What Happened Last Year
37-31-14 – 88 points
13th in the Western Conference
5th in the Pacific Division
Over the offseason coming into last season, coach Dave Tippett was ousted from his job as bench boss, and in came Marc Crawford, formerly of the Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks. Tippett did not get the job done the year prior with his team finishing 36-35-11. Crawford instilled a more up-tempo and attacking style of play for the Stars, who were more used to playing a stark defensive style under Tippett’s direction. This looked to be a year of change for the Stars, because a few key icons who had worn the Star on their chest for years were on the verge of leaving. The problem with Crawford’s new up-tempo style of play was that the skill players didn’t catch on right away, and that the Stars were giving up way too many goals against (-17 differential.)
Turco was getting lit up frequently with the lack of consistent defensive help, and Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards were not working together offensively. This forced young-guns James Neal and Loui Eriksson to take the spotlight on the scoresheet. The team was remarkably inconsistent on both sides of the puck. They were either on, or they were off. They were not able to get it together in a tough Pacific Division and a top-heavy Western Conference. (Fun Fact: the Dallas Stars finished with the same amount of points that the Philadelphia Flyers did!)
Near the deadline, the Stars made one deal that was clearly done with the future in mind. Since the Stars were stockpiled on prospects, they dealt defenseman Ivan Vishnievsky to the Atlanta Thrashers for disgruntled goaltender Kari Lehtonen. Lehtonen was known for not living up to his draft standing (2nd overall pick in 2002) by being inconsistent and having chronic back issues. But the Stars needed a solution in goal. (Which, to be honest, sounds strange…they have always been good at drafting goalies, but trading them away…)
By the end of the season, the team was still tough enough to force overtime 23 times out of the 82 game season. Of course, of those 23 times, they lost 14 games, but the Stars showed they were resilient enough to get a point out of games. Interestingly enough, the shootout went from a tremendous advantage of the Stars to a terrible disadvantage. The Stars lost their most powerful weapons in Jussi Jokinen, and Ribeiro didn’t dazzle quite as much in the shootout this year. Turco was not on in the shootout this year either. But one shootout mattered quite a lot to three certain players.
Let this video paint a picture for you. It’s fan appreciation night against the Anaheim Ducks. It’s three iconic Stars’ last game at the American Airlines Center. Mike Modano ties the game up with just a minute and some change left to go. And then this.
Modano opens up the shootout with his absolutely patented wrist shot. Lehtinen snipes one past Hiller. Turco makes two great stops. Could it have been scripted any better? But this night signified the complete changing of the guard in Big D. It was another disappointing season in the books for the Stars, forcing them to force a marketing deal in March called “The Real Deal.” $25 upper level seats, a free James Neal shirt, and Arby’s coupons. Don’t believe it?
I took part in “The Real Deal”.
Checking In (Acquisitions)
RW Adam Burish
G Andrew Raycroft
RW Jonathan Cheechoo (tryout)
Checking Out (Departures)
C Mike Modano
RW Jere Lehtinen
G Marty Turco
G Matt Climie
The Season Ahead
Minus the top three familiar faces, the Stars have a lot of weapons to choose from that were around last year. Before this season starts, General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk must sign James Neal and Matt Niskanen. Other than that, this team can expect to be rather middle of the pack, but slightly improved due to the maturation of some players, and the addition of some grit and potential goal scoring ability in Adam Burish and Jonathan Cheechoo. The Stars need to cut down on goals against. They have veteran weapons like Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro, but none are known as standouts on the defensive side of the puck. They will need to rely on their young defense, headlined once again by Stephane Robidas, to try and prevent the biscuit from even coming close to getting in the basket as many times as it did last season. The Stars will need to rely on maturing defensemen Mark Fistric (+27) and Nicklas Grossman (-3) to be as defensively solid as they were last season. They also need Matt Niskanen to be a whole lot better than he was last season.
Players to Watch
#18 James Neal
Once Neal gets signed, the Western Conference will need to look out. The Stars’ 33rd selection in the 2005 entry draft has turned into a deadly sniper. In his rookie season, he netted 24 goals, and in the following year, he scored 27. He will easily top 30 goals this season with suitable linemates. He may not be the best defensive player, but he reminds me of Mike Modano’s successor. He’s not a flashy player, but he has a wonderful release on his wrist shot. He is a bona fide scoring threat in all situations, including the shootout.
#41 Jonathan Cheechoo
This was a low risk, high reward move by Nieuwendyk to land Cheechoo on a tryout basis. He should almost a complete lock-in to make the team on a tryout basis. (If I’m wrong, God help me) When Cheechoo works with a skilled set-up man, a la Richards or Ribeiro, he can flourish on the offensive side of the puck. When he worked with Joe Thornton in San Jose, Cheechoo was magical, scoring 56 goals and winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. Numerous injuries have kept the wily Cheechoo ineffective for the most part, but he still has the tools to score—he just hasn’t had the opportunity to work with people that can set him up.
#21 Loui Eriksson
He is the next Swedish star for the Stars. Eriksson has quietly put up two very strong seasons in a row, playing all 82 games in each. He’s not quite a point per game player yet, but he is a consistent threat on a nightly basis. The best part for the Stars is that he is still a young player whose point totals are growing with every season. He has all-around skills, and he plays alongside some nice skilled players. Even better…he’s signed until 2016-17. He’ll be doing this in Big D for some time.
#32 Kari Lehtonen
He’s replacing Marty Turco. He has a lot to prove in Big D. He was wildly inconsistent in Atlanta, and only led them to the playoffs once. And that only one time resulted in a resounding sweep at the hands of the New York Rangers. The Thrashers haven’t been to the postseason dance since. Lehtonen went 6-4-0 with a 2.81 GAA and .911 save percentage in 12 starts. He will get the resounding majority of the starts for the Stars, so he will need to prove his number one goaltending title, as well as his second overall draft pick status. He’s a big dude who is fundamentally sound. As long as the defense tightens up in front of him, he will have a decent year.
Division Rank: 3rd in Pacific
Conference Rank: 10th in Western Conference
This is a big year of maturation for the Dallas Stars. They are having trouble filling seats, but they have some really good players that are worth watching now. Brad Richards may only be around for one more year, James Neal (barring he actually SIGNS a deal as a restricted free agent) will be sniping the top shelf, and Loui Eriksson will be bringing his patented mix of skill and defensive acumen to the table. But the Stars have some really good prospects on the way—their AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, came within two games of uprooting the Hershey Bears for the Calder Cup. The Stars may need to wait a few years until Jamie Benn, Scott Glennie, Loui Eriksson, James Neal, and last but not least, 2010 first rounder Jack Campbell grow together and form the new Stars core. For now, it’s just a growing process.