After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for three consecutive seasons, the goal for the 2011-12 Dallas Stars
is simple -- return to the postseason. Last season's team came close, finishing with 95 points, two shy of eighth place.
And considering the way the season ended -- a 5-3 loss at Minnesota on the season's final day when a win would have put them in the playoffs -- that disappointment could serve as motivation going forward.
"I do feed a bit from negativity," Stars center Steve Ott
said. "Not having a chance to play in the playoffs left an extremely sour taste in my mouth. It's been three years now."
A byproduct of that season-ending loss was Marc Crawford
being relieved of his coaching duties. In June, Dallas General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk
named Glen Gulutzan the Stars' next coach. Gulutzan has a solid minor-league coaching resume and spent the previous two seasons with the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars.
One former player who knows the new coach well is Dallas forward Jamie Benn
, who skated for Gulutzan during the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs.
"Personally, I'm really excited to have him here. He's a great coach," Benn said. "Gully and Paulie (Jerrard, assistant coach), they work together really well. I think the biggest thing is they're players' coaches. I think that's one thing we need here. I think they'll be a good fit."
But Nieuwendyk wasn't done there. Depth was a major weakness for last year's team, but with seven new additions to the roster, that no longer appears to be the case. The additions are a mix of older and younger players, a group which the returning core welcomes.
"I'm excited. Joe did such a good job of bringing in new pieces that will make us tougher to play against, especially in the West, where you need some big boys to push some bodies around. We definitely have that now," forward Adam Burish
They did suffer one major loss, when Brad Richards
and his team-best 77 points signed with the New York Rangers
as a free agent. Benn, 2011 All-Star Loui Eriksson
, Ott and newcomers like Michael Ryder
, a member of Boston's Stanley Cup-winning squad, will be asked to help pick up the offensive slack.
"Individually, replacing Brad Richards
is going to be pretty tough to do," Ott said. "He's a super-skilled player. He's very offensively gifted. Myself along with some other guys are going to have to take on the offensive role to fill that void when we lost Brad."
Benn (22 goals, 56 points) and Eriksson (27 goals, 73 points) are the top returning forwards and will be offensive focal points. While Richards was out of the mix last season, Benn carried much of the offensive load and in the process showed the makings of a future All-Star.
"I think he was that for us the second half of last season," captain Brenden Morrow
said. "After the Olympic break and injury, he came back and was a dominant player for us. If he does that consistently and plays at that level, he'll be a perennial All-Star for years to come."
Eriksson, who was an All-Star last season, spent most of the last two seasons as Richards' linemate. He should continue to play a prominent role on offense even with new players surrounding him.
"We (he and Richards) had played together for a couple of years and it will be a little bit of a change for me," Eriksson said. "I'm really excited for this season. I know it's going to be a little bit different. It's going to be fun to see how they're going to play me."
IN: Jake Dowell
, C (free agent, Blackhawks); Radek Dvorak
, RW (free agent, Thrashers); Vernon Fiddler
, C (free agent, Coyotes); Eric Godard
, RW (free agent, Penguins); Adam Pardy
, D (free agent, Flames); Michael Ryder
, RW (free agent, Bruins); Sheldon Souray
, D (free agent, Oilers)
OUT: Brad Richards
, C, (free agent, Rangers); Jamie Langenbrunner
, RW (free agent, Blues); Aaron Gagnon
, C (free agent, Jets); Jason Williams
, C (free agent, Penguins); Karlis Skrastins
, D (free agent, Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, Russia); Jeff Woywitka
, D (free agent, Canadiens)
Dallas' offensive options don't end there. Morrow had a career-best 33 goals last season and was one of four Stars to not miss a single game.
Ott was another member of that durable quartet, and while the gritty center again will be a player opponents hate skating against, he also knows he can't take bad penalties like he has in the past if he's to step up his offensive production.
"I think my competitive levels have to stay (where they have been)," he said. "What has to change is I have to stay on the ice. I can't be taking stupid penalties. I can't take unnecessary ones to get taken off the ice, or it does throw the chemistry of the lineup off."
Also being counted on to again deliver solid offensive numbers is center Mike Ribeiro
, who led the team with 52 assists last season. It's unclear what line he's going to center, but no matter where he plays, the results should be similar to last season.
"Obviously, I'm going to try to create the same," Ribeiro said. "We might be more team-oriented and focus on winning more as a team than on winning with just one line or two lines. I'd like to produce as much as I can, help the team win and finish with 80-something points."
Burish is a great glue guy whose positive energy and ability to do the little things integral to any team's success were two qualities that made Dallas a better team when he was on the ice. Former college and Blackhawks teammate Jake Dowell
joins him on the roster this season.
Other newcomers of note include Vernon Fiddler
, who makes the Stars much better on faceoffs. Radek Dvorak
is a veteran who brings much to the table, while 6-foot-4 bruiser Eric Godard
gives the club some much-needed toughness.
The additions of Adam Pardy
and Sheldon Souray
provide some much-needed depth on the blue line. They join an already solid group, led by veteran Stephane Robidas
"I think everybody brings something different to the table," Robidas said. "You want a mix and I think that's what we've got. We've got a mix of skill, grit and skating. I think we'll be tougher to beat just because of that."
STARS 30 IN 15 RELATED STORIES
was a solid pickup at the trade deadline and was paired with Robidas for much of his time in Dallas. The ex-Penguin also was a solid contributor on the power play.
"I think he was great," Robidas said. "He's not the biggest guy out there, but he's a good all-round player. He can play defensively and he brings a lot to the table. As a teammate, I just expect the same that he did last year. If he does that, we'll be fine."
Also returning is 27-year-old Trevor Daley
, who played all 82 games and also got a multi-year contract extension last season. At least one teammate feels Daley could be in for a breakout season.
"The guy should be a top point-getting defenseman," Souray said. "With the way we want to play, and the way the new NHL is, he seems perfectly fit for it. He's one of those guys that when he does break out, you're going to wonder why it takes so long."
Dallas also should benefit from a healthy Nicklas Grossman
. Before Goligoski was acquired, Grossman was paired with Robidas as the Stars' top defensive duo. However, lower-body injuries cut his season short. It was clear the Stars missed his presence down the stretch last season.
"Nick is a great, young defenseman," Robidas said. "He's a big part of our team and when we have him in our lineup, we were a much better team."
The 6-foot-2 Pardy and 6-4 Souray have been played together in the preseason, which could make for an interesting pairing. Also bringing size to the group is 6-3 Mark Fistric
, who was in and out of the lineup last season.
Other blueliners who could see the ice this season include 21-year-old Philip Larsen
, who has eight games of NHL experience over the last two seasons, including six in 2010-11. Veteran Brad Lukowich
, 35, was on the Stars' 1999 Stanley Cup-winning team. He was a solid contributor late last season in a pinch. Brenden Dillon
, a 20-year-old signed by the club in March, has been turning heads and could make his NHL sometime this season.
Goalie - DAL
GAA: 2.55 | SVP: 0.914
In some ways, the Stars want the same Kari Lehtonen
that they had last season. He posted career-highs in games played (69), wins (34) and goals-against average (2.55).
However, they would like to see less of him. He started the team's last 33 games of the season, something Nieuwendyk wants to see change.
"I think that is something we don't want to see a repeat of," he said. "We're going to need big games from Andrew Raycroft
, too. It was a real good year for (Lehtonen). We did overload him, but coming off his injury, he showed everybody that he's on his way back and I think now this year, he wants to show that he's an elite goaltender, not just a good goaltender."
Raycroft is a dependable backup. In 19 games last season, he was 8-5-0 with a pair of shutouts and a 2.83 GAA.
"It's important not only for Kari to be able to get a break, but for Raycroft to be able to play and stay sharp as well," Stars goaltending coach Mike Valley
said. "You do need two goaltenders that are always playing well to give yourself the best chance to get into the playoffs."
Should there be an injury to either goalie, Dallas figures to have two solid options in the AHL in 24-year-old Richard Bachman
, who made his NHL debut last season, and Tyler Beskorowany
, a 21-year-old who should spend his second pro season in the AHL.