Stars' stars must shine again

After a one-year hiatus from the playoffs and despite the subpar play of All-Star center Mike Modano, the Dallas Stars looked like their old powerhouse selves for most of last season.

They finished second behind upstart San Jose in the Pacific Division (just how exactly does Dallas qualify as a coastal team, by the way?).

Dave Tippett, in his second year as coach, steered the Stars to 97 points on a record of 41-26-13-2. They scored only 194 goals, ninth in the 15-team Western Conference, but their 176 goals-against ranked second overall to New Jersey, the perennial Eastern miser.

Dallas, seeded fifth in the West playoffs, then ran into a wall in the first round against fourth-seeded Colorado.

This summer, stalwart defenseman Richard Matvichuk left via free agency for Jersey. That further shrank the core group from the Stanley Cup champion of 1999 and runner-up of 2000. Ex-Stars who left in recent years to win Stanley Cups elsewhere include Brett Hull (Detroit), Joe Nieuwendyk and Jamie Langenbrunner (New Jersey) and Darryl Sydor (Tampa Bay).

General manager Doug Armstrong, charged by owner Tom Hicks to bring the team's payroll closer in line with the rest of the league, spoke to ESPN.com's Tom Wheatley about his team's reformation.

ESPN.com: Can you briefly assess last season and postseason?
"Our season last year had more peaks and valleys than we were hoping to have. At the start of the year, we couldn't seem to find the right cylinder to get going. It took us to Christmas to become a team.

"Then in the second half I thought we established ourselves as one of the top teams in the league. But we sustained some bumps in the road the last two or three weeks before the playoffs. We had some injuries to key players and a suspension.

"In the playoffs we were hoping to get back to the form we had in January, February, March, but we were dispatched realtively easily by Colorado. And that was obviously disappointing."

ESPN.com: Which player had a breakout season?
"We were a veteran team. I don't see a lot of players pushing through like that, but one young player who established himself was Brenden Morrow.

ESPN.com: Which players need to bounce back?
"Two players who had subpar years were Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen. They've established themselves as top NHL players, and we're counting on them to rebound back to top NHL form.

"Marty Turco would fall into that category, too. We had fluctuating goaltending early in the season, and that put us behind the eightball as well."

ESPN.com: Who in the system is ready for the NHL?
"We're looking for players like Steve Ott to take a big stride. On defense, John Erskine will be given the opportunity to play a regular shift, and we'll be looking for Trevor Daley -- who was a first-year pro -- to take a bigger role in the group."

ESPN.com: What is your top priority this summer to improve the organization?
"We're looking for internal growth rather than external help. Along with Ott, Erskine and Daley, we acquired (winger) Jaroslav Svoboda and we're looking for those young players to take the next level as pros."

ESPN.com: What was your favorite moment last season?
"I was pleased when our team found its footing and responded from mid-December through the rest of the regular season. It wasn't one moment, but that stretch."

ESPN.com: And your least favorite moment?
"The thing that was most disappointing to me was our inability to give Colorado a good series. They steamrolled us. We weren't competitive."

ESPN.com: What activity or destination will take you furthest away from hockey this summer?
"I'll just spend most of the summer with my family. We do it mostly here. We have two young children, and we will spend some time visiting relatives in Canada. No one in hockey should complain about their job. I have the best job in the world. But it does keep you away from your family during the season."

Tom Wheatley is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com. He is the co-author of Bob Plager's "Tales from the Blues Bench" and "The Memoirs of Bing Devine," both available from Sports Publishing LLC.