DALLAS - The irony for the Dallas Stars is that with Mike Modano about to become the NHL's top American-born scorer, this team will have to rely on defence and goaltending.
Even after their third straight first-round exit from the playoffs, with one of the league's lowest-scoring teams (2.65 goals a game), the Stars didn't add a premier scorer.
"That was one of the objectives in the off-season," Modano said. "Other teams were really more aggressive as far as money. ... Everybody wanted a (salary) cap, and now we're kind of trying to work around the cap and can't get players."
So Dallas begins the new season Wednesday night at Colorado with basically the same core group.
At least that means the Stars still have the goaltending tandem of Marty Turco and Mike Smith, along with top defencemen Sergei Zubov, Philippe Boucher and Mattias Norstrom, the longtime Los Angeles Kings captain who came in a trade-deadline deal in February.
But the Stars will have to start without top returning scorer Mike Riberio (18 goals, 41 assists), who is on the injured list because of a high ankle sprain.
Modano begins his 18th season, all with the Stars franchise, needing only seven points to reach No. 1,233 and pass Phil Housley in career scoring among Americans. Modano's 507 goals already top that list. The 37-year-old Modano is the only remaining player who made the move with the team from Minnesota to Dallas in 1993.
"He still has all the physical skills to be a very good player in the NHL," coach David Tippett said. "It's just enduring that grind, and enduring that will to get it done."
Modano missed 23 games last season because of hip and groin injuries, but can still score when healthy. He had 12 points his first 13 games, then 17 in the last 17 regular-season games.
The only significant off-season additions were free agent left-wingers Todd Fedoruk and Brad Winchester. But the biggest offensive boost could come from having Modano and captain Brenden Morrow healthy - and together on the ice. Plus, centre Steve Ott missed 63 games last season because of a fractured ankle.
Morrow missed nearly three months last season after being stepped on with a skate and severing two tendons in his right wrist.
"Obviously, there's still some rust, but everything's healthy," Morrow said. "I'm comfortable being on the ice again."
Modano and Morrow were in the lineup together only 33 games.
"That would be a difference," Tippett said. "If we can have Morrow and Modano, and these players give us close to a full schedule, that should help our offensive game, and help our team in general."
After five-game eliminations against Colorado the previous two playoffs, Turco almost single-handedly got the Stars out of the first round last April. He had three shutouts, a 1.30 GAA and stopped 218 of 229 shots against Vancouver.
Dallas overcame a 3-1 series deficit to force a Game 7 against the Canucks before losing 4-2, a score inflated by two empty-net goals.
"He's an elite goaltender, and going through circumstances like that, and meeting those challenges like he did, that just makes him a better player," Tippett said. "His goal is to win. Not just three games, but the series. That will be the next step for him."
Maybe next time Turco will get some help from the Stars shooters.
Dallas scored only 12 goals against Vancouver, four in a four-overtime loss that opened the series. Modano's only goal in the series came on a 5-on-3 power play, and was the only one by any of the team's top five goal-scorers.
In four seasons as the starting goalie, Turco has 147 victories, second during that span to the 170 by New Jersey's Martin Brodeur. His 175 career victories are already the most in team history.
Turco now has a proven backup in Mike Smith, a member of the NHL All-Rookie team last season with a 12-5-2 record and 2.23 GAA.
"There's more security this year going in," Tippett said. "Last year, we were hoping Smitty was going to be a good player, but you didn't know yet. Turco, we were hoping would continue to grow. Both of them did exactly what we hoped for last year."
The notable departures were Darryl Sydor and Eric Lindros, who arrived in Dallas last year as a complementary player. Lindros had a career-low five goals in 49 games and missed 20 games with a groin injury.