Now that we're into the Pacific Division, we're going to switch things up just a bit.
Instead of going up (or down) in the order teams will finish, the Pacific is going to be a bit more of a mish-mash. We started with the Phoenix Coyotes but from there we're going on to the team listed in the title...
2008/09 Record: 36-35-11, 83 points, 12th in West
Additions: Karlis Skrastins—D (2 years/$2.75 million), Jeff Woywitka—D (2 years/$1.3 million)
Subtractions: Brendan Morrison—F (FA), Steve Begin—F (FA), Sergei Zubov—D (Europe), Joel Lundqvist—F (Europe), Tobias Stephan—G (FA), Darryl Sydor—D (FA), Mark Parrish—F (FA)
The Dallas Stars were really A Tale of Two Teams in 2008/09.
Of course there were the Stars who crumbled out of the gate, burdened by a stumbling Marty Turco, an injury-ravaged roster and of course, the extra baggage of a player who no one really wanted on the team.
Of course, we’re talking about Sean Avery.
After being suspended indefinitely by the NHL on Dec. 2 for remarks that were less-than-kind to the NHL’s reputation, we saw a very different Stars team sans Avery.
With Avery, the Stars were 8-11-4. Without Avery (and this includes the December 2nd win in Calgary—the first game he missed) they were 28-25-5. Not groundbreaking by any means, but it’s certainly something.
Not quite Turk Broda…but Turco…
Although the post-Avery turnaround wasn’t without its troubles (There was a five-game losing streak in February and a seven gamer in March), Marty Turco was a big reason that there was a turnaround at all.
Although Turco suffered through a horrifically slow start, he did rebound to become one of only five goalies to have won 30 or more games in each of the past four seasons.
Looking at his stats, Turco’s turnaround coincided perfectly with the departure of the Sean Avery distraction, as following Nov. 26 Turco went 28-23-5, but more impressively dropped his goals-against from 3.50 to 2.81, and saw his save percentage rise nearly 30 points to .898.
If Turco can avoid another slow start, then he’ll be the engine that the Stars set their pace to, while they have a more than able backup in Alex Auld.
Auld, a former Bruin, Coyote, Panther and Canuck, has bounced back in his past two seasons after suffering through a year with some of the NHL lesser-lights and should provide capable insurance for 20 or more games if something goes awry with Turco.
The Richards get richer, as there’s always To-Morrow…
The Dallas Stars were hoping that tomorrow would come all of last year.
Although they had some shining performances out of rookie James Neal (Who should be good for another 20 to 24 goals while he’ll need to show marked improvements in his passing game) and Loui Eriksson (whose career-year will be hard to match), the Stars have a few returning forwards who’ll they be expecting big contributions out of as well.
While Brendan Morrow was on pace for a solid season (68 points over 82 games), the Stars’ heart-and-soul leader saw his season cut short due to a torn ACL in his right knee.
Most would think that’s alright when you have the likes of Brad Richards to rely on, but Richards had his own issues getting going, missing the last 25 games of the regular season with a broken wrist and hand (on opposite arms).
It was those subtractions that made the fact Mike Ribeiro was able to play a full 82 game season so important, as Ribeiro led the team with 76 points. If both Richards and Morrow can stay healthy and offer anywhere from 65-75 points each, then the Stars have three very dangerous forwards who can strike at any time.
The health of Richards and Morrow will also help take some pressure off of the duo of Ribeiro and Eriksson, preventing teams from simply keying on the two of them.
While All-American Dallas Star Mike Modano continues to be the face of the franchise and the most recognizable Star of all-time, his offensive production is dwindling. What that leaves Modano with, is acting as a mentor to many of the young up-and-coming Stars—the same role another long-time Star, Jere Lehtinen (who was also injured last season) is taking on as well.
In looking for players to expect an improvement from, many eyes will fall upon the name of Fabian Brunnstrom.
Brunnstrom, after taking what seemed like an eternity to sign with a team in spring 2008, didn’t perform as expected. Touted as the best player not playing in the NHL, many fans expected some magic out of the Swede, but aside from a hat-trick in his third NHL game and six points in his last seven games, Fabian was a disappointment to most.
With those expectations tempered after a season though, and the adjustment to the North American game underway, Stars fans can expect to see an improved Brunnstrom (especially if that late hot streak is any indication).
With so many injuries last season, Steve Ott got a chance to prove himself, and pull away from some of the other grinders on the Stars roster. While Toby Peterson, Brian Sutherby, Krys Barch, and Warren Peters filled the lower-line roles with less sandpaper than Ott, Ott provided much more than just that grit.
With a career year of 46 points and 19 goals to go along with his 135 penalty minutes, Ott may be developing into more of a weapon than the opposition thought. Although he probably will never reach the heights of a 55-plus point scorer, he and Chad LaRose of the Carolina Hurricanes are proving a point: That not all pests have hands of stone.
Although the roster doesn’t have a lot of room right now, youngsters Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell are ready in the wings if injuries arise. Wandell already has a taste for the NHL after coming over to North America partway through last season, while Benn’s high-scoring ways have been on display in the BCHL and WHL for a few years now.
If Benn’s gifts translate quickly, perhaps he can change a few minds in Big D’s front office and scratch out a spot. Otherwise, Benn will get big AHL minutes and maybe a midseason shot.
Woy Skrastins Daley when you can Fistric? Gross-man….
Alright, so that was lame and disgusting—offensive on two counts.
While the moves made on the back end weren’t monumental in any way this offseason, they were necessary.
With the addition of Jeff Woywitka, the Stars add a very affordable offensive defenseman.
Last year with St. Louis was Woywitka’s first season of 50-plus games (65) at the NHL level, and he didn’t disappoint potting 18 points. If Woywitka’s ice time gets bumped up to 20 minutes per game and he continues to see power play time like he did last year in St. Louis, then Woywitka’s offensive output could be top-four caliber for Dallas.
If not, then he's a solid low-pairing producer.
Rounding out that top four will be three returnees for the Stars: Matt Niskanen, Stephane Robidas, and Trevor Daley.
Niskanen was the most productive out of any Stars defender last year, netting himself 35 points while logging 2:33 of power play time per game. While that responsibility will go up in spades (Due to the departure of Sergei Zubov and his 4:55 of time on the power play), the 22-year old Niskanen still needs to work on utilizing his skating ability in a defensive role to further his development.
Alongside him is Stephane Robidas who, despite his small frame, continues to lead the Dallas Stars defense. While Robidas’ small stature does allow him to get pushed around by the more physical teams in the division and conference, he’s experienced enough to help the young players along, and has enough of an offensive game to take some heat off of a player like Niskanen.
Trevor Daley rounds out the offensive four for the Dallas Stars this season, as he’ll look to better his career-best 25 points from 2008/09. Of course, many of these players may be in for a boost in their numbers with Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov’s ice time opening up.
Rounding out the defense are two players who are very similar: One who has flown under NHL radars for years, and another who has the potential to.
Karlis Skrastins holds the NHL record for most consecutive games played by a defenseman with 495. Although the Russian has never jumped offensively by any means to the NHL game, he brings an edge to the back end and a lot of overlooked hockey smarts—after all, you don’t play 495 games in a row by simply lacing up your skates.
The men who could stand to learn something from Skrastins, is the big-bodied Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric.
Like Skrastins, the 24-year old Swede has yet to transition offensively at the NHL level, but his size (6’3 214lbs.) is what has many keeping an eye on him. If Skrastins can teach him the intricacies of the game and playing defense in the fastest league in the world, Grossman could be a big, valuable presence on the Stars blueline.
Fistric, while still trying to consistently crack Dallas’ lineup, is also blessed with a big body, and once he grows accustomed to the NHL game he’ll be great in front of Marty Turco.
So what’s it all mean…
The Stars have to be ready to prove that 2008/09 wasn’t the end of an era, but simply a footnote.
Keeping the players healthy is obviously the biggest key, while getting Marty Turco off to a hot start and having him mesh with the defense is big as well.
Initially, the defense may look overmatched, but as the season goes on, the younger players will grow into their roles and really start to click.
Even with the defense, the challenge falls to Marty Turco. When he's on, Turco is one of the best in the league. However, when Turco struggles, so do the Stars. He's the big reason the Stars have a shot at first, second, or third in the division and (likely) won't slide to third.
Many thought that pushing all of the blame for last year onto Sean Avery was the coward’s way out and that Dallas was hiding more problems than they actually had.
Whether it was or wasn’t, how Dallas takes on 2010 will be the true litmus test.
Third in Pacific
Bryan Thiel is a Senior Writer and an NHL Community Leader for Bleacher Report. If you want to get in contact with Bryan, you can go to his profile, or you can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also, be sure to check out all of his previous work in his archives.