The Ice Men Cometh!
It always sneaks up on us here in Dallas, what with the lack of winter and all, but it's hockey season again. Scott' busy working in photoshop trying to figure out how to superimpose Adrian Peterson's face on Papa Klump's body, so I figured I better get this season rolling.
We use to enjoy this time of year in Dallas. But a string of playoff collapses and a lockout have robbed us of that joy. Let's face it. Fans in the Dallas market want the world, not just a corner of it.
But let's be realistic. This team has a pretty significant stretch going that reaches back to two years before they won the Stanley Cup in 1999 before returning to the Finals in 2000. This stretch has only had one major blip on the radar. After all, when I was eight, I never dreamed of championship hockey in this town. Didn't dream of hockey at all. Barely knew what it was. So I think we're doing quite well with Dallas Stars.
But this has been a flawed team in recent years. And the Stars have tried to change things year sending guys like Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott, and Niko Kapanen packing, replacing them with the likes of Matthew Barnaby and Eric Lindros while opening the door for a few younger players.
But for this fairly successful team to once again take the next step a few things are in order:
This team, for whatever reason lacked the toughness to close out games. They demonstrated, in a negative way, what the the NHL's new rules are all about. Each night you could feel the collapse coming. And in the playoffs, there was no shootout to bail this team out. This could be what changing captains from Mike Modano to Brendan Morrow was all about.
The penalty killing ranked a respectable 11th in the league. The power play was abysmal, though, ranking 20th. That's too many squandered opportunities where teams could have been rendered incapable of making the inevitable comeback. Considering it's unlikely to win 12 of 13 shootouts in consecutive seasons, this is where the points must be recouped.
I know. Everyone wants to blame Marty Turco for recent palyoff failures. But he's a solid goalie who consistently gets the Stars to the playoffs. And this year, he is all we've got. Rookie Mike Smith takes the net behind Turco meaning there is no longer a veteran security blanket.
A lot of effort has been made to put veteran depth in place at this position and provide some help for Modano. Eric Lindros was signed on a low-risk deal and joins free agent Jeff Halpern and 2006 acquisition Stu Barnes. Although, with the steal of Mike Ribeiro for defenseman Janne Ninnima, Lindros may be tried at right wing. (Others to watch: Steve Ott and Patrick Stefan)
Behind perennial All Star Jere Lehtinen, captain Morrow, and veteran agitator Matthew Barnaby, this is a young group. The youngsters are headlined by sophomore Jussi Jokinen who showed he has a scoring touch in 2005-2006 and gets to ride shotgun to Modano this year and try to prove it was no fluke. (Others to watch: Niklas Hagman, Loui Erikson, and Antti Miettinen)
This group was often decried by fans and coaches for letting opponents set up camp on Turco's crease. They must improve and have the talent to do so. The begins with veteran and power play trigger man Sergei Zubov who will be rejoined by old linemate Daryl Sydor. These two, along with more experienced youngsters Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas should be ready to step up for Turco this season. (Others to watch: Jaroslav Modry and Philippe Boucher)
So what are the prospectsfor the Stars this season? It's hard to say. The regular season means a lot less in the NHL and with this team we won't really know until April. Until then, we'll be sure to act like we know what we're talking about.
(It's been a fun week so far. Check back tomoorw when we take a look at the start of Dallas Mavericks training camp.)