After arriving in town late Sunday night, Stars defenseman Stephane Robidas didn’t plan to skate Monday morning at the team’s practice facility in Frisco. But he changed his mind when he arrived at the rink and saw that more than a dozen players were ready to hit the ice.
“I was surprised,” Robidas said. “I was expecting it to be five or six guys and I figured I wouldn’t skate. I saw all the guys and it turned out to be a pretty good skate. It was good.”
And after the skate there was a pretty good feeling around the Stars’ locker room. There’s been a lot of buzz among the fans and around the league with all the changes the Stars have seen since last season, and there’s a buzz among the players as well.
“To me it’s like a fresh start,” Robidas said. “We’re starting from scratch, it’s new. We’ve got a new GM, new coach, new D coach, new jerseys and new players. It’s a lot of new things, but it’s all positive and certainly interesting. I think we are headed in the right direction. That’s a very good thing.”
That feeling of a fresh start was mentioned more than once in the Stars’ locker room. Defenseman Trevor Daley noted the significance of Jim Nill coming from Detroit to take over as GM of the Stars. That’s quite a change for an organization that has had a history of promoting from within or bringing in people with ties to the team. And then there was the hiring of Lindy Ruff, an experienced coach with a long and successful track record with the Buffalo Sabres.
“For me it definitely feels different, just all the new faces,” said Daley. “Upstairs, the guys they brought in before, they’ve been around before, so I’ve been used to them. It’s a totally fresh start. I think everybody in here feels it is a fresh start. Lindy has been in Buffalo forever, so nobody knows him unless you’ve played for him. Jim Nill comes from probably one of the best organizations in sports. We’re pretty fortunate to have them. Obviously, we’re fortunate to have some of the additions we brought in too. It’s going to be fun.”
Nill put his stamp on the Stars’ roster with a series of trades that brought in centers Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley and Shawn Horcoff and defenseman Sergei Gonchar. He signed goaltender Dan Ellis in free agency to provide Kari Lehtonen with a veteran backup. And the Stars landed highly touted Russian forward Valeri Nichushkin with the tenth overall pick in this summer’s NHL Draft.
“It’s definitely exciting,” said forward Jamie Benn. “Bringing in a talented, young superstar like Seguin is exciting for our hockey team and the city. We definitely brought in some other players that have some experience in Horcoff and Gonchar, so it’s going to be exciting and I think we are definitely looking forward to this year.”
The man who will try to put all the pieces together on the ice is Ruff, who coached 15 seasons in Buffalo. One Stars player who is a little familiar with Ruff is Robidas. The Dallas defenseman played for Canada at the 2013 World Championship and Ruff served as head coach.
While coaching a team in a short tournament is a lot different than directing a club over the long grind of an NHL season, Robidas still got a sense of the Stars’ new bench boss for a few weeks this past spring.
“It’s kind of tough when you have a guy for only a few weeks, but he seems like a really good guy. I think he is a guy that demands a lot,” Robidas said. “We had a couple of practices and it was high tempo. I know some guys that played for him and they really enjoyed it. He demands a lot of discipline. You look at the way Buffalo played over the years, they didn’t always have high-end skills and stuff like that, but they always had hardworking teams and they made the playoffs pretty much every year.”
The Stars haven’t made the playoffs since 2008. Robidas and Daley have been around for the five straight years the Stars have missed the postseason. Benn has been here the last four. All three agree there’s a feeling of change in the air.
“It definitely feels different around here,” said Benn. “I was having a conversation with Fidds (Vernon Fiddler) not too long ago, and there are maybe five or six guys left on this team from my first year. It’s good to have Lindy behind the bench and he’s obviously got a lot of experience. And Jim Nill definitely knows what he is doing. As players we are excited. I am ready to go.”