Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk is quite possibly my favorite NHL player of all time. He had a dynamite scoring touch, and he never played at less than full intensity. He has real promise as an executive as well, but he has been handed a rough deck to deal with here.
The Stars declared bankruptcy in September, and the ownership and financial uncertainty have already had a big impact on this team. Last year they lost the final game of the season, costing them a playoff spot. If they can come that close to the playoffs this year then Nieuwendyk will really have accomplished something. They have a lot working against them in 2011-12.
Dallas Stars Offseason Moves
The headline here is obviously the departure of Brad Richards. The heart of their offense for the last four years, Richards was the free agent prize of the offseason, and he never seriously considered returning to Dallas before landing with the Rangers. He’s an elite offensive talent, and the team didn’t come close to replacing him this offseason.
The closest they came to adding an offensive spark is Michael Ryder. The 31-year-old won a Cup with the Bruins last year and twice had 30 goals with the Canadiens. He’s far more of a complementary player than a catalyst, though, so his success with his new team will rely on his finding chemistry with new linemates. It certainly can’t be viewed as a positive thing that the Bruins didn’t work really hard to get him back. The good news, though, is that he’ll have a chance to play with Mike Ribeiro, a former linemate in Montreal who has averaged nearly 50 assists per year the last five years in Dallas.
2011-12 Dallas Stars NHL Outlook
With Richards gone—and James Neal sent to the Penguins at the trade deadline last year—the Stars need to find more offense to make up for him. That puts the pressure on a few players.
Loui Eriksson was the leading scorer for the team last year with 73 points, but Richards was a huge factor in that production. Now Eriksson needs to show that he is more than just a guy who can receive a pass from a major talent.
Last year 32-year-old Brenden Morrow had a career-high 33 goals, and he will have to be at least as productive this year. He has played all 749 career games with the Stars, but he may never have been more important to the squad than he is now.
Additionally, 22-year-old Jamie Benn needs to continue the upward trajectory of his young career as well. He had 56 points in 69 games last year as a sophomore and finished particularly strong. He has the potential to be the best offensive player on this team, and it would be a huge boost for the squad if he could realize that potential.
One thing the team does not have to be concerned about now or into the future is goaltending. Kari Lehtonen was given the reins as starter last year, and he really rose to the occasion. He can handle a very heavy workload and is reasonably reliable.
A few years from now Jack Campbell will be ready to step in and perhaps claim ownership of the position. The star of the last two U.S. World Junior Championship teams has been returned to his junior team for another year, but he is the future.
While the team didn’t get any more offensive in the offseason, they certainly did get tougher. While they might not scare opposing goalies all the time, they could scare opposing teams because of the punishment they can unleash. That’s one way they might be able to even the playing field and give themselves a chance despite some talent issues.
2011-12 Dallas Stars Schedule
The obvious game to circle on the schedule is on Dec. 13 when they travel to New York to play the Rangers and Brad Richards. You can bet that the players still with the Stars would like nothing more than to beat up their former leader and his new squad.
Dallas Stars NHL Futures Odds (from Bodog)
Oddsmakers are at best lukewarm about this team. They are at 40/1 on the futures Stanley Cup odds. That is better than just 10 teams and tied with Phoenix and Calgary—two other teams that are on the fringes of playoff competitiveness. They are 20/1 to win the Western Conference.
2011-12 Dallas Stars Predictions
I find it hard to get excited about this squad. They are worse than they were last year, and last year they were only barely competitive. They will need a lot of players to really step up and elevate their game to equal last season’s mediocre effort.
The good news, I suppose, is that I think Brad Richards is an overrated player as both a producer and a leader, so his absence may not be as big of a deal as some think it will be. Still, this is not an inspiring team.
There are a lot of teams that will be fighting for the last couple of playoff spots in the West—Calgary, Phoenix, Minnesota, Colorado and others. The Stars have nothing to distinguish themselves from those teams.
They could make the playoffs, but I wouldn’t bet a lot on it, and I would expect nothing other than a swift departure if they did.
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