Q&A With Craig Ludwig
NHL hockey is finally upon us (the Stars had their first pre-season game last night in Florida against the Panthers, a 3-2 loss) after a long off-season in these parts. So we thought it was time to catch up with former Stars defenseman, current Fox Sports Southwest hockey analyst and our go-to hockey guy, Craig Ludwig.
ScoreBoardTX: OK Luds, The Stars made some significant moves this off-season, among them acquiring Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya fresh off their championship run with the Blackhawks, and trading for former Cup winning goalie Antti Niemi from the Sharks. What’s your take on the all the moves by Jim Nill and crew? Which do you think will have the biggest impact?
Ludwig: First Sharp should help out our power play. He can play the point on it and he bolsters an already very talented top six group of forwards. Oduya adds veteran leadership and will be part of the top four defensive group. What all three of them bring is playoff experience and knowing what it takes to get there. They don’t enter the postseason just trying to get through a round or two, they expect to be in the finals. The Stars have some young players and their veteran leadership will go a long way along with their expectations of winning. As far as the biggest impact it may be Niemi because Lindy [Ruff] won’t be so reluctant now to go to his backup goalie to share the load with Kari [Lehtonen].
ScoreBoardTX: It’s true that in theory the Stars acquired Niemi to back up Lehtonen – a position where there’s been a big hole the last couple years for the team (backup goalies last season went 7-14-0 for the Stars and the season before they were 7-11-1). But do you think Lehtonen is secure in his starting job or do you think Niemi will push him to be the number one guy?
Ludwig: I think in the past if Kari had a poor game or was pulled he would probably get the net back in the next game. I don’t see that necessarily happening with Niemi now. But Kari will also get more rest throughout the season and both guys know they will have to earn their starts.
ScoreBoardTX: When we last spoke in June you said you’d like to see the Stars add a top defenseman like Jeff Petry or Cody Franson in free agency this summer. Instead of adding they actually lost one of their top blueliners in Trevor Daley (in the Patrick Smart trade). Are we still looking at significant defensive holes in the back end for the Stars?
Ludwig: The management believes in the young D here, and they know they have to play to gain experience so there will still be some growing pains with the young guys. But the coaching staff has said they will be committed right from the start of training camp to emphasize D zone responsibilities which was a weak area of the Stars’ game last season.
ScoreBoardTX: What can you tell me about the young guys in the system? Anyone in particular we need to keep an eye on?
Ludwig: As far as the forwards I would keep an eye on Devon Shore. There are a couple of D-men to watch – Esa Lindell and then Stephen Johns – who was acquired from the Hawks with Patrick Sharp.
ScoreBoardTX: The Stars missed the playoffs again last season after making it for the first time in six years the season before. What do we need to see from the Stars this year for them to make that next step and be a regular playoff participant again?
Ludwig: They have plenty of offensive weapons on this team, but what needs to happen is as a group they need to buy into the “200 foot” game. That starts with being better as groups of five in their own end.
ScoreBoardTX: OK, we’re going to put you on the spot before the season even starts (no one ever accused us of being fair). Are the Stars a playoff team this season?
Ludwig: Yes. Now with a 1-A and a 1-B in net and a coaching staff that will push a better all around structured game they should make it. The first 20-25 games will be important though. They can’t be chasing a playoff spot after thanksgiving.
ScoreBoardTX: Last preseason you gave us your Stanley Cup Finals prediction of Tampa Bay and Anaheim. Obviously you nailed the Lightning and just missed out on the Ducks (who only lost to the Hawks in the Western Conference Finals 4 games to 3). Pretty solid prognostications on your part. So if you had to bet the house today, who would you pick to be facing off in the Finals next June?
Ludwig: Anaheim and Montreal
ScoreBoardTX: And the team that will be hoisting the Cup?
Ludwig: Anaheim Ducks
ScoreBoardTX: As always Luds thanks for your time.
Ludwig: No prob.