Dallas Stars Looking Ahead: Many Questions Await Answers

Ryan KennedyContributor IOctober 23, 2009

DALLAS - SEPTEMBER 16:  Goaltender Marty Turco #35 of the Dallas Stars makes a save in front of Martins Karsums #44 of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Warren Peters #25 at American Airlines Center on September 16, 2009 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

The Dallas Stars, two seasons ago, made fell to the Detroit Red Wings in the Western Conference final. Last season, the Stars failed to even qualify for the playoffs. An offseason of changes has presented us with an interesting situation for the future of this team. The Dave Tippet era ended, and Marc Crawford was brought in as the new head coach.

Joe Nieuwendyk replaced Les Jackson and Brett Hull as the General Manager. Many questions surround the future of this team, but first, let’s take a look at what we have already learned about this new Stars team so far from the very young '09-'10 season

Ten games into the '09-'10 season, the Stars have played just about how their fans have expected, okay. The Stars sport a decent 4-3-3 record, ahead of only Anaheim in the Pacific Division standings. Many fans entered this season pessimistic of the idea of this club making the playoffs, but I beg to differ.

This Stars team, when healthy, is definitely capable of making the playoffs. However, I don't by any means think this lineup if capable of making a run at the cup. 

Thus far, the Stars haven't shown us anything we didn’t already know. We knew they had a balanced attack spread out across their top three lines. We knew the defense would be the teams Achilles' heel. And we knew the goaltending would be anywhere from decent to stellar.

The Stars may have one of the best top nine in the entire league. Only recently has the offence began to slip with injuries to super-pest Steve Ott, franchise leading scorer Mike Modano, and former Selke trophy winner Jere Lehtinen. During the first couple games, these three skated as Dallas's third line.

Add a recent grown injury to second line center and former Conn Smythe winner Brad Richards, and you have four of Dallas stronger forwards and best leaders missing from the lineup. Thankfully, none of these forwards is expected to miss significant time.

But there have been plenty of positives. Captain Brendan Morrow has thus far remained healthy and looks to be in top form after missing all of last season to a knee injury. Brad Richards was scoring at a point per game pace before his injury.

Rookies Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell have been pleasant surprises in the early going, with the former seeing mostly top line minutes. James Neal shows no signs of hitting the dreaded "sophomore slump."

Fabian Brunnstrom, although he has yet to get hot offensively, has played adequately in a mostly third line role. The Stars have a very balanced attack, and should they remain healthy for the rest of the season will have no problem putting the puck in the net.

It’s keeping the puck out of the net that will likely be an issue.

The Stars lack a true No. 1 defenseman. However, the Stars have some decent top four defenders. Trevor Daley leads the team in ice-time and plays in just about every situation, as does veteran Stephan Robidas.

Youngster Nicklas Grossman has solidified himself as a top four defensemen in the league and currently leads the NHL in plus-minus with a plus-11. Outside of these three, the blue-line lacks either consistency or talent.

Matt Niskanen has all the tools to become a good offensive defenseman, but so far this season has struggled. Mark Fistric is still young and a big part of this team moving forward, but has yet to turn the same corner Grossman has. Karlis Skrastins and Jeff Woytwitka have never been known as top defenders, but thus far have provided great depth to the defense core.

Overall, the Stars defense is not bad. It's solid but lacks that x-factor that so many other teams in the league have; someone who controls the flow of the game when he’s on the ice. Montreal has Andrei Markov. Nashville has Shea Webber. Philadelphia has Chris Pronger. This team needs a true No. 1 defender and a powerplay quarterback in the worst way.

What this team doesn’t need to worry about, is their goaltending. Marty Turco has re-emerged as a number one goalie this season. He has yet to blow anyone’s socks off, but he’s playing much more like the Marty Turco we all are accustomed to as opposed to the one we saw last year.

Pushing him in the backup spot is Alex Auld, who so far has also played well. Both goalies are going to have to take their games to the next level if this team wants to make the playoffs. With the defense they have in front of them, Turco will need to steal a few games for the Stars this season, and Auld will have to be a brick-wall with the starts he does get.

Seventy-some-odd games remain on the schedule, and thus far many Stars’ fans realize that the team that made it to the Western Conference finals two years ago is no longer here. This organization has been entirely revamped with a new coach and a new general manager, and has many questions that await answers. How far can this team go with its current lineup? Are the playoffs a possibility?

A better question, what does management do when the trade deadline rolls around? If the Stars are in the seventh-ninth spot, do they make a move for a defensive upgrade and try for a playoff run? Or do we wait around another year, get another high draft pick, make some free agent signings, and come out guns blazing for 10-11?

This Stars team is not far off from being cup worthy. When healthy, this forward unit has a fantastic mix of scoring, size, toughness, and experience. However, the Stars have some great vets on the team that are getting up there in age. Do guys like Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen have another year in them?

Brendan Morrow, although much younger then Modano and Lehtinen, isn’t getting any younger. He is in the prime of his career, and is an absolute animal come playoff time.

But if the Stars find themselves in 10th place or lower around the trade deadline, then what? The Stars have several key RFA’s this offseason. Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, and Steve Ott will be UFA’s, as will both goaltenders. The Stars have some cap flexibility, and should be able to resign most of their RFA’s to new deals. But what about their mostly veteran UFA’s? Do they trade guys like Lehtinen or Auld at the deadline?

Does Steve Ott get a long-term deal? Do they extend Turco, or ship him off to a playoff team? Mike Modano, the former face of the franchise, will likely retire after this season or sign on for one more. If Modano wants to win another cup, and the Stars aren’t in playoff position, they owe it to him to send him to a legitimate contender. Modano will likely retire a Star, but should he asked to be moved, Mr. Nieuwendyk will happily oblige.

There is still plenty of hockey to be played this season. Some of these questions may be answered in the coming weeks, and some may be answered at the draft this summer.

By season’s end, the Star’s could get hot and finish a top their division and be in the playoffs, or finish dead last and find themselves in the Taylor Hall sweepstakes. The only question that may not need answering is whether it’s going to be a fun ride along the way.

Because I sure think it’s going to be. What about you?