After a break for a while, today we will jump back into grading the Dallas Stars on the 2011-2012 season. The first grade went to head coach Glen Gulutzan right after the regular season ended (right here), then Kari Lehtonen and the goalies were graded the next week (click here), and I followed it up by grading the defenseman at the beginning of this month (defenseman grades here). Now I will start grading the forwards, breaking the group down into three parts. Within each part will be a couple of top-six guys with the youngsters and grinders mixed in. Getting today’s group started will be the most underrated man in hockey, Loui Eriksson.
Loui Eriksson: The Swedish winger finished his sixth season in the NHL with another stellar campaign. Eriksson is not one of the most underrated players in the world just because the national media overlooks him because of what Dallas has been through in recent history. Eriksson has continued to develop into one of the best two-way forwards in hockey. Offensively, Eriksson completed his fourth straight season with over 25 goals and third straight with over 70 points. He finished 20th in the NHL in scoring with a +18 rating, a number only bested by two players ahead of him in scoring. But over the last two seasons Eriksson is +28 with only 20 penalty minutes taken, bringing into question why he wasn’t even a Lady Byng finalist this season after being nominated last year. The only thing that can be questioned in Loui’s game is the drop-off in powerplay production this season (25 PP points to only 12 this season without Richards), but everyone on the Stars’ roster suffered from that issue this past year. Final Grade: A. The only reason he doesn’t earn the A+ is the powerplay numbers. But otherwise Eriksson is probably the best all-around player in Dallas, with maybe the exception being Kari in the crease.
Michael Ryder: While many hoped the Stars would get an offensive weapon in adding Ryder to the roster last summer, I can be sure that most of us didn’t expect anything like the season he had. Ryder had twice scored 30 goals early in his career, but had not reached numbers like that the last four years. This season he scored a career (and team) high 35 goals and added 27 assists during the few times a game he wasn’t shooting at the net. In the end he lead the Stars in shots and shooting percentage, also scoring a team high 7 powerplay tallies. Add in 6 game winners (2nd on the team) and +17 rating, and there wasn’t much more you could have asked for from the veteran right-winger. While he didn’t score during the team’s losing streak at the end of the season, he was pretty consistent the rest of the season. For $3.5 million a season, the Stars and GM Joe Nieuwendyk got a big bargain. Final Grade: A. If he had finished with 25 goals and 25 assists, it would have been a good addition. In the end only two other forwards had a better season than him (Eriksson and Benn), and both of those guys were supposed to have those types of seasons.
Vernon Fiddler: Next up is another one of the Stars’ off-season signings from last season. Fiddler was brought in for a certain role and he was likely the one of the bunch that knew fully how he would be used no matter what. “Vern” was signed to a three-year deal to add depth and center help to the Stars’ third line and penalty kill, and from day one of the season he was the team’s third line center. While Fiddler was a welcome addition to the team’s PK unit and did succeed there (he finished third in PK time on the ice) as the Stars were able to improve their penalty-killing, the rest of his game had some rough patches. Fiddler did finish just over 50% in the faceoff circle overall, he was less than 50% in shorthanded faceoffs and had similar numbers on the road. Add in the -13 rating that tied for the worst in his career, and it was a partially successful season for Fiddler. The barely acceptable numbers of 8 goals and 21 points overall in 82 games aren’t that impressive either. His grit and durability were great, but there was room for improvement as he and the third line had a very rough last two months (-6 with only three points over the last two months of the season). Final Grade: C. The offensive numbers aren’t a big issue since he has only scored 30 points twice in his career, but a bit more would be nice. But down the stretch his game dropped off and the faceoff numbers should definitely be better.
Adam Burish: This week’s last veteran will be one of the fan favorites in Dallas. The grinder finished his second season in Texas by quietly improving upon his numbers from last season. Burish jumped from 14 points upto 19, his +/- rating went from 2 to 6, and had 15 less penalty minutes this season in two more games. Add in over a hit per game and 36 blocked shots for a player that played less than 13 minutes for a game, and Burish again showed that he can contribute a little bit in many ways. While he may not be a guy you expect to put up big numbers or change a game single-handedly, he is probably one of the better 4th line guys in the league who sometimes can give you a little more if it is needed. Final Grade: B+. He knows how to do just about everything but score, and for a 4th liner that is what is needed. A solid season for Burish.
Tomas Vincour: The big Czech saw a little bit more ice time this season, playing 47 games after only getting into 24 last year. And with the experience came a little bit of offense. Vincour pocketed 10 points this season (4 goals and 6 assists) after only two points last season, and he more than doubled his shots on net. While it is still tough what to make of the youngster, he is just that, a 21-year old former 5th round draft pick. He had similar stats down with the Texas Stars (12 points in 44 games), showing that it might not necessarily be that he needs to be at a lower level. An interesting stat though is that had only 2 penalty minutes with 52 hits. For a big guy, he is learning to use his body but is smart when doing so. Final Grade: B-. He isn’t expected to be a big contributor, but he might be turning into a nice future third liner and he is still growing into his size and the NHL game.