Dallas Stars Season Preview
So the thermometer is still is pushing 90 outside. Sounds like perfect weather for hockey to me.
Believe it or not, the Dallas Stars begin Training Camp this Friday in Ft. Worth for the 2014-15 season. A team coming off the first playoff appearance in five seasons, combined with an improved roster, has expectations a little more lofty this season.
How lofty? The words “Central Division contender” have been whispered by some.
Camp gets going quickly and the first pre-season game is this Monday.
What will the defense look like this season? Well, on the surface it’s rather predictable – Alex Goligoski and Trevor Daley are your top pair, with Brenden Dillon, Jordie Benn, Sergei Gonchar and Patrik Nemeth rounding out the main six. Kevin Connauton is also a quality candidate to be a sixth or seventh D-man.
Gonchar was a disappointment last season while Benn and Nemeth were pleasant surprises. The two players who could make this defense a fantastic one are Jamie Oleksiak and John Klingberg, once they develop enough to contribute at the NHL level. Jyrki Jokipakka is also a name to look out for. But those names will have a bigger affect on this blue-liner corps in about a year.
What about the forwards? Does Lindy Ruff have plenty to work with to form four good lines? In a word, yes. The top line will definitely include Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and don’t be surprised if Ruff throws newcomer Ales Hemsky up there with them and puts Valeri Nichushkin on the second line. The real improvement comes on that second line, where the addition of center Jason Spezza from Ottawa sets off a very positive domino effect.
How positive? Think 1996-Joe-Nieuwendyk-positive.
Like the Nieuwendyk trade, Spezza gives the Stars a top-line player to center the second line, along with Erik Cole and Nichushkin. If you are not familiar with Spezza’s game, think power forward who can skate. Look for him to put up some quality numbers on home ice, where the match-ups will become a nightmare for opposing coaches who don’t have the last change.
The bottom line – Ruff has some quality pieces to work with and interchange among his top-six forwards.
The third line can settle right in with Cody Eakin centering Antoine Roussel and Ryan Garbutt (Ryan Getzlaf’s favorite trio). Oh, and then there’s Shawn Horcoff and Colton Sceviour to round out the Stars’ depth – something Dallas hasn’t had much of since 2009 or so.
Then there’s the goalie position – aka the biggest question mark. I’m of the opinion that Kari Lehtonen is really the only thing that might hold the Stars back from being an actual contender in the Central and a possible top-four seed in the conference. It’s not his talent that I question; it’s the consistency.
Look at the Anaheim playoff series for example. The Stars were in position to steal Game Two on the road. They needed one big save and didn’t get it. Same can be said for Game Six at home – make a big save and Dallas is playing a Game Seven.
Not to pick on Kari, but it’s true. When you make $6.25 million, you are expected to often be the reason your team wins games. Dallas needs to see more of that from Lehtonen this season. Every night.
Overall, GM Jim Nill is doing a bang-up job at taking what Joe Nieuwendyk began to build and taking it to the next level. The trades to get Seguin and Spezza in back-to-back summers were nothing short of brilliant, and if he can get some lucky breaks in the development of some young defensemen, the Stars could be a force to be reckoned with very soon.
The Reverse Barometer call: Expectations abound for this squad in 2014-15. Will they challenge for the Central? Barometer says they won’t, though I can see another playoff team and perhaps a trip to round two. We’re going to go with the Stars landing the No. 3 spot in the division behind St. Louis and Chicago and an automatic bid for the post-season as a result.