At this time of year everybody has a take on the upcoming season.
The general consensus from pundits, scribes, “insiders” and “experts” is that the Stars will be a bubble team (again). And that despite the changes made in Big D since the conclusion of last season; they will again be a non-playoff club in the West.
Fair? Accurate? Safe guess? Misguided hooey?
Well how about taking three different angles of evaluation of this team; Pessimism. Realism. Optimism:
The Dour Perception: (Negative Nelly)
The defense isn’t big enough or good enough.
40-somethings Whitney and Gonchar are slowing down and fading in effectiveness.
Seguin and Benn are talented but with caution lights, and have fissures in their game.
The Stars have a #1 center and four number 3s.
Nichushkin is a stud but his play without the puck is yeasty, and the NHL is not the KHL.
The good young prospects are a couple years away from having the desired impact.
Kari Lehtonen is injury prone and unable to carry this team into a playoff position.
Lindy Ruff can’t get enough entrenched in one season.
Jim Nill has never run an NHL team.
There are too many good teams in the Division, in the West.
The Reality: (Freddy Finger on the Pulse)
The defense corps is perhaps a bit undersized but Ruff and assistant coach James Patrick (who will run the D) will organize the group into a capable 6 or 7 – and they should have skating mobility as an asset. Big focus on getting forwards the puck quickly (They call it, “Givin’ it to em’ dirty”, which of course I love.) and having the forwards come back to be available to help. On the whole they plan to be more aggressive and with a pack mentality.
Whitney and Gonchar embody the maxim; “A new broom sweeps clean but the old brush knows all the corners”. They have PLENTY left to offer, both in production and mentorship.
Overlooked by Team Canada for Olympic employment, Seguin and Benn have much to prove yes, but the claims from afar have been tabloidish and snap-judgementy. They will benefit from the move back to their natural positions and will drive each other. There’s no crime in being good looking (I should know) and liking the honeys. And besides, as my uncle ‘Kinick’ would have attested to: “The wildest colts make the best horses”. This team will ride this uber-talented duo.
The all important center position will go from being a weakness to a strength. Sure, maybe they don’t have a true elite, bang-bang, 1-2 punch, but Seguin, the always improving Eakin, talented utility man Shawn Horcoff, and workaholic Vern Fiddler give them nice 2-way depth, speed and vastly improved faceoff work. Plus, when Peverley is healthy he is another good option at the position.
Valeri Nichushkin will show flashes of his all-world potential but also moments of his naiveté (He’s just 18). That said he could be a threat every time he’s on the ice and if he can handle the 82 game grind, his own frustrations, and the culture change, he will be more than just an understudy.
Players like Chiasson, Richie, Oleksiak, Connauton and afore mentioned Nichuskin should be able to contribute this season. Size and hockey sense have a way of trumping inexperience.
Kari Lehtonen is a top 5-10 goalie in this league. The past couple years, at times cheesecloth strength defensive play in front of him has no doubt worn him down – both mentally and physically. That workload coupled with a little “try too hard” has combined to make him only “good” during crucial final weeks playoff-bid chases instead of the needed “difference maker” that he routinely is earlier in the season. Better win production and coaching trust in his backup (capable veteran Dan Ellis this year), and sixty games from Kari, is the target for the Targets.
Because of his experience, demeanor, simple communication skills and ability to motivate, Ruff will have this group honed and humming by Thanksgiving - at the latest. Tried and tested systems along with unwavering accountability can go a long way.
Jim Nill excels at finding good players and managing people, and he’s been doing that in the shadows of the mighty Red Wings organization for two decades. The new title is a moot point.
It will be easier to make the playoffs in the West than in the East (less teams). That said there are plenty of good teams in the West - particularly in the Stars division (the Central). Overall, Chicago, Los Angeles and St. Louis look elite. Anaheim, Nashville and Minnesota should be good. Same goes for Vancouver, San Jose and Phoenix. Edmonton might be improved, might. Ditto Colorado. So...ya, tough. The Stars have to be top 3 in the division or better in points than 6 others in the West. It’ll be a battle but I believe they get in.
Panglossian, Hyper-hyperbolic and Slightly Unrealistic View of Things As Seen Through ‘Victory Green’ Colored Glasses: (Peter Positive)
The 2013-14 Stars will capture the Jennings Trophy (fewest goals allowed) and three of the top four defensemen will be finalists for the Norris. Yes, that good. Goligoski wins it.
Whitney will be one of the Stars five 100-point scorers. Gonchar will be another. Collectively they will come to be known as the “Five Star Generals”
Benn and Seguin will take the West by storm, each scoring 50-goals and 69 assists. By midseason Team Canada’s brass will be begging them to come to Sochi and in March the two will co-author an e-book titled “Three Types of People in the World: Hashtag, People That Love Us. Hashtag, People That Would Love To Be Us. Hashtag, People Who Have Never Met Us.” It is not only an extremely long and awkward title; it also constitutes the entire contents of the e-book.
Thanks mainly to Stars centermen, Dallas will lead the NHL in faceoff percentage with a preposterous 84%, a new league record, one that will stand for decades. And because of that puck possession advantage they will enjoy a +30 ratio in shots for/shots allowed differential – a winning algorithm if ever there was one.
Valeri Nichuskin will run away with the Calder as Rookie of the Year - a Stars franchise first. His 60 goals and electrifying play will get it done on the ice. Meanwhile, during his down time he will find time to help improve U.S. – Russia relations, as well as the Stars bottom line, by convincing Vladimir Putin to buy season tickets. Putin also pays to award pigmy giraffes to the “Free Market Fan of the Night.” and the Russian President becomes a regular postgame visitor to the Stars room when in town where he constantly asks Seguin if he could hold his Bruins Stanley Cup ring. Seguin, on advice from Robert Kraft, consistently denies him that opportunity.
Nichushkin will edge out Chiasson (48 goals) and Oleksiak (+90) for that Calder.
Lehtonen will win the Vezina in a landslide. He will allow only a single goal after the Olympic Break and will officially change his name to ‘Kari Leht-none-in’. Vanity plates on his pure platinum, mirror-finished Bugatti Veyron will announce this as so.
For the first time ever, the Jack Adams will be handed out in December and it will go to Lindy Ruff. League broadcasters, incensed by the fact they aren’t asked to vote on any other award, and stating unanimously, “Why wait, he’s winning it”, hold their own one award/one man show and give Ruff his due. Nickelback will of course be the house band. Robin Thicke fills in for his dad as host and Jerry Bruckheimer presents. Event is held at Tootsie’s in Nashville. Ninety-eight percent of broadcasters attend.
In April Jim Nill will say that building a Central Division Champion now trumps the Stanley Cup victories in Detroit and his memorable 2-goal game against the Oliers in Daryl Reaugh’s NHL debut as the single greatest professional achievement in his life.
New Stars banners on order in summer of 2014: Central Division Champions, Western Conference Champions (Reg Season), Presidents Trophy, Western Conference Champions (Playoffs), Stanley Cup,
Me? I’m realistically optimistic.