Stars: 10 Things You Need To Know
By Pierre LeBrun
The Dallas Stars not only lost Brad Richards this summer, but also, apparently, the faith of anyone else outside their organization.
The Stars missed the playoffs by only two points, losing on the last day of the regular season when a win would have gotten them in, and yet the experts have almost unanimously downgraded their expectations for the Stars.
"People are going to discount us because of the media frenzy around Brad Richards this summer. They feel we don't have him and we won't be able to compete," Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk told ESPN.com. "But I think these guys feel otherwise."
There's a collective chip on the shoulders of the Stars. They enter the regular season feeding off that sense of wanting to prove everyone wrong.
"Our opinion is that we're a lot better team than the majority of people think we are," Dallas captain Brenden Morrow told ESPN.com. "But we're happy with the underdog role."
ESPN Insider Previews
Want to go deeper? ESPN Insider gives you access to player perspectives on each team, plus a breakout player from Craig Custance, key stats to watch and season projections.
Atlantic: NJD | NYI | NYR | PHI | PIT
NE: BOS | BUF | MTL | OTT | TOR
SE: CAR | FLA | TMB | WAS | WPG
Central: CHI | CMB | DET | NSH | STL
NW: CGY | COL | EDM | MIN | VAN
Pacific: ANA | DAL | LAK | PHX | SAN
1. The collapse
The Stars were riding high in first place of the mighty Pacific Division halfway through last season before an epic second-half collapse dropped them down to last in the division and ninth in the conference.
"We got banged up," said Nieuwendyk. "But that's part of learning, too. A lot of teams learn how to sustain injuries and we had a very difficult time doing it."
Injuries were the main reason for it, but others thought the bubble finally burst on their surprise season. Either way, the club has to learn from that nightmare in order to avoid another similar script.
"A big rash of injuries happened and we had a big slide," said Morrow. "Then we had a strong finish and had to win one game to get in. It was a roller-coaster ride. But the bottom line, we missed out on the extra season again."
The collapse cost coach Marc Crawford his job, a surprising firing for many around the league (he is now working at TSN in Canada as an analyst). Glen Gulutzan was promoted from the AHL to take his place.
2. Richards gone, but ...
The Stars were never in the game to re-sign Richards, but they acted quickly on July 1 to use the money they saved with his departure to add forwards Michael Ryder, Vern Fiddler, Radek Dvorak and Jake Dowell, plus blueliners Sheldon Souray and Adam Pardy. Six players in one day. They later added tough guy Eric Godard on July 12.
Nieuwendyk believes that depth will help avoid the kind of injury-fueled meltdown the Stars endured last season.
One of the things we like about the additions is the work ethic of players like Dvorak and Fiddler. They don't get the limelight, but they are very useful players. Nieuwendyk did well here.
3. The talented Mr. Benn
Only 22, Jamie Benn surely is no longer a secret around the NHL.
"He's starting to get noticed," said Morrow. "His YouTube clips of his goals are great. The sky's the limit for him. He can release the puck better than anyone I've seen probably since Brett Hull. He can play physical. His first two strides are strong like Marian Hossa. He's just a beast."
With Richards gone, however, opposing teams will now focus more on Benn.
"Last year, I had more attention [from other teams], and this season with Brad gone, I'm sure I'll have a little more," Benn told ESPN.com. "I'm prepared for it and that's why we have teammates."
Benn likes to drop the gloves every once in a while, but he smirked when asked about it during camp.
"I don't know if the coaches would like that too much this year," he said. "But I'll try to sneak a few in there once in a while if it's the right guy."
This kid is for real, folks. Don't miss a chance to watch him play this season.
4. Revamped blue line
A year ago, Nieuwendyk told us his big focus would be trying to upgrade the blue line. Fast forward to the present, and he's certainly made some progress, even if it's still not exactly where he wants it to be.
First, the GM added Alex Goligoski in a big trade that sent James Neal to the Pittsburgh Penguins. Goligoski was the kind of puck-moving quarterback the Stars had been craving for a few years. Goligoski put up 15 points in 22 games after the trade, and while the Stars were largely criticized for the deal, it says here they won't regret it one bit. Then, there were the additions of Pardy and Souray in the offseason. Nieuwendyk feels better about things one year later.
"That's probably the biggest areas where we've made changes on our hockey club," said Nieuwendyk. "I think Goligoski was a big addition for us. We needed that type of player ever since [Sergei] Zubov left. And a guy that's really under the radar for us is Adam Pardy. He's a big, mobile guy with a good stick. He's a slick-skating, mobile guy. And of course, we added Souray, who comes motivated."
5. Just what does Souray bring?
Souray returns from a year of exile in the AHL after the Edmonton Oilers were unable to move him and his contract ($5.4 million cap hit) for an entire season. They later gave up and bought out his deal at the end of last season. The Stars got him cheap at one year, $1 million and hope to get the benefit of a player hungry to re-establish himself.
"We didn't have a big shot. I think Souray gives us that," said Morrow. "That gives time for players like [Mike] Ribeiro and Benn and [Loui] Eriksson to make their moves [on the power play]. It's an element we haven't had, a big, strong, intimidating defenseman back there, and a motivated one at that."
We like the addition of Souray. He doesn't have to be the No. 1 man like he was in Edmonton with that big contract or in Montreal when he was at his All-Star best. He just has to be a No. 4 or 5 blueliner, stay within himself on the ice and provide leadership off it. It will prove to be a good fit.
6. The captain
Somewhat lost in the big season put up by Richards in 2010-11, the All-Star nod for Eriksson and the emergence of Benn was the solid season Morrow put together. The Stars captain posted a career-high 33 goals while staying healthy for 82 games.
"I'm coming off a career year in goals, the body feels good," said Morrow. "I had major knee surgery three years ago and it may have been a battle between the ears for a year. But mentally, I think I've overcome that. I feel pretty good physically. It's still exciting going to the rink."
7. Ribeiro and Ryder ride again
Ribeiro lost Richards this summer, but he was reunited with an old linemate in Ryder from their Montreal Canadiens days. Gulutzan had Ryder and Ribeiro paired together in preseason and that's a wise move (Ribeiro the playmaker and Ryder always the sniper). Ryder is coming off back-to-back 18-goal seasons in Boston, but he's a two-time 30-goal scorer and his reunion with Ribeiro may very well be a fruitful one.
8. Can Lehtonen take the next step?
The Stars gambled on Kari Lehtonen, and for the most part, he was OK in his first full season with the team. No more, no less. He played in a career-high 69 games, meaning he was able to avoid a big injury. His 2.55 goals-against average was 19th among starting goalies and his .914 save percentage was 24th.
When you're in a division that features Antti Niemi, Jonas Hiller and Jonathan Quick (if not Jonathan Bernier), the Stars need Lehtonen to creep closer to a top-15 performance if they're going to contend for a playoff spot.
9. Improving the penalty kill
The Stars ranked only 23rd on the penalty kill last season. Enter Fiddler and Dvorak, two astute penalty killers who should help tighten up the unit. Fiddler is also an excellent faceoff man, which is key on penalty-killing draws in the defensive zone.
10. Getting rubber on net
Only Minnesota (26.2) and Edmonton (26.7) averaged fewer shots on goal than the Stars last season (27.7). Shots on goal aren't everything; the quality of shots is more important than the total. Still, when quality clubs like San Jose, Detroit and Boston ranked 1-2-3 in shots last season, it suggests the statistic still has merit.
Pierre LeBrun covers the NHL for ESPN.com.
Experience: Entering first NHL season
Stanley Cup titles: N/A
• Glen Gulutzan gets the reins for his first NHL gig at the age of 40 after cutting his teeth with the Stars' AHL affiliate.
"Glen is a real sharp guy, a bright guy, and the guys are really engaged with him," said Nieuwendyk. "We've kept an eye on him for a couple of years now. He, in my opinion, needed to get some seasoning, but he's ready. He was born to do this job. I really feel strongly about that. He's a sharp, young guy, and the guys are all engaged with what he's doing system-wise. He just has a way about him that communicates well with today's player." -- Pierre LeBrun
Best bet: Alex Goligoski
The Dallas Stars' (relatively) new top offensive defenseman is readying himself to pick up where he left off with his new squad in 2010-11, notching 15 points in 23 games. The only thing that could hold the 26-year-old back from an elite showing is injury. Goligoski is a worthy No. 1 defenseman on just about any fantasy roster. -- Victoria Matiash
Risky pick: Jamie Benn
Benn will be hard pressed to come close to a point-per-game pace with Brad Richards leaving town, but he is no sure thing to be on the top line again. The Stars will need a playmaker on the top unit and may promote Mike Ribeiro for that role. Still, Benn has the talent to play off a good set-up man and Ribeiro is exactly that. Benn could exceed last season's totals, but it won't be by a wide margin. -- Sean Allen
Sleeper pick: Sheldon Souray
R Souray knows this is his last legitimate opportunity to make something more of his once-rewarding NHL career, and the disgruntled ex-Oiler would like nothing better than to stick it to those running the show in Edmonton. Enjoying success with the Stars would be the sweetest revenge. Altogether, Souray's potential fantasy upside is worth the wager. -- Victoria Matiash
Who's On The Move
The offseason signings/acquisitions and departures for the Stars:
• June 17: Named Glen Gulutzan head coach.
• June 28: Named Paul Jerrard assistant coach.
• June 28: Re-signed D Brad Lukowich.
• July 1: Signed RW Michael Ryder, RW Radek Dvorak, C Vernon Fiddler, D Adam Pardy, D Sheldon Souray and C Jake Dowell.
• July 12: Signed RW Eric Godard.
• C Brad Richards (unrestricted free agent, signed by NY Rangers)
• RW Jamie Langenbrunner (unrestricted free agent, signed by St. Louis)
• C Aaron Gagnon (unrestricted free agent, signed by Winnipeg)
• C Jason Williams (unrestricted free agent, signed by Pittsburgh)
• D Karlis Skrastins (unrestricted free agent, signed by KHL club Yaroslavl)
• D Jeff Woywitka (unrestricted free agent, signed by Montreal)