September's finally here. And given how slowly teams are coming together, we decided to put off the previews until September this time. We go in alphabetical order because hey, why not? We'll be doing this until September ends. With that said here we go.
And now, the Dallas Stars.
Team M.O.: Plain and simple these guys are in the midst of a rebuild (or seriously need to hit that button soon.) Dave Tippett brought a defense-first mantra to the team which made it to the Western Conference Finals in 2008. After the 2009-09 season, Tippett was fired after the Stars failed to make the playoffs. The team installed Marc Crawford as coach and went from being a defense-first team to a group that relied on a "west coast offense" style of game.
Last Season: Twelfth in the Western Conference and out of the playoffs. They had the same rank the season prior yet went from third in the Pacific Division to last. There were a few moves made in the off-season but were they the right ones to make the team competitive?
Offense: Loui Eriksson continues to thrive in an offensive role while newcomers Jamie Benn and James Neal (still an RFA) provided enough secondary scoring in their rookie seasons to warrant playing time on the top-two lines. Brad Richards amassed 90 points last season and while a stellar on offense, he needs to commit more to defense if the team's going to push themselves past the other teams in the division, let alone the conference. Mike Riberio wasn't as productive as in season's past, but he's still a legitimate playmaker and solid pivot for Dallas' young wingers. Brenden Morrow will return in his role as the team captain and top-six power forward; providing the team with solid two-way play and toughness when he's healthy. Fabian Brunnstrom rounds out the scoring forward and though his production is inconsistent, you have to expect that from a guy who a signed based entirely on YouTube videos. Jonathan Cheechoo will get the opportunity to make the team on a professional tryout contract.
Looking at the bottom-half of the depth chart, Steve Ott brings a versatile game to go with his nastiness but needs to avoid the dirty stuff if he doesn't want someone to end his career early for him. Toby Petersen managed to serve the Stars in a checking capacity last season and will likely shore up on either the third or fourth units. Tom Wandell had a breakout season last year and will provide the team with a solid two-way forward who's capable of playing on their third unit. Though Adam Burish comes over from the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks, he was limited to 16 games last season and wound up being a healthy scratch during the Finals, so there's no telling how effective he'll be for the Stars. Brandon Segal was claimed off waivers from the L.A. Kings and provided more for the Stars during his audition for them than he did for the Kings; that performance will look secure him a depth role coming into camp. Krys Barch will enforce for the team while Brian Sutherby will likely round out the defensive forwards for the team.
All and all, not bad. However, there will be a lot of pressure on the young guys to meet or exceed what they provided the team through last season.
Defense: Stephane Robidas managed to give the Stars some decent point production through last season yet somewhat suffered with the defensive aspects of the game. Trevor Daley will be useful in producing 20-30 points from the blue line for the Stars. Karlis Skrastins and Niklas Grossman will give the team two solid defensive-minded defenders; though their play without the puck is better than their play with it. Mark Fistric may not have the tools to be an offensive star in the league, but the +27 he earned on a non-playoff team goes to show that this guy's a defensive stud in the NHL. Matt Niskanen regressed in his point production last season; which is not good for a guy who's relied on to provide their blueline with offense. Philip Larsen, Jeff Woywitka, and Brad Lukowich will battle for the remaining spot at camp.
While the defense isn't overwhelming, you have to wonder if the team will make a move. They seem to have some young guys in decent roles who could gain the experience, but that "breakout" defender seems absent among the group. The free agent pool has a lot of depth defenders left if they wanted to give someone like Fistric more playing time. They could also make a trade or watch the waiver wire because they definitely have the salary cap space to make a move.
Goaltending: Kari Lehtonen has long been considered to have the talent to be extraordinary in the league, but is constantly dogged by health issues to the point where no one knows if he's really that much better of an upgrade over the departed Marty Turco. Andrew Raycroft put up some decent numbers last season as Roberto Luongo's backup for the Vancouver Canucks, but given his record on "rebuilding" teams I have no optimism he'll do anything special for the team. Brent Krahn and Richard Bachman will be serving on the farm, rounding out the goaltending depth for the team.
Management: GM Joe Nieuwendyk hasn't exactly made the moves to make the Stars competitive while Crawford hasn't led any of his teams to the playoffs since 2004. No, Brett Hull's move to get Sean Avery on the team wasn't a great one, but these guys aren't necessarily getting the team back to where they were at the end of the 2007-08 season.
Prediction: Fifth in the Pacific Division and out of the playoffs.
While the group of forwards is above-average, the defense is average and both the goaltending and management leave something to be desired. In another division these guys would have a shot. Yet considering the fact that they'll be spending a quarter of their season facing up against the LA Kings, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, and Anaheim Ducks, I got a feeling that the "rebuild" button will be pushed, the team will tank, and the team will look to have an early draft pick next season who can step in ASAP and help them out.