In reading an article written on Jack Campbell just after he was drafted by Dallas this past June, the first line pretty much sums up the Stars' recent struggles: They didn't finish off the decade as well as they started it.
Despite two head-turning performances last year, one from Stephane Robidas and the other from Brad Richards, the Stars found themselves mired in the NHL doldrums. They were amongst the top teams in goal-scoring, but their defense led them down a path that didn't result in playoff success.
While Joe Nieuwendyk hasn't had nearly enough time to be graded for the job he's done, if he proves in the long run that he's as intelligent a GM as he was a player, Dallas will turn things around soon enough.
It'll take some bold decisions, while these predictions are filled with those that are bold, and those that...well...aren't so bold.
1) Kari Lehtonen falls to injury for at least 15 games
Dallas has sunk three years of faith into the former top-pick, but injuries (his groin and back being the main culprits) have kept Lehtonen from reaching that potential. He can be effective on the ice, but the trick is keeping him there. Who knows if that happens this year.
2) Somebody comes sniffing for a Stars' Centre
Not to start rumors, but if the Stars struggle again then there are plenty of pieces that teams around the league would have an interest in. Brad Richards had a huge year last year, but he's also got a huge price tag. This year's performance will determine if he sees his time with Dallas through to July when his contract expires. Mike Ribeiro has three years remaining, but he's way more affordable. There are centres in the league (Daymond Langkow and Shawn Horcoff come to mind) making comparable coin that he can outproduce, so the potential is there that he could be had.
3) Brenden Morrow comes back at full strength with a 70-point season
Morrow was developing into one of the finest leaders and a good offensive left-winger before a knee injury derailed his 2008-09 season. Last year was his first year back, and it was good, not great. Morrow finds the level that he reached three years ago.
4) Dallas plays at least three rookies on defense this year
While the Stars have plenty of youth on the blue line, Philip Larsen could easily leapfrog a few of the guys ahead of him if everything works out this year. Guillaume Monast could be a candidate too as the Stars have a defense that's a little light on offense (where he and Larsen would help), while Trevor Ludwig could be a dark horse. In the odd stat category, 13 teams played at least three rookie defensemen last year, with six of them making the playoffs. That doesn't take into account games played, or ice-time/role with the big club.
5) Mike Ribeiro and Brad Richards split last year's difference
Each finish in the early-to-mid 70's in points this year, as Richards swam a little above his head last year, while Ribeiro missed a few games. And just for proof: The last time Richards had a 91-point season, he dropped to 70. His production has been great while he's been in Dallas (in fact that's true of both), but Richards taps-out as a second-tier scorer in the league, settling at or just below a point-per-game average.
6) Steve Ott gets 200 penalty minutes, but the production suffers
Ott's been on better behavior since his 178 penalty minutes in 2005-06 (Well...he's at least stayed out of the box more), but this year I think he shoots back up the list in terms of sin-bin confessionals. Unfortunately Ott doesn't have a Steve Downie, 20/200 season, as he loses out on the production spending all of that time in the box.
7) Philip Larsen finishes second on the Stars defense in scoring
The reason it's not hard: Second place was 22 points last year.
The reason it is hard: He's got to make the team first.
8) Fabian Brunnstrom does...something
Ok, his two goals last year were technically "something", but I mean something of note. Let's say 15 goals. That sounds like something. If I'm wrong here though I may just go back to Sweden with him.
9) Mark Fistric averages at least 19-minutes
Somehow, Mark Fistric was a plus-27 last year. There were nine players better than that, and five were Washington Capitals with the other four being Vancouver Canucks. The guy behind him was a Capital too. Then there were some Blackhawks, Red Wings, more Capitals and a few Devils. The only player in the top 30 that Fistric averaged more ice time than, was Wayne Simmonds. Each of them averaged 14 minutes last year, with Fistric's being closer to 15. If he doesn't get top-four minutes there, I'm sure there'd be a few teams willing to see if that success transfers over to larger responsibilities.
10) Scott Glennie improves Dallas' penalty kill
Glennie is known as a speedy scorer. His 89-points last year are a testament to that with Brandon of the WHL. But where Glennie's speed could really come in to play and help out is the 27th overall penalty kill from last year. It not only helps the youngster develop a good two-way game at the major-league level, but if he can win races to loose pucks and get them out of the zone, the Stars may be able to win a few more games.
The Stretch: Dallas realizes what's been going wrong the past few season, and it's the ice girls. The keep them on a separate pad and only play recordings of them on the jumbotron. Without the breath of the panting males in attendance, the ice conditions improve, the Stars are less distracted, and they win the West.
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