NHL previews are often superfluous collections of popular opinions that, in the end, usually have no relation to how life actually works out. Which makes using stereotypical high-school yearbook superlatives and awards the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2008-09 NHL season previews, presented throughout September.
Last Semester (see also Stars eulogy): Finished fifth in the Western Conference (45-30-7, 97 points). Dallas dipped 10 points in the standings and found itself third in the Pacific Division behind San Jose and Anaheim for the second straight year. It was an historic year for their longest-tenured player, Mike Modano, who became the all-time leading American-born scorer, passing Phil Housley's 1,232 points.
In the playoffs, the Stars impressed many by dispatching both teams that were ahead of them in the Pacific Division, San Jose and Anaheim, quite handily (4-2). We all remember how insane the four overtime Stars-Sharks Game Six was, and how Evgeni Nabokov extended the series for just a bit longer thanks in part to this highlight reel save:
Dallas may have left everything they had on the ice in the American Airlines Center during Game Six of the Western Conference semifinals. Once they met Detroit in the conference final, they had no answer for the duo of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, and just could not find a way to put a puck past Chris Osgood on a regular basis.
Homecoming King (Top Player): Brendan Morrow is the unquestioned heart and soul of the Dallas Stars. After taking over captain's duties from Mike Modano before the 2006-07 season, Morrow turned up his game and point production before having his wrist stepped on during a game and severing two tendons. The injury sidelined him for almost three months, but he rebounded last season with career highs in goals (32), points (74), power-play goals (12), and game-winning goals (7).
As with tradition, the homecoming king always has the first dance; and on his arm is the daughter of former Stars and current Canadiens head coach, Guy Carbonneau.
Most Likely To Succeed (Potential Breakout): Is it possible to say that a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner will "break out" four seasons later? Now that he's out of Tampa Bay, it seems as if Brad Richards can relax and stop hearing about how his point production is not matching his $7.8 million salary on a consistent basis. Now that he's in a better situation, on a better team, Richards can stop gripping the stick so tightly and focus on feeding the puck to the Mike Ribeiro and Jere Lehtonen. Don't forget, in 2005-06, Richards put up 68 helpers and 91 points two seasons after winning the Stanley Cup and a year into the "new" NHL. He's done it before and I'm betting he'll do it again.
Worst Expulsion: (Subtraction by Subtraction): Losing what Mattias Norstrom and Stu Barnes brought to the locker room might heed the call for Mike Modano to step back into veteran leadership spotlight. After having his 'C' stripped a few years back, Modano might be needed to help Brendan Morrow instill some faith into the club should they stutter at any point. And someone's got to help Morrow keep an eye on Sean Avery.
Niklas Hagman was one of those guys who had a career year in 07-08. His 27 goals were tied for second on the team and he was valuable on the penalty-kill, which was second in the NHL.
Exchange Students (Key New Additions): Sean Avery brings his annoying tendencies back to the Western Conference, and you can be sure that Martin Brodeur was smiling when he heard the Stars signed the sports world's most famous intern and soon-to-be movie subject. Avery typically wears out his welcome after 2-3 years, so Stars fans know that by the time his four-year deal comes to an end, his act will be tired and it'll be time to move on.
The world's most sought-after 22-year old unrestricted free agent chose Dallas to be his new home for the next two years. Fabian Brunnstrom, he of nine goals last year in the Swedish Elite League, is bringing his size, speed, and quick hands to the NHL beginning next month. It will be interesting to see how this "late-bloomer" will adapt to the style of play in the NHL. More importantly, will he be stuck on the 3rd or 4th lines on Dave Tippett's depth chart?
Class Clowns (Pests and Pugilists): We know what Avery will bring to the team, but he'll have competition for class clown with Steve Ott. "Otter" is known for flying fists and his eagerness to learn about opponents:
"In a recent game against the Oilers, rookie Zack Stortini came into the face-off circle and Ott pulled Stortini's shoulder pad forward to get a better view of the name on the back of the jersey.
"I was just trying to find out who he was," Ott joked."
Let's also hope that when Avery and Ott meet (if they haven't already), they throw back some Corona's and have a good laugh at their scrap from a few years ago.
Teacher of the Year: What more can Dave Tippett do to get the most out of his players? The Stars had a handful of players who saw their production hit career bests last season. After making it to the Western Conference final in 2007-08, the pressure will be on to prove that last year's success wasn't a case of overachievement. With four consecutive playoff appearances, Dallas and Tippett can't afford a long stretch of poor play otherwise changes might be in store. Just ask Doug Armstrong.
The Custodians (Goalies): Marty Turco exercised some playoff demons last year, but time is running out for the 33 year old to get a shot at Stanley Cup glory. The former Michigan Wolverine, known to be a bit of a prankster, is a good presence in the locker room and is just the guy to help tutor whoever the Stars decide on their backup, because, well, it ain't deep. Matt Climie (zero NHL games) and Tobias Stephan (one NHL game) aren't exactly allowing Dave Tippett to sleep well at night if Turco should go down for an extended period of time. You have to think Les Jackson is going to bring in a more experienced backup goaltender (Jocelyn Thibault?), while Brett Hull is busy being the team's "Ambassador of Fun".
The Hall Monitors (Defensemen): A good mix of experience veterans and young, hungry grasshoppers, the Stars defense allowed 2.49 goals per game (6th in the NHL) and that was with Sergei Zubov, Phillipe Boucher, and Mattias Norstrom missing long stretches of games. Infused by young'ins like Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas, Dallas has zero holes on their blue line and if the defense corps can stay healthy all season, they could seriously make some noise in the Western Conference.
Most Likely To Earn a Wedgie in the Hallway (Potential Flop): Brunnstrom is the landslide winner here. The Hockey News' Ken Campbell compared his late blooming to that of Daniel Alfredsson, who was drafted as a 21-year old in 1994. The 23-year old Brunnstrom passed over offers from Canucks, Canadiens, Maple Leafs, and Red Wings because he felt he had a better chance to make an immediate impact in Dallas. Everything's bigger in Texas. Will that be the same for his point totals come April?
AV Club (Media): Mike Heika writes a tremendous blog on the Dallas Morning News website. Other blogs to be bookmarked: Andrew's Stars Page, Five for Fighting, and Untypical Girls. Aspiring actor Ralph Strangis handles the play-by-play duties, while blogger Daryl Reaugh gives you the color.
2008-09 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: B+
Prom Theme: "You Ain't Seen Nothing Yet" by Bachman Turner Overdrive. Last year's appearance in the Conference final was no fluke, the Stars are back and prepared to seriously contend for the next few seasons. Their defense is top-notch and while their offense isn't up to par with the likes of Montreal or Detroit, Dallas rolls a solid four lines that can score on any shift. Depth wins championships and that aspect of the Stars lineup will keep them in contention this season.
Expected Graduation: Co-general managers Les Jackson and Brett Hull are expecting their young core players to gradually begin taking larger leadership roles as aging vets (Barnes, Norstrom, Modano, Zubov, Boucher) begin to move on. With stiff competition always getting better in the Western Conference, it might seems like the Stars will be in a dogfight for a playoff spot at times this year, but in the end, they'll qualify with ease and if healthy, can put together a deep run, similar to what we saw last spring.