The day has come, and it’s our time to shine here in the Fansided “Around The NHL in 30 Days” Project. The Dallas Stars are up today, funny enough, as their calender year kicks off today with the Stars Ice Breaker and the prospects playing their first game in the 2011 NHL Prospect Tournament later today. While a lot has changed this offseason for the Stars, the expectations for this team to get back to their former ways have not.
For the Stars some of the changes happened right away. A new coach in Glen Gulutzan coming up from the Stars’ AHL team and taking over as head coach after the firing of Marc Crawford (thank you Joe!) started the summer off for the team. Of course what followed shortly after was not what most of the fanbase wanted, but most of us knew it was coming. GM Joe Nieuwendyk fought and tried a wait-and-see approach with new ownership that never came, and eventually had to just let the team’s top offensive threat go. Brad Richards is now of course residing somewhere in NYC as he prepares to play for the New York Rangers for probably the remainder of his career, and the Stars are now down one all-star.
So much of the focus this summer has been that Dallas lost Richards and looks to be at another stage of change by the outside media and world. While it is true and the team is going to miss Richards, it is not like everything left. The Stars were not expected by many to do much the last two seasons while he was here, so why is it pick on Dallas time since he is gone? The forwards are still going to feature a few all-star veterans in Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro on the top pairing and then rely on continued growth from a great young core. Loui Eriksson looks to lead the way after really coming into his own over the last couple of seasons and finally getting some really attention last season. Fan favorite and budding young talent Jamie Benn will be called upon to take the next step this season and looks to have all the tools to do so. I know everyone is putting pressure on his growth and that he “needs” to be the next big thing, but he already almost is and with a little more growth and more playing time now, I think he will be fine.
Filling in the forwards and adding depth was the targeted goal of Joe this offseason, and I think he pulled it off. He had some money to spend and made a splash in free agency by signing more guys then I can remember the Stars having signed over the last couple of summers. Veteran Steve Ott will take a bigger role, and along with free agency additions Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak, should play multiple lines and situations for the team. Those three guys all could provide points for the team, but also bring grit and two-way play that the Stars really need. Michael Ryder was the surprise signing to most of us, and the right winger seems to be eagerly awaited here in Dallas. He will be a top-six guy, provide a scoring righty shot that has been missed here, and should see plenty of time on the powerplay. Expect the bottom of the line-up to be filled with veteran guys. Tom Wandell, Tomas Vincour, and former 1st round pick Scott Glennie will all have to earn time this year if they want to be wearing a sweater other then the Texas Stars sweater down in Austin. A little punch might be gone, but the boys may have the deepest forwards in the bottom six that we have seen in quite a while.
The defense could be the part that most improved for the Stars. Alex Goligoski was brought in via trade late in the year, and it should be fun to watch a full season of him playing top minutes. Trevor Daley, Stephane Robidas, and Nicklas Grossman all will be back again for the Stars and provide a solid core for the team, just that this defense really needs another top-pairing D-man that could be the anchor. The bottom line should be something to watch. Mark Fistric will be fighting for playing time against free-agent signee Adam Pardy and whoever doesn’t play gives the Stars a great 7th man. The other spot will be filled by the question mark known as Sheldon Souray. Can he still skate? Is his cannon-shot from the point still there and can it help the Stars PP? We will find out soon enough, but the gamble does not actually look like one for the Stars and if he can still play then it looks like a steal.
Kari Lehtonen will again man the pipes for the team and for the first time in probably 2-3 seasons I think the team knows what it has in the net. Kari was over-used last season but still put up good stats and most importantly stayed healthy. If they can get Andrew Raycroft into a few more starts and lighten Kari’s workload, I don’t think it would be hard to imagine his already modest numbers get better.
All in all, it looks to be a fun year for the Stars. Will they be fighting for the Cup? Probably not. But can they try to continue building, learn Gulutzan’s changes, and aim for a return to the playoffs? Definitely. They expectations aren’t high, but the dreams of the fans are. Don’t give up yet Stars fans. New ownership IS on the way even if it is taking longer then we would like, and GM Joe has made more then a few smart moves so far. Trust in Joe, trust in Morrow, and trust in the Stars, that this is almost over and the team is on the upswing even if the outside media world thinks that we are crippled without Richards.
Tags: 2011 NHL Prospects Tournament Alex Goligoski Brenden Morrow Dallas Stars Fansided Glen Gulutzan Jamie Benn Joe Nieuwendyk Kari Lehtonen Marc Crawford Michael Ryder Mike Ribeiro Scott Glennie Sheldon Souray Stephane Robidas Tom Wandell Vernon Fiddler