September 10, 2009
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy: Twelfth in the Western Conference, third in the Pacific Division (36-35-11, 83 points). Last year's team will be remembered, if for nothing else, as solid evidence in support of the notion that "nobody knows nuthin.'"
Take one gander at ESPN's NHL predictions for the 2008-09 season; you wouldn't see that many Dallas Stars if someone smacked you over the head with a sledgehammer outside of Texas Stadium ...
But the Stars didn't win the Pacific, didn't win the Western Conference and sure as hell didn't the Stanley Cup. They went from injured to ineffective to, at their nadir, just plain sloppy, for seconds. It was a dizzying fall for a team many expected to contend for the Cup after a postseason surge in the previous year; one that culminated with a total house-cleaning in management after the season and the departure of an iconic player from the team's glory years.
Can a new GM, a new coach and comeback performances from key players reverse the fortunes for Dallas?
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): Not many. Karlis Skrastins(notes) (Florida) and Jeff Woywitka(notes) (St. Louis) were added to the blue line. Alex Auld(notes), formerly of the Ottawa Senators, becomes the veteran backup goalie the team sorely missed during Marty Turco's(notes) struggles last season. Warren Peters(notes) dragged his knuckles from Calgary.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): It's the end of an era in Dallas, as defenseman Sergei Zubov(notes) ended his 12-year run with the Stars to sign with SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. He's 39 and was limited to 10 games last season due to a hip injury. (Zubov, upon signing with the KHL, told a press conference that "I have come to the peak of my physical form." Ladies ...)
The team saw wingers Steve Begin(notes) (Boston) and Chris Connor (Pittsburgh) depart; centers Joel Lundqvist(notes) (Sweden) and Brendan Morrison(notes) (Washington) leave; and defenseman Darryl Sydor(notes) end up on a tryout with the St. Louis Blues.
The most significant departures on the team were three guys who wore suits ... OK, two guys who wore suits, and Brett Hull. More on them later.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): An interesting call, for sure. Mike Ribeiro(notes) is the team's points leader for the last two seasons, tallying 78 in 2008-09 for an average of 2.58 points per 60 minutes. Loui Eriksson(notes) broke through with 36 goals last season, playing both with Ribeiro and with Brad Richards(notes), who had 48 points in 56 games during an injury-shortened season. He's also due to make $7.8 million in each of the next two seasons, which is why he's still playing for the Dallas Stars.
If this goes to the top goal-scorer ... well, a healthy Brenden Morrow(notes) tallied 32 two seasons ago. But based on the numbers, Ribeiro begrudgingly gets the nod here, as we're not exactly fans of his fancy-pants shootout attempts or his other antics. But he has 161 points over the last two seasons, and you can't argue with that.
Introducing ... (Potential Breakout Player): Winger James Neal(notes) scored 24 goals in 77 games last season, but perhaps his most valuable contribution was giving Mike Modano(notes) some line chemistry and the Stars some solid depth scoring. Neal's rookie season gave fans a reason to believe he'll be something special, and beat writer Mike Heika recently spelled it out: "The more you look at the kid, the more you start to wonder if he doesn't have a lot more Brendan Shanahan(notes) than Brenden Morrow." Wow.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): When adversity strikes, the goalie's the guy a team counts on to bail it out. So when injuries were piling up as fast as losses, the Stars needed Marty Turco ... and he responded with a putrid stretch of hockey early in the season that harpooned the team's chances for hanging tight with the playoff pack.
It wasn't just a fall from grace. Turco posted the worst GAA (2.81) and save percentage (.898) of his career, in a career-high 74 games. Defending Bid D has everything you ever wanted to know about Turco's demise. The question now is whether he can enter camp in shape, recapture his mechanics and regain his form in the last season before unrestricted free agency.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Zubov's departure allows the defense to get on with life instead of waiting for him to get back on the ice, as they had the last two seasons. It's certainly a group in transition, with Stephane Robidas(notes) (24:32 TOI average) returning as the top blue-liner after a decent offensive season (26 points in 72 games). He saw time with both Trevor Daley(notes) (25 points) and Nicklas Grossman(notes) last year. Skrastins is a solid pro and a dependable player; Latvians are very proud of him.
Matt Niskanen's(notes) dance partner last year was Sydor, so he'll need a new one after posting 35 points in a strong sophomore campaign. One name to watch: Ivan Vishnevskiy(notes), whom some see as the heir apparent to Zubov. In the sense that he's really good on the power play ... not, you know, in the "brittle hip/plays in KHL" way.
The Inventor (The Coach): The Stars made two significant managerial changes in the offseason. First, they decided to slay the two-headed monster in the GM's office -- Les Jackson and Ambassador of Fun Brett Hull -- in favor of first-time GM and beloved former player Joe Nieuwendyk(notes), he of the 1999 Conn Smythe Trophy and managerial experience with Florida and Toronto.
Nieuwendyk then put the stamp on his team by firing Dave Tippett, who had been at the helm since 2002 and had two years on his contract. In his place: Marc Crawford, the well-coiffed gentleman last seen unable to do jack and squat in Los Angeles.
Crawford's high-octane offensive philosophy would seem to be in direct contrast with Dallas's traditional defensive dogma, but perhaps that's the point; there is some legit offensive talent on this roster that, in the right system, could produce significant results. But will the defense suffer for it?
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Goaltending: B (Assuming there's a rebound.)
Special Teams: C- (Power play needs a big improvement after placed 27th last season.)
"What to expect from the Stars? Got me. New GM, new coach and a new up-tempo style. Will Marty Turco bounce back? Is the defense good enough? Will Tom Hicks resolve his financial issues? I don't know what to expect yet, but it will be fun watching to see what happens."
"There's a new sheriff in town, and it's hard to know what to expect with such a sudden change in management. We do know what to expect from returning captain Brenden Morrow: hard work and accountability. He anchors a core that is hungrier than ever, so don't write off this team just yet."
"Watch in amazement as Marc Crawford successfully installs his up-tempo system, bringing back firewagon hockey and rivaling the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980's. Mike Gretzbeiro leads the charge, as the Dallas Stars return the Stanley Cup to the bottom of Vinnie Paul's swimming pool this summer. Seriously though? I expect a healthy Stars team to squeak back into post-season action, where they belong. From there, they'll go as far Brenden Morrow can will them."
"With Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards returning from injury and a group of skilled forwards playing in Marc Crawford's offensive system, there's an air of excitement about the Stars mixed with a keen sense of uncertainty. It's unknown how the players will respond to the new system and coach after such a disappointing finish last season. A skilled group of forwards combined with an unproven and young defensive corps will make for what will most likely be an up and down season, but it's Marty Turco's play that will ultimately decide the direction this season will take."
"I'm expecting the Stars to have a resurgent year this season. Look for Turco to bounce back from his poor performance last year and young Stars Loui Eriksson and James Neal to become serious offensive threats. And, defenseman Ivan Vishnevskiy to play really well when he's eventually called up."
Don Draper Says ...
"Mike Modano, Brenden Morrow. Men have feelings about these men because women do. Because women want both, and we want to be both."
Results May Vary (Biggest Issues Facing the Team): Obviously, without question, first, foremost and make-or-break: Can Marty Turco regain form?
After that, it's difficult to predict what might ail this team without seeing how Crawford handles the talent. There are enough pieces here to contend; but is he the right man to put them together?
Warranty Expires (Prediction): With fewer injuries, a better Marty Turco and 100-percent less Sean Avery(notes), the Stars will come out of the gate better and remain close to the pack. It may very well come down to the Stars or the division rival Anaheim Ducks for a playoff spot (unless the Los Angeles Kings have reached the point of postseason maturity). The depth of forward is good, the defense had the potential to be solid. If Turco answers the bell, they'll be close.