Dallas Stars, 2013-14 (Puck Daddy Gold Medal Preview)
(Ed. Note: It’s an Olympic year in the NHL. So, naturally, we decided to use the trappings of the Winter Games to preview all 30 teams for the 2013-14 NHL season. Who takes the gold? Who falls on their triple-axel? Read on and find out!)
For the fifth straight year, the Dallas Stars failed to make the postseason in 2013, finishing dead last in the Pacific Division. It's the sort of thing that necessitates some pretty big changes, and boy, did they ever get them. GM Joe Nieuwendyk was shown the door, and in his place came Jim Nill, formerly of the Detroit Red Wings.
Nill wasted no time in remaking the roster in his image, firing coach Glen Gulutzan and bringing in Lindy Ruff, adding a boatload of new centres, luring Sergei Gonchar to the Lone Star state, drafting Valeri Nichuskin, and trading the unassuming and perennially underrated Loui Eriksson to Boston in exchange for hard-partying young'un Tyler Seguin.
The team even got a new logo and new sweaters. You get the sense that if Nill could have gotten clearance to change the name of the city from "Dallas" to "Nillville" he would have.
But will the changes result in an end to the playoff drought? Can the new-look Dallas Stars have more success than the old-look Dallas Stars?
Wherein Jamie Benn makes the Canucks look like a bunch of clowns, dancing around all five of them before scoring shortside.
The blockbuster move of the offseason saw Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser and the newly-acquired Joe Morrow shipped off to Boston for centres Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley, along with blueliner Ryan Button. Seguin could be the number one centre this team has been missing since Brad Richards left.
Seguin and Peverley are also part of a complete and much-needed overhaul at centre ice, as Nill also acquired Shawn Horcoff from the Edmonton Oilers. Horcoff may not have much left, but he's a massive upgrade over Dallas's second-line center from last year, nobody.
Valeri Nichushkin, the 10th overall pick in the 2013 draft, will be on this team, and his ability to make the adjustment to the NHL in a hurry will have a big impact on Dallas's chances of making the postseason. He could conceivably start the season on the top line with Seguin and Benn in a trial by fire situation. Given time, that line could be tough to contain.
Nichushkin will likely be mentored somewhat by the Stars' big acquisition on the blueline, Sergei Gonchar, who will quarterback the powerplay and, hopefully, remind Alex Goligoski of how to do the same.
In goal, Kari Lehtonen will now be backed up by Dan Ellis, who remains a master at finding work.
Forward: With Eriksson gone now, the Stars' forward corps is led by Benn, who should get the chance to move back to his natural spot at the wing thanks to all the acquisitions in the middle, and Seguin, who had better have matured over the summer because he won't be plying his trade on the third line anymore. As mentioned. Nichushkin could be thrown into a major role to start the year as well, meaning Dallas's top line could be incredibly young.
Thankfully, they're backed up by some savvy veterans who should be able to help guide them: line two could be one of hockey's oldest, with 34-year-old Horcoff centering 34-year-old Erik Cole and 41-year-old Ray Whitney.
If that second line doesn't seem entirely formidable to you, neither will the rest of Dallas's forward group. With Cody Eakin and Vernon Fiddler likely both on line three, the Stars are going to need a lot of offence from their top line. Like, a lot. Their only real hope for additional scoring is if Alex Chiasson's 6 goals in 7 games to end the season wasn't a fluke -- and it totally probably was.
Defense: This is definitely not a strength in Dallas. The Stars' first defensive pairing projects to be Gonchar and Goligoski, reunited for the first time since they shared the ice in Pittsburgh. That's nice, but it's hardly the sort of shutdown duo opposing coaches will try to avoid.
Behind them, Stephane Robidas, who remains somewhat underrated, will likely skate alongside Brenden Dillon, who is coming on as an NHLer and could be the breakout star of this club this season, or Trevor Daley. Jordie Benn -- and potentially prospect Kevin Connauton -- will battle Aaron Rome for the final spot.
Goalies: The primary concern in Dallas is the health of Kari Lehtonen, who was nagged by injuries for much of last year, and played far more than he likely would have if Dallas wasn't in a sprint to make the postseason. His numbers suffered as a result.
His new contract kicks in this year, so he'll be making $5.9 million annually against the cap. In order for the Stars to have any success, he needs to play like he's worth it.
Jim Nill has proven he's not afraid to make serious changes as the General Manager, and one assumes there are more to come over the next season. Dallas is rebuilding, so Nill has a light greener than his club's jerseys when it comes to making moves to improve the club.
Behind the bench, Lindy Ruff is back, and seeing how he adjusts might be more fascinating than how his players do. After all, this guy's been in Buffalo since 1997. A good way to show he's willing to leave the past behind and change allegiances would be to claim Brett Hull's goal should have counted.
The thing that impresses me most is how many different Dallas Stars bikinis there are. Someone had to make all of those.
Tyler Seguin. All Seguin has to do to quiet his critics is have a good season. But oh man, if he doesn't, and if he unretires his Twitter account, will there be more hotel guards? (Sidenote: were there ever?)
Lindy Ruff. It's going to be weird seeing him behind another bench. Was he a scapegoat in Buffalo or has way of the league begun to pass him by?
Valeri Nichushkin fell all the way to 10th, but he's drawn comparisons to Alex Ovechkin and Evgeni Malkin. He could be a treat to watch.
Depth is a serious concern. Apart from Jamie Benn, the Stars don't really have a go-to scorer. Seguin could be one. Ray Whitney could too, depending on how much he has left. But this team could seriously struggle to score, and considering their defence isn't all that formidable, that's not exactly a recipe for success.
The Stars lucked out a tad, escaping the difficult Pacific Division for the relatively soft Central, but that likely still won't be enough for this team to contend. Unless Nichushkin is ready now, and some of the other kids take massive leaps forward, they're still one or two years away from making it back to the playoffs.