by a center last year (71 points).  If you give him the reigns and the ice time, he will be around the 80 point mark every year.   And he’s become a great team player over the last season or two once he came to terms with Richards taking his spot.
Line 1b:  The Ott/Benn combination worked for faceoffs, so that is one crisis partially averted; if the kid gets kicked out then Ott is there to take over.  In the mean time you still have arguably the team’s best forward on a line with the team’s Luke Skywalker.   Should Benn get his head wrapped around the position fully, the line could be surprising.  With Steve Ott on the line it adds the grit you need on any line to score and makes the line look a lot like 1a – Ott being Morrow’s mirror.  Otter can score, he’s proven that all the way from Juniors on up and when he gets the ice time he puts the pucks in the net.  And while its painful for me to separate Burish and Otter, it needs to be done in my opinion to really give the Stars enough offense to win games.  I’m not sure you have a true first line in here without separating Morrow from Ribeiro or putting Eriksson on the wing with the two of them; but you have to have a second line that is a threat to win games against the shut down defensemen of the league.
Line 3:  A lot of the analysts around the league are putting Fiddler, Dowell and Burish on this line, but I think this is an opportunity for Tom Wandell to show his chops.  He has shown very very brief glimpses of his skill set and the kid can skate to no end, I just think he needs to prove himself as at least a third line center, because its a waste for him to be stuck down on the bottom line.  So, this is his chance; possibly his last one.  With Richards out of the line-up there’s a bit of wiggle room for centers (unfortunately?).  I give him the shot.  I think Fiddler is a great fit for the wing on a shut down line with Wandell on the center and while Dowell is a center, you have to pick someone; we have too many bottom line centers now – someone is going to be left out.  Perhaps switching Dowell in as center, but frankly I don’t know enough about the kid at this point.  Maybe not being the center of the line would relieve some pressure for Tommy to shine a bit more and get some confidence moving forward.
Line 4:  The Stars can say they have a pretty decent 4th line no matter which way they go.  With a proven veteran in Toby Petersen manning the helm and the new blood Dvorak on its wing, you could rely on someone like Dowell or even Wandell to complete the line and let Barch and Godard in whenever someone’s face needs punching and be pretty happy with the ongoings when they are on the ice.  My biggest deal with any 4th line is that they aren’t a line that is going to leak goals.  I think its safe to say, that you won’t have too big a hole in the line-up should they get caught out against a 2nd or 1st line here and there with this line-up.
The general consensus is that the team has a lot of depth in certain aspects but has a lot of holes in others.  While we may have addressed the defensive side of things with our new-hires; the top two lines are going to be in shambles until someone steps up and out of their comfort zone.  Is this the season that Jamie Benn builds on what he’s done in his first two years and becomes the breakout star that hits the 30 goal plateau?  Will Ribs prove to everyone that he can score 80+ points given the ice time?  Can players like Fiddler, Dvorak and Wandell step out of their comfort zone and put up some numbers?  Will Michael Ryder shed his skin and grow from a decent scorer to an above average scorer?

All of these questions need to be answered before anyone can adequately build a line-up that sticks including the coaching staff.  The new staff has a lot of work to do and the pre-season is going to be a huge deal this year if the Stars want to be ready by game 1.

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