Stars General Manager Doug Armstrong sits in his office at the Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter and peers out his window at the ice rink below in thought. This off-season in the NHL is anything but typical, and Armstrong still has a lot of work to do.
Not that he hasn't been busy over the last few months already. On the contrary, Armstrong has been strategizing moves that will keep the Stars as one of the top teams in the NHL despite an off-season of uncertainty. The league's collective bargaining agreement with the NHL Players Association expires in September and the future of how teams will be allowed to operate is unknown.
"My job is to ensure that this hockey club is competitive next season while staying prepared for this league's undefined future landscape," Armstrong said. "I feel very good about next season and where the Dallas Stars will be in the future, regardless of what the rules are in the National Hockey League."
Armstrong and his staff have been preparing for this summer for over two years now and he has a plan. The plan is two-pronged, focusing on keeping the Stars one of the better teams in the league now and maintaining flexibility for the next few seasons, while growing the club's development system so that it will provide young talent to replenish the team in the years to come.
Then of course there are the plans within the plan -- the nuts and bolts strategy to attain both of these goals.
The 2004-05 Dallas Stars -- Building the Roster
While some teams in the league have chosen to play the waiting game in signing players for the 2004-05 campaign, the Stars currently have 17 NHL-experienced players under contract for this coming season, all of whom played for Dallas last year. And only seven of those players have contracts that go past this season, giving the team some flexibility in the summer of 2005.
"We started this process a few years ago in preparation for this summer," Armstrong said. "I've given my philosophy to (Stars owner) Tom Hicks, which was to sign our players through next season. Then at the end of next year, we can re-assess what direction we want to go with our roster.
"We didn't want to leave ourselves exposed this summer like some other teams have done. There are some teams around the league with only five or six players signed for next year. I'd rather keep the majority of our players signed. We have a good roster going into next season, but it's a one-year roster."
All in all, Stars fans can expect to have a lot to cheer about next season with what we already know about that one-year roster.
"We're going to have a good team next year," Armstrong said. "Our team has a large group of high-quality players under contract; any team that has Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Bill Guerin, Brenden Morrow, Jason Arnott, Sergei Zubov, Pierre Turgeon, Jon Klemm, and Marty Turco, among others, on it is a very good team."
In addition to the veterans, Armstrong is expecting some of the Stars' younger talent to step up this season.
"Some of our younger players will be counted upon to fill some roles, like Steve Ott, John Erskine, Antti Miettinen, Mathias Tjarnqvist and Trevor Daley. And Dan Ellis or Mike Smith will compete for the backup goaltender job behind Turco," Armstrong said. "These are players that are familiar with our organization and familiar with our coaches. It's time for them to step up and take a bigger role with this hockey club."
There are two other NHL players that are not yet under contract with Dallas but were extended qualifying offers, all but assuring that they will be with the Stars next season -- Erskine and new winger Jaroslav Svoboda, who was acquired in a trade with Carolina in late June.
Adding all of these assets together gives Armstrong a total of 23 solid players -- enough to fill an entire NHL roster if the team had to play a game tomorrow. And it is safe to say that that roster would be a pretty good one:
Arnott, Barnes, DiMaio, Downey, Guerin, Kapanen, Lehtinen, Miettinen, Modano, Morrow, Ott, Svoboda, Tjarnqvist, Turgeon.
DEFENSEMEN: Boucher, Daley, Erskine, Klemm, Sweeney, Zubov.
GOALTENDERS: Ellis, Smith, Turco.
"One of our main goals is to get out to a good start when the season begins," Armstrong said. "I think that continuity and cohesiveness will be a major factor for us in getting out of the gate fast this season. I feel good about the fact that the majority of this team has played together under (Head Coach) Dave Tippett for some time now and we should be in a good position to be successful.
"I didn't want to go out and have to bring in 18 unrestricted free agents and then expect them to gel and become a team when the season starts. I'd rather go into this season with familiar players that we know, that our fans know, and that provides us with a very good team."
Another factor that fans should feel good about is the high probability that some of Dallas' key players will bounce back from sub-par seasons last year.
Mike Modano had only 14 goals and 44 points -- the lowest totals of his NHL career for a full season. Despite the low numbers, Modano's career scoring average remains above a point-per-game. Jere Lehtinen was hampered by injury for most of the season and played in only 58 games, scoring 13 goals. This came after the winger led Dallas in goals with 31 the previous season and won his third Selke Trophy.
"I have no doubts in the abilities of those two players," Armstrong said. "I believe whole-heartedly that Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen will bounce back to have good seasons this year."
Armstrong said he would like to add another veteran defenseman from the pool of unrestricted free agents before it is all said and done. And the door to other moves remains open.
"I'm always going to be interested in any move that will make this team better," Armstrong said. "We'll keep our eyes open for any opportunities."
Coming next week -- dallasstars.com takes a look at Armstrong's on-going plan to replenish the minor league system with talent that will form the future of the Dallas Stars.