Season Preview: Dallas
By Dennis Bernstein, TheFourthPeriod.com
good news is that there's fresh cash available with new owner Tom Galiardi in
place. The bad news is that General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk made some puzzling
moves before half this season vanished. The depth chart isn't one that looks
like it can keep up in the competitive Western Conference unless the Fountain of
Youth flows freely in the Big D.
Loui Eriksson is in his prime and could reach the point-per-game plateau with
continued improvement and Jamie Benn is already a prime time player at 23 (and
needs to be signed). The Stars hope that Jaromir Jagr's year is more than just a
victory lap and you have to wonder how he and the other 40-year-old forward
addition, Ray Whitney will hold up physically in the condensed schedule. Derek
Roy comes in from Buffalo entering a contract year and is being counted on to
replace Mike Ribiero's production. Question marks surround captain Brenden
Morrow, and they'll miss the grit of Steve Ott.
Undersized and lacking a true No. 1 defenseman, the Stars defense is the primary
reason they'll be on the outside looking in at playoff time. The physicality
needed to compete in the West isn't there and it showed painfully when Dallas
finished 3-7 in their last 10 games as a playoff berth slipped through their
fingers. Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas are savvy vets and Mark Fistric
provides size for this average unit.
Kari Lehtonen kept the Stars in the hunt for 70 games and he was rewarded with a
five-year, $29.5 million deal that will keep him in Texas through the prime of
his career. He fashioned career bests in goals against and save percentage and
the team's hope for the post-season is leveraged on a repeat performance from
the big Finn.
The Stars finished last on the powerplay last season so if Jagr, Whitney and Roy
can stay on the ice, there's nowhere to go but up. The penalty kill was better
than average, but will need career years from many if they are to get into the
top half of the NHL in team scoring. The lack of offense will put more pressure
on Lehtonen and the defense to come up big, something they didn't do last season
down the stretch.
3 Players to Watch
One of the high profile restricted free agents yet to be signed, Benn is the
future of his franchise blossoming after being selected in the fifth round
in 2007. He's the only player in the history of the franchise to have scored
100 points before his 23rd birthday and is a future 30 goal scorer.
He's Dallas highest goal-scorer since the 2006-07 season who's never
registered a roughing penalty during his NHL career. He's the model of
consistency that plays in all game situations.
He's posted numbers that were playoff quality last season, but didn't have
the horses to support him in crunch time. He'll have to play more than the
59 games he appeared in last season and at 32-years-old, must show that he
can avoid injury.