It's going to be another year of blockbusters and huge flops in the NHL. Which teams blew out their budgets for big name stars and gigantic special effects to score Michael Bay-levels of box office gold? Which teams are bloated action retreads and terrible sequels? Find out in Puck Daddy's 2011-12 NHL Season Previews, running throughout the month.
The Dallas Stars finished the 2010-11 season with 95 points. Unfortunately, it took 97 to make the playoffs and, on the final day of the regular season, the Stars lost to the Minnesota Wild, ceding the number eight spot to the Chicago Blackhawks in the process.
It was a heartbreaking end to a promising year.
After finishing 12th in the Western Conference in 2009-10, the Stars entered last season with mediocre expectations. But, they came flying out of the gate, taking over top spot in the Pacific Division on November 29, and holding it until February 13. On December 21, they briefly sat atop the Western Conference.
After the all-star break, however, things fell apart. Their record up to January 26 was 30-15-5. But afterwards, they stumbled, winning only once in their next 10 games -- a shootout victory, no less -- and posting a 12-14-6 record the rest of the way.
Worse, after refusing to move superstar center Brad Richards at the deadline in a bid to make the playoffs, Richards walked for nothing on July 1, signing for a 9-year, $60 million deal with the New York Rangers and leaving the Stars without a franchise center.
Unshaken, GM Joe Nieuwendyk beefed up the Stars' overall depth with a number of offseason moves, fired his coach, and will hitch his playoff hopes to this team's young players taking the next step.
Can the Dallas Stars find their way back to the playoffs without a franchise center?
Well, Brad Richards went out for cigarettes, but he said he'd be right back ...
Gone, too, is Jamie Langenbrunner, whom the Stars acquired from the Devils on January 7 in exchange for a conditional third round pick. But, after scoring only five goals in 39 games with Dallas -- not to mention the fact that, if re-signed, the pick would become a second-rounder -- he was happily ushered out.
Regrettably, we also have to mention Karlis Skrastins, the veteran defenseman who is gone in more ways than one. The blueliner played 154 games for the Stars over the past two years but, after 11 seasons in the NHL, signed with Lokomotiv of the KHL to close out his career. He perished in Wednesday's tragic plane crash, a loss that is no doubt mourned by every member of the Stars organization.
*moment of silence*
Also, Aaron Gagnon signed in Winnipeg. Whatever.
The list of arrivals is large. Michael Ryder joins the Stars' forwards corps, fresh off a postseason where he put up 17 points in 25 playoff games to help lead the Boston Bruins to the Stanley Cup. Ryder has scored only 18 goals in each of the past two seasons, but Nieuwendyk is likely banking on renewed acquaintances and chemistry with Mike Ribeiro, with whom Ryder played on a line for the 2006-07 Montreal Canadiens. That was Ryder's last 30-goal season, and a return to those numbers would be most welcome.
The Stars also gambled on Sheldon Souray, the league's unofficial hardest-shot record holder. Souray's got a lot of accolades and accomplishments to his name but, after being bought out by the Oilers, thus putting an end to one of the most excruciating professional relationships in professional sports, many are skeptical of what he can provide.
Also on the way in are Adam Pardy, Radek Dvorak, Jake Dowell and Vernon Fidder, providing depth throughout the lineup. Though they remain short on high-end talent, the Stars are a much deeper team than last year.
The Stars will continue to be led by Brenden Morrow, but likely not offensively. The Stars captain hasn't put up a 70-point season since 2007-08, and with an offense-minded coach departing in Marc Crawford, one shouldn't expect his totals to jump up from the 56 points he posted last year.
At forward, the real scorer to watch will be Loui Eriksson (73 points), one of the league's best emerging left wingers. He finally got some recognition last season, being named to his first All-Star Game. He had a game-high four points.
While Ribeiro (73 points) is now the Stars' highest-scoring center, Jamie Benn may draw the assignment as Eriksson's pivot. The 22-year-old B.C. native saw some time in Richards' place last February when the Stars center went down with a concussion. Benn flourished in the opportunity, riding a career-high 10-game point streak and closing the season with 23 points in the final 23 games.
If Benn can show he belongs up there, the skilled and powerful trio of Eriksson, Benn and Morrow will be a handful in the Western Conference. If not, then this team has serious depth issues up the middle. Dallas fans are fooling themselves if they think Steve Ott is a second-line center.
At defense, the Stars aren't as promising. Stephane Robidas looks to again be the big-minute guy on the blueline, but his age (34) and last season's regression (30 points after 41 in 2009-10) would indicate he's on the way down.
Robidas aside, the bulk of the defensive minutes will go to Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski. Goligoski is vital to the Stars' success this season. Last year, he was third in ice time and second only to Richards in power play TOI per game (4:00). With Richards gone, Goligoski will be counted on to run that unit. (Granted, he'll have Souray to help, but Souray's not exactly automatic these days.) If Goligoski's not ready to shoulder the added responsibility, the Stars' power play will be bad.
Kari Lehtonen is the man in goal, but he'll need a better season to remain the man going forward. His .914 save percentage was 24th in the NHL last year, and his 2.55 GAA was 19th. For the Stars to be one of the league's top 16 teams, Lehtonen needs to be one of the league's top 16 netminders. He may not be.
"Predator 2." While the architects of the franchise tried to add some depth and fleshed out the cast, it's just not the same without its star. Danny Glover's no Arnold Schwarzenegger, and Ribeiro's no Richards. Also in this extended metaphor: the cackling, bug-eyed role of Gary Busey will be played by Ott.
Joe Nieuwendyk enters his third season as GM of the Dallas Stars, and if the team doesn't make the playoffs this time around, the honeymoon period with the former NHLer will be over. After electing not to trade Richards and go into rebuilding mode, Nieuwendyk added some veteran and depth pieces in the offseason. If the moves don't pay off, he'll be on the hot seat.
Players aside, Nieuwendyk's most significant offseason move might have been the firing of Crawford after two years behind the Dallas bench. In his place is Glen Gulutzan, formerly the coach of Dallas' AHL affiliate, the innovatively named Texas Stars.
Much of this season hinges on the full breakout of Jamie Benn. His point-per-game pace to close out last year was a pleasant surprise, but he can't be a pleasant surprise anymore. Now he has to be the guy.
If Benn can't step up and fill the Stars' vacancy at No. 1 center, then the Stars don't have one, and if the post-lockout NHL has taught us anything, it's that a team without a franchise center simply isn't a playoff team.
Expect a big year out of Benn.
"Lost your star? No problem. We had the same problem in Speed 2. All you have to do is try a little harder, and by that I mean bare your teeth and bulge your eyes a little more."
Part of me wonders if we established this category with Sheldon Souray in mind. Here's a guy with three All-Star Game appearances under his belt, the unofficial record for hardest shot after clocking a 106.7 MPH blast during the 2009 Oilers' skills competiton, and two 50-point NHL seasons to his name. Looks like a steal, huh?
He also managed only 19 points in 40 games with the AHL's Hershey Bears last season, and most scouts said he was too slow for that league, let alone the NHL. At 35, he's not getting any faster. Scouts also say he turns like a certain luxury oceanliner from the early 19o0s, and this is definitely a problem, considering he's surrounded by ice.
You vultures probably wanted something involving the Dallas ice girls, but I'm a married man whose libido has been slowly starved to death. Instead, here's a kick-ass two-minute video highlighting the first two minutes of a Stars-Bruins game from last February that boasted 3 fights in the first 4 seconds.
I'm not predicting much out of the Stars this season, but you never know with these young, hot shot coaches. Some crash and burn, but others mesh with young teams and get surprising results. Dallas has plenty of promising pieces, and while they're likely a couple years away, an unexpectedly strong debut out of Gulutzan could lead this team to contention in the West.
Probably not, though. The Stars are deep at the wing and mediocre at center, defense, and goaltending in a league where a lack of depth at the wing can be overcome, but problems down the middle, on defense and in goal cannot. Expect them to finish outside the playoff picture.
Harrison Mooney is also the co-editor of Pass it to Bulis.