The Dallas Stars faded in the final weeks and again failed to make the playoffs, but there were several positives to take from the 2011-12 season.
Jamie Benn solidified his place among the League's elite players and looks like a legit No. 1 center. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen was (mostly) healthy for a second straight season, and posted the best numbers of his NHL career. Philip Larsen became an NHL regular and looks like a bona fide top-four defenseman. Michael Ryder proved a great signing by potting 35 goals.
There were still some issues, but the Stars in their first offseason with new owner Tom Gaglardi made a few significant moves. Scoring depth should be a strength with Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney in tow, though banking on full seasons from a pair of 40-year-olds and oft-nicked Derek Roy could be an issue.
The defense corps looks solid, but might be one more consistent player short. Dallas still has plenty of room below the salary cap ceiling and a stable ownership situation, so that could be remedied at any point between now and the 2013 trade deadline.
A lot of teams' fortunes are tied to good health, but the Stars maybe more so than most. There are some intriguing prospects in the system who could mitigate some of that concern, and the expectation in Dallas is almost certainly a return to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
2012-13 Stars Fantasy Team Preview
Under-valued - Several players to choose from (Ray Whitney, Loui Eriksson, Jamie Benn), but Kari Lehtonen flies under the radar every year in fantasy drafts. Finished last season as NHL.com's seventh best fantasy goalie after notching 32 wins, four shutouts, a 2.33 GAA and .922 SV%.
Over-valued: Michael Ryder - Last season's 35 goals were a career-best and his 62 points were one short of his career-high, but with the Stars' added depth up front, it's hard to see Ryder repeating those numbers.
Sleeper: Cody Eakin - Acquired from Washington in the Mike Ribeiro trade, Eakin should crack Dallas' lineup. If he does, there's some potential -- he compiled 47 goals and 36 over the last two years in the WHL.
NOTES: The Stars basically have seven top-six forwards, and if everyone is healthy it looks like the captain is the odd guy out. Should Ryder not be able to replicate his success from last season, Morrow would be an easy replacement. Eakin came aboard in a deal for Mike Ribeiro, and could be ready for regular NHL duty, but he'll face some competition for that spot in training camp. Matt Fraser was unheralded before last season, but 37 goals in the American Hockey League will make people take notice. More heralded Radek Faksa and Scott Glennie could also be in the mix with a strong camp.
That "one player short" idea with the defense corps could be outdated if one of the team's kids wins a spot in the top six. Jamie Oleksiak, Brendan Dillon and Patrik Nemeth could help the Stars at some point in the near future.
Lehtonen did miss a bit of time with an injury last year, but Bachman made his case to be a strong backup option and can fill in for short stretches. This could be a big year for Jack Campbell, but it is likely to be spent in the AHL.