NHL Western Conference Sleeper: The Dallas Stars

Andy Bensch@@AndyBenschSenior Writer IJuly 26, 2009

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 25:  Left wing Brenden Morrow #10 of the Dallas Stars during play against the Colorado Avalanche at the American Airlines Center on September 25, 2008 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

Disclaimer: Brenden Morrow's series winning goal in quadruple OT of game six in the 2007-2008 Western Conference semi-final series made me sick to my stomach.

As a die-hard follower of the San Jose Sharks, being one goal away from miraculously tying a series at 3-3 after being down 3-0, with a potential game seven in San Jose, only to have Morrow score on the power-play to end the season was extremely disheartening.

Therefore, hockey fans must realize how difficult it is to write this piece about a team that I have grown up despising almost as much as I despise the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Whether it was Ed Belfour or Derian Hatcher, I just cannot stand anyone who has played for the Dallas Stars over the last ten to fifteen years.

However, with a healthy captain back this season in Brenden Morrow, hockey analysts would be dead wrong not to include the Stars in their playoff picture.

With a trio of centers including the ageless Mike Modano, former Conn Smythe Trophy winner Brad Richards and the incredibly talented Mike Ribiero, you cannot overlook the team from Big D.

Just two seasons ago, the Stars took the Detroit Red Wings to six games in the Western Conference finals before bowing out to the all around much better team.

But while the Red Wings are starting to decline, the Dallas Stars could be just as good in this upcoming season as they have been over the past few years.

Perhaps not having Zergei Zubov this season will diminish the offense from the Dallas blue-line but numerous injuries have prevented Zubov from being his usual self. In fact, in 07-08 Zubov registered the fewest amount of goals (4) in his entire career and his thirty five points, his fewest since rookie year of 1991-92.

Not only did Zubov not bring much offense in 2007-08 during Dallas' WCF run but former Star Philippe Boucher also had a down year due to injuries.

Therefore, the fact that Dallas doesn't have any big names on their defensive corps doesn't really mean they won't be any less of a force this upcoming season.

With guys like Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley playing sound defense, the Stars don't need much scoring from the blue-line. That said, the entire group of blue-liners in Big D are capable of punching in a goal or two when needed.

Despite not having the Dan Boyle, Dion Phaneuf, Mike Green type defenseman on the roster, the Stars will have plenty of offense from their forward group and the key is the return of their captain. Before Morrow's season ending injury last season, the Stars captain was becoming of the better all around players in the NHL. In 2007-08 he put up career numbers with 32 goals and 74 points.

When you put Morrow back on a line with Mike Ribeiro, the Stars have as deadly a top-line as anybody in the Western Conference. Add Modano, Richards, Steve Ott, Loui Eriksson and Thomas Neal to that group and the Stars have the components of a potent offense.

The only minor reasons this team is going to fly under the radar, as a "sleeper", this season is because they missed the post-season last year and a lot of teams have jumped up to the top of the Western Conference standings.

However, if Marty Turco can have a bounce back season this year, the Dallas Stars should not only be considered playoff caliber but should be considered as one of the NHL's elite teams.

Now most fans want to pronounce the Vancouver Canucks, Chicago Blackhawks and Columbus Blue-Jackets as the new wave of serious playoff contenders in the West but it would be ludicrous to count out the Dallas Stars.

As a fan of neither of these clubs, I would bet money on the Dallas Stars in a playoff series because they are loaded with experience, much more so than any of the other teams. That being said, hopefully the Stars regain their form and meet up with my Sharks again in the playoffs. This time with Dan Boyle instead of Brian Campbell, I'd be curious to see how the series would pan out.

Either way, don't count the Dallas Stars out of your Western Conference playoff picture. With Chris Pronger and Francois Beauchemin no longer in Anaheim, look for the Sharks and Stars to be vying for the Pacific Division Title.


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