Hoping to shake injuries of the past, Kari Lehtonen will steer the Dallas Stars in net this season.
As part of a continuing series, writer Benjamin Benya will be previewing all 30 NHL teams over the next two weeks in preparation for the 2010-2011 regular season.
Up next, the new look Dallas Stars.
Key Additions: G Andrew Raycroft, D Severin Blindenbacher, RW Adam Burish, D Brad Lukowich.
Key Subtractions: C Mike Modano, G Marty Turco, D Andrew Hutchinson.
One of the quietest teams this offseason, the Dallas Stars may also be in the most chaotic state of change amongst any of the 30 clubs entering the 2010-11 NHL season. Sure, Ilya Kovalchuk leaving Atlanta was big, and the Great Chicago Fire Sale was astounding, but nothing is bigger than knowing Mike Modano will be lacing up his skates for another team this year.
With Modano’s role in Dallas diminished, he elected to pursue one more chance at winning a Stanley Cup with, of all the teams, the Detroit Red Wings. Then, the Stars dismissed starting goalie Marty Turco in favor of fledgling starter Kari Lehtonen. Turco and Modano, two faces of the organization, are now gone. While other pieces are still there, Dallas will be a far different place to play this upcoming year.
Dallas is returning, however, with a decent one-two punch at center. Brad Richards may be a free agent next year, but his value in Dallas should keep him talked about all season long. He matched a career high in points last year with 91 and was an individual playmaker on the ice. It took Richards some time to get healthy and adjust in a system without Vincent Lecavalier, but after this past year, one has to believe he’s back to the top of his game.
Richards’ second in command, Mike Ribeiro, is hoping to bounce back from a down year and return to point-per-game production. His creative style has often been praised, but he can also become invisible down the stretch and has yet to prove his worth in big-game situations. Despite the numbers, Ribeiro hasn’t had much playoff experience in his career.
Bruisers Brendan Morrow and Steve Ott will be back this year too, both hoping to keep pace with the cavalcade of youngsters approaching from behind. Morrow wasn’t exactly back to form after playing last year recovering from an injury, and Ott saw a drop in overall production despite posting the first 20-goal season of his career.
Behind Dallas’ known names are a trio of emerging NHL stars that bring speed, hands, and skill to the rink every game. Jamie Benn, James Neal, and Loui Eriksson are getting better and better as days go by and are looking more like the successors to the throne of players like Modano and Jere Lehtinen (who himself, is undecided about continuing his career in Dallas as of this printing).
Eriksson flirted with 30 goals last year while posting a career high in points, and both Benn and Neal will see extended time with which to rack up 20 goals apiece. All totaled, the Stars had several sources for scoring, making it feel like much less of an issue than it appeared to be.
Defensively, Dallas has been conservative in their approach to building a top six, saving their money for more pressing needs while building from within. Players like Trevor Daley and Matt Niskanen are talents that the Stars discovered and built into their own.
Daley plays the role of shutdown defender and Niskanen hasn’t shown he has the offensive spark quite yet. In fact, the most impressive two-way defender on the team is the aging Stephan Robidas. As the only Dallas defensemen to consistently see power-play time, Robidas cashes in whenever he can.
Nicklas Grossman is another important man on the blue line in this fold, but his awe-inspiring seven points with zero goals last year gives more validity to the argument that the defense plays only defense. Perhaps the introduction of Olympic star Severin Blindenbacher will inject some more offense into the blueliners.
At the trade deadline last season, the Stars made it quite apparent that this would be the end of the road for Marty Turco. They swung a deal with the Atlanta Thrashers to acquire former No. 2 overall draft pick Kari Lehtonen. The deal, and subsequent contract extension for Kari, signaled a changing of the guards for Turco, a goalie who had struggled to make it in the playoffs and had only one Western Conference Finals appearance.
That said, Lehtonen’s only playoff experience saw him hemorrhage 11 goals in two games before being swept out of the first round. He’s had two good seasons yet can never seem to find a rhythm due to constant setbacks from injury. A healthy Lehtonen was capable of winning 34 games and leading Atlanta into their only playoff appearance, whereas an injured Lehtonen will give way to Andrew Raycroft instead.
Raycroft is a former Calder Trophy winner and is by no means a bad goalie, just one who has fallen by the wayside in the post-lockout era. Part of that could be due to the fact that he’s bounced around too many times to count, seemingly unable to stay with one team.
Naming a rookie to standout on a team with five forwards and one defensemen on no-trade clause contracts is like finding a needle in a haystack. That said, we’ll pick first-round pick Jack Campbell in net. With Lehtonen’s future always uncertain and Raycroft falling into obscurity, Campbell might get a few chances to show his muster this year. It is almost unheard of for an 18-year-old goalie to make the jump, but if anyone can do it, it’s Campbell.
Expectations for the future of the organization are high, but with the current status of the team being a transitional one, it is hard to believe the Stars will move up in a highly competitive division and conference. Fifth in the Pacific, 12th in the Western Conference.