Dallas Stars Season Preview: Exchanging Pieces to the Puzzle

It has been a tough couple of years for the Dallas Stars. The Stars have not made the playoffs for four consecutive years, three of which have been under once player, now General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk. All that is hopefully changing though with off-season disposals and acquisitions; but will it be enough?

Last season the Stars ended on a rather poor note. Ending only six points out of 8th seed., they went 3-7-0 in their last 10, losing the last five of the season. Simply put, the Stars had a chance to make the playoffs, but they missed pieces to make it happen.

This year fans will see plenty of new faces, of course, at the expense of old ones leaving. Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, Jake Dowell, Sheldon Souray and Adam Pardy have departed. Combined, mostly from Ribeiro who was tied for second -most points leader, the five contributed 37 goals and 96 assists for 133 points.

“We’ve been able to remake our team a bit and we like it,” Stars owner Tom Gagliardi said. “It fits very well with our long-term direction. We had to give up a couple of assets to get there, but we like who we’ve brought in and the deals we made. We feel fortunate we got done what we wanted to get done in pretty short order. We’re a better hockey team today.”

The incoming class however, looks to be much better. Derek Roy comes from the Buffalo Sabres, adding the much needed depth at center. Veteran Jaromir Jagr joins the team from the Philadelphia Flyers. Set-up man Ray Whitney stays within the Pacific Division, jumping from the Phoenix Coyotes. Lastly, defenseman Aaron Rome will add the depth needed for the back end. The new recruits recorded 64 goals and 121 assist for 185 points; an increase of 27 goals, 25 assists for an overall increase of 52 points.

Jagr will, perhaps, be the most looked upon to help out the struggling Stars. Last year, he played a pivotal role of set-up man for his younger line-mates; he is expected to do the same for young Jamie Benn.

“You look at Jagr and the kind of success he has had working with younger players, which is what we are,” Gagliardi said. “You look at the season that Claude Giroux had and I think Jagr deserves some credit for Giroux’s year and the way he improved as a player. I am excited about the kind of effect Jagr can have on our young players, the Jamie Benns, the Loui Erikssons, the Matt Frasers and all the way down the line. He’s a lead-by-example guy, extremely hard-working. What he can do on the ice and in the locker room is something we’ll be able to measure for a number of years.”

Nieuwendyk couldn’t agree more.

“I play with the names on my board all the time, but I am staring right now at Jamie Benn at center with Jaromir on right and Loui Eriksson on left,” Nieuwendyk said. “It looks pretty good to me in July here.”

The veteran-youngster powerful first line combination paves the way for a similar second line pairing. Roy will center for Whitney and Michael Ryder. All things considered, on paper that is, the Stars have two productive top lines.

The real worry, as is the case with most teams, comes from the back-end. And at the core of those worries, is netminder Kari Lehtonen.

Lehtonen recently signed a five-year, $29.5-million contract extension that begins in 2013-14. To many critics, the 28 year-old is highly overpaid.

“We’re not in love with the money on this deal, but it is what it is.” Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo! Sports Puck Daddy writes. “The deal eats up all UFA years, hence the high cap hit. And if the standard for an effective but oft-injured goalie is $6 million AAV (a.k.a. Niklas Backstrom) then you better understand the Lehtonen deal.”

Lehtonen missed playing time last season for a groin injury, and in previous seasons, because of upper body and back issues. Still, despite his at times dependability issues, Lehtonen has shown improvements in his game. He has lowered his goals against average from 2.55 GAA to 2.33 GAA from the year previous. That stat ranks him 10th best overall goals against average among goalies. Further, Lehtonen beat out other well-known goalies such as Martin Brodeur, Roberto Louongo and Ryan Miller in wins. His wins last season were at 32. In his first season as starter for the Stars in the previous year, he had 34.

“We’ve been talking to Kari and his agent for quite some time now and we felt this was important, to lock up Kari, for our franchise,” Nieuwendyk said. “He was terrific through the process. We feel really good we have Kari locked up for the next five years.”

When I first started to think of what to write about the Dallas Stars for their preview, I did not have much to go on. My initial thoughts, now chalking up to ignorance, were that they sucked. Truth be, after looking at all the pieces they have added in the off-season, in addition to the current roster and emerging star Jamie Benn, the Stars have a strong team. You never know what is going to happen in the Pacific Division, the San Jose Sharks and the Anaheim Ducks have been AWOL for a while, but I’d bet the Stars make the playoffs this year.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *