Stars-Blue Jackets: Game Preview and Final Cuts Analysis

Ken ArmerSenior Writer IOctober 7, 2008

(Photo: James Neal is looking to stay with the Dallas Stars, but the cap may prevent his talent from truly being shown in the NHL during this season.)

Most previews from here on out will be a bit more professional—but for the Stars, and every other team in the NHL rushing to complete their opening game lineups and stay under the cap with final roster cuts, this preview could get a little rough.

First off, the Stars have seemingly made it clear the backup goaltender will be Tobias Stephan. Stephan got a lot of preseason playing time—and even though the team itself struggled, the Stars seem confident in his abilities.

The other major issue is which of the Stars' young prospects will make the squad. James Neal seems to have impressed the coaches—and me—the most. The major issue at hand is what the salary-cap room will dictate. The 21-year-old Neal is on a non-waiver contract, meaning he can go between the AHL and NHL depending on where the team needs him.

NHL rules dictate a maximum of 23 healthy players, and generally teams keep 14 of those as forwards. In the past, however, the Stars have carried 13 forwards and 22 players total to save on the cap.

As the case appears now, it seems likely Neal will drop to the minors so that 23-year-old Fabian Brunnstrom can play with the Stars. Brunnstrom will make $2.25 million this season, making him the most highly-paid of the main forwards fighting for a big club spot.

In addition to Brunnstrom and Neal, the other players fighting for a spot are Chris Conner and B.J. Crombeen, who have both also had good camps, but seem outshined by Neal’s play and Brunnstrom’s hype.

The Stars seem to like the idea of keeping both from the start, then scratching one or the other as needs dictate.

"Both have proven that they can be NHL players. It's just how quick they can get acclimated, and how quick you want to throw them in there," Stars coach Dave Tippett said in Mike Heika’s Dallas Morning News Stars blog.

The Stars have Tuesday off, and will likely make final cuts ahead of Wednesday’s NHL roster deadline. On Monday Coach Dave Tippett had Neal on a regular line with Toby Petersen and B.J. Crombeen, while Brunnstrom was on and extra line with Krys Barch.


With the dust settled

Regardless of which players go or stay, the Stars must focus on starting the season off strong against. There will be hiccups in some of the minor points but the bottom line is the Stars should win.

All bias aside, the Stars have the better team.  After only one win in preseason the Stars must show they are capable of living up to the hype that has been thrown around all summer. I am included in this hype, as I along with many others touted them as the team to beat.


Questions left after the Stars' terrible preseason

The bottom line is the Stars aren’t the team fans saw in preseason. Turco didn’t start in many games, as the Stars spent time addressing the backup goalie issue.  That can hurt the win column.

The Stars also played a lot of prospect defensemen throughout, and gave prospects many chances to see ice time. Example: One of the leaders in ice time among defensemen was Matt Niskanen. Likely his time will diminish now to make more room for the usual top-dog blueliners.

Don’t be surprised to see more of Niskanen this year on the ice, though. The Stars seem poised to keep Niskanen as a future number-one defenseman, if and when Sergei Zubov chooses to hang up his skates.

The Stars' other main focus against the Blue Jackets must be to stay sharp on the power play and penalty kill. This has been key to the Stars' success in the past and Dallas' must again find that deadly chemistry this year.

The Stars face the Blue Jackets on Friday, October 10 at 7:30pm in Dallas at the American Airlines Center. The game will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net Southwest on TV and on WBAP 820AM in Dallas on the radio. Stay tuned after the game for the recap and updated news on the Stars roster. If you're in the Dallas area, click here to purchase tickets.



Ken Armer is a senior hockey writer and Community Leader for the NHL and Dallas Stars. You can contact him on his profile or via e-mail at