By Martin Iheke
After 119 miserable days, the NHL lockout finally ended allowing your Dallas Stars to take the ice for the first time in 2013. Though it is a shortened season with only 48 games, it is something rather than nothing for hockey fans. The Stars will be looking to make the playoffs for the first time in five years and they will try to accomplish this with a revamped roster.
The Stars head into the shortened season with some new faces on the roster after a busy offseason of transactions. They signed two 40-year-old wingers, Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney to improve the scoring on the team. They also signed defensemen Aaron Rome away from the Vancouver Canucks to add toughness on the blue line. They traded fan favorite Steve Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy to the Buffalo Sabres in return for center Derek Roy to anchor the second line. If there was a silver lining to the lockout, it was that it allowed Roy to completely recover from shoulder surgery he had back in July. If the season had started on time, there was a good chance he would have missed the first few months of the season. The Stars also traded Mike Ribeiro to the Washington Capitals in exchange for center Cody Eakin and a second round pick. With these moves, it was clear the Stars wanted a change of scenery after failing to make the playoffs again.
The Stars also want to invest in their farm system by bringing up some young prospects that they feel are ready to contribute. Prospects like defensemen Brenden Dillon and Jordie Benn, Jamie’s older brother, as well as forwards Reilly Smith and Ryan Garbutt. With enough confidence in the defensive group, the Stars decided to trade Mark Fistric to the Edmonton Oilers for a third round pick. There will be some growing pains, but that is a part of the process when developing young talent. Team captain Brenden Morrow is looking to battle back from some injuries he has had to deal with to his neck, shoulder and back that sidelined him for most of last season. He is hoping with extra time off thanks to the lockout will allow him to be more effective this season. On whether he is completely 100 percent healthy, Morrow does not know for sure until he hits the ice playing. ”Well, the problem is that until you go out there, you don’t know. I think I’m at a good place, and I think the extra time to work on things like spin class and Pilates has to help, but you have to get out there and play,” Morrow said according to dallasnews.com.
General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk believes with the recent moves he has made, that the team can significantly improve especially on the top two lines. “I think clearly in our top players. Ray Whitney finished 13th in the league in scoring, and you can already see the type of person that he is. He’s so committed, he cares, he’s already grabbed a hold of this locker room a little. He’s going to be big help to (captain) Brenden (Morrow). Jaromir Jagr had a good solid year last year, he still plays at a high level, so we’ve added to our top lines,” Nieuwendyk said according to dallasnews.com. “We should be able to score more, we should be tougher (in) match-ups, and we probably put people in their proper spots, which should be good for (Eric) Nystrom and (Vernon) Fiddler. And I think it’s good for Brenden too. I just think with the veterans we’ve added, it alleviates the pressure from him,” as Nieuwendyk continued.
Now it is up to head coach Glen Gulutzan and the coaching staff to put this together and make it work if the Stars want to make the playoffs for the first time in five years. An area they really want to fix is the power play. To say it was anemic last season as it was ranked dead last in the league is an understatement. “We never got it kick-started,” Gulutzan told dallasnews.com. “You see some rust, but once we get a few more days on that power play, we’ll get it up to speed,” as he continued.
Another area the Stars will need to work on is the amount of shots they give up. Last season, they were tied for sixth in the league giving up shots per game at 30.8. A lot of that has to do without having a top notch defenseman who is strong on the blue line, can cover a lot of ice and being able to shut down the other team’s top line as well as contribute offensively like a Shea Weber of the Nashville Predators or a Zdeno Chara of the Boston Bruins. Again, the Stars are going with the youth on the defense so it will take some time for them to improve but having that No. 1 defensemen would make things a lot better.
Despite only playing 48 games for the regular season, the schedule is very tough for the Stars. Ten of their first fifteen games will be on the road and there are nine back-to-backs. One of the reasons why the Stars did not get into the playoffs, last season, was how dreadful they were on the second night of back-to-backs with a 1-11-2 record. They have to improve on this. With new pieces added to the roster, the front office is hoping the added depth will help. The Western Conference is very deep so most of the games will not be easy. Getting off to a 2-1-0 start after playing three games in four nights to start the season is not a bad start at all. If this team stays healthy and improves with Benn signed very quickly, I see them ending their four year drought and heading into the postseason.