This year, for the first time in a long time, Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov will not be synonymous with the Stars. While the two aging veterans do strike a soft spot in the fans’ hearts, Brenden Morrow showed the world last year that this was his team. It wasn’t too long ago that the traditional ‘C’ was taken off Modano’s sweater and given to a very surprised Morrow, of course amidst a cloud of controversy. That is, of course, all in the past now. What’s most important to the Stars right now is the present, spearheaded by the league’s only GM partnership in Brett Hull and Les Jackson. The two men could not be more opposite, but they have managed to co-exist and more importantly, put one of the most competitive teams on the ice. The Stars opted to tinker with their roster this year and once again head into the season as a darkhorse Cup contender.
The Stars don’t have an offensive game-breaker but they do have a balanced attack, led by the all-rounded Morrow. Despite losing 27-goal scorer Niklas Hagman (Toronto) and 15-goal scorer Antti Miettinen (Minnesota) to free agency, the Stars landed one of the most valuable players in Sean Avery and netted Europe’s hottest prospect in Fabian Brunnstrom. Say what you want about Avery and his antics, but the fact of the matter is, the Rangers lacked oomph without him in the lineup and he plays the game with an edge and a respectable amount of skill. The Stars were bumped from the playoffs by a more physical Detroit team and Avery will certainly help in that department. The biggest surprise for the Stars was Mike Ribeiro, who became the team’s number one centre after posting an impressive 83-point campaign. Along with Brad Richards and Modano, the Stars have arguably the most dependable two-way centres in the league. Sergei Zubov is also healthy to start the season after and injury-plagued, 46-game campaign, and when healthy he is certainly on the shortlist for Norris candidates. That’s the good. Here’s the bad. It remains to be seen if Brunnstrom’s a media hype of if he really is the real deal. He exploded onto the hockey radar in Christmas and took his time weighing his options, and both sides hope they have made the right decision. Ribeiro’s 27 goals raised a lot of eyebrows because of his other-worldly shooting percentage of 25.2%. The league’s best snipers average only around 15-18%, and for a guy that doesn’t shoot much (his 107 shots were ranked 9th on the team) that’s a just mind-boggling, and it certainly makes a strong case for a regression in goal totals this year. Then there’s Richards. The Stars had been lacking in scoring oomph for quite some time, and at the time it was believed that Richards would be that guy, after failed experiments with Ladislav Nagy and Eric Lindros. Richards put up the stats (11 points in 12 games), but in that span the Stars only managed to win 3 regular season games. Of course, the Stars did advance to the Conference Finals, but you can’t reach the playoffs if you can’t win during the season. However, even without Richards the Stars ranked 13th on the PP and 2nd offensively in the West, and with a healthy Zubov that should give them reason enough to improve.
Dallas has always traditionally been a defensively-responsible team, and that’s in part due to their forwards’ ability to backcheck. Jere Lehtinen is a perennial Selke contender, and although he has lost a step over the years Modano has also developed into a strong two-way player, and the gritty Steve Ott is no slouch either, ranking among the league’s best with a 58.8% face-off winning percentage. Richards will also no doubt help in that department, and don’t expect him to post another -25 season again. In the back end, the Stars don’t have the same headline-grabbing defensemen as the division rival Ducks, but Stephane Robidas had a break-out season and averaged almost 26 minutes of ice-time per game. Philippe Boucher is also another stabilizing presence and that’s perfect for youngsters Trevor Daley (age 25), Matt Niskanen (21), Niklas Grossman (23), and Marc Fistric (22). The coaching staff, led by Dave Tippett, have done an amazing job with their kids and unlike many other teams, the Stars have taught their young defensemen how to properly play defense at the NHL level from day one.
When the Stars reached the playoffs last year and were bounced in the first round yet again, for the first time the blame wasn’t directed towards Marty Turco. The regular season brick wall turned into a sieve come playoff time, and it has been a long-awaited coming out party for the 33-year old netminder. He proved last year that he could perform as well, if not better, in the playoffs, and it paid off with a trip to the Conference Finals after a lengthy absence. Tobias Stephan is penciled in to be the backup and won’t see much playing time, perhaps 15 games or so, but he is capable and Tippett shouldn’t lose any sleep over the thought of starting him the next day. This is one of the biggest strengths for a close-knit Stars squad and a big reason for their 2nd ranked PK and 6th ranked defense.
The Stars have spent as close to the cap as they’d like to and won’t figure into any major season transactions, in part because as many as seven players have no-trade clauses. It should not be a major concern, because the Stars, despite traditionally being slow starters, will be competitive all season long. The Stars could challenge for the division title, but their offense raises question marks and it’s a wonder how they’re going to score their goals should Ribeiro fail to keep up his 25% shooting mark. No one on the Stars’ current roster is a noted goal-scorer, and while that does have its advantages, the Stars may have to rely on defense and goaltending yet again to win games.
Richards will be counted on to return to his Conn Smythe form and perhaps all he needed was a change of scenery. It remains to be seen what kind of antics Avery would get into, but with a very grounded Stars squad and Morrow as its leader it shouldn’t be that big of a problem. Avery will definitely be in the mix when the Stars resume their rivalries against the Ducks, Sharks, and Wings.
Brenden Morrow – Mike Ribeiro – Jere Lehtinen
Sean Avery – Brad Richards – Loui Eriksson
Joel Lundqvist – Mike Modano – BJ Crombeen
Fabian Brunnstrom – Steve Ott – Krys Barch
Stephane Robidas – Sergei Zubov
Philippe Boucher – Trevor Daley
Niklas Grossman – Matt Niskanen
Marty Turco – Tobias Stephan
scratches: Toby Petersen, Marc Fistric, Chris Conner
GM: Les Jackson/Brett Hull
Coach: Dave Tippett
Predicted finish: 3rd Pacific, 5th West