After missing the playoffs by a mere two points in 2011, last season’s Dallas Stars suffered a similar fate, finishing six points out, good for 10th in the Western Conference.
A hot star got Dallas rolling, as the Stars won 8 of 11 games in October and then played about .500 hockey the rest of the season, with a few five-game losing streaks sprinkled in with a couple of nice stretches of winning as well. This is pretty much the M.O. of a middling, fringe-type team that is right on the outside of the playoff picture.
The final stretch of the season was disastrous for the Stars, as they dropped five straight, causing them to miss the playoffs. Overall, having the 22nd ranked offense to go with the worst power play unit in the league isn’t going to get a team very far.
With Dallas coming so close to the playoffs the last two seasons and the offense looking pretty anemic ever since Brad Richards went to the Big Apple, the Stars were aggressive in the free agent market this past summer, but not before making a few trades.
Prospect Cody Eakin came from the Washington Capitals in a trade along with a draft pick, as Mike Ribeiro went the other way. The Stars filled that hole by trading Steve Ott for Derek Roy. Dallas gave up talent to get talent in return, but the club was looking to shake things up after not making the post season since they fell to the Detroit Red Wings in the 2008 Western Conference Finals.
The Stars then added a lot of age to the forward corps via free-agency, hoping Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney still have some tread on the tires and can support young guns Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson.
Dallas also added some depth defensemen, bringing in Tyler Sloan and Aaron Rome. These guys will help eat minutes in a solid, but unspectacular group of blue liners.
After a renaissance season in Dallas, Sheldon Souray got himself a nice contract with the Anaheim Ducks. The Stars will certainly miss his bomb from the point and will have to find a replacement for him on the power play.
Mike Ribeiro is now a Capital, where he will likely be successful as a second liner. Dallas will miss his playmaking ability as well as his creativity in shootouts.
An area to keep on eye with Dallas will be their grit on the bottom lines. Steve Ott will likely be missed, especially if Roy gets off to slow start. Also departing Dallas are grinders Adam Burish and Jake Dowell. Add all of those departures up and a lot of the Stars edginess is gone. They’re banking on more scoring to overshadow that.
Kari Lehtonen can be one of the best goaltenders in the NHL when he’s consistently healthy. He got off to an incredibly hot start in October but would eventually be on the shelf come December. He was able to make 59 appearances, which is great for him and the Stars going forward. Last season was his best of his career. If he can build off of that, the Stars will be formidable with him as their workhorse starter.
Philip Larsen got his first real chance as an everyday NHL player last season and was mildly successful. He didn’t put up big numbers, but was trusted with significant minutes and handled them pretty well.
He’s a smooth skater that can be a good offensive-defenseman thanks to his puck skills, vision and shot. He can potentially rack up some points in power play situations, where I think his skill set will be ideal.
With a lot of new faces, the Stars will be interesting to say the least, whenever the season starts that is. They won’t be the same “Pesky Stars” they were in recent years, but those teams never made the playoffs despite a great work-ethic and pretty good defensive play. This year’s team will definitely score more, at least getting them to the middle of the pack.
I see this team finally breaking in to the playoffs as an 8th seed as long as Jagr and Whitney can make everyone forget how old they are and Kari Lehtonen can have another great year in net.