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Stars Optimistic, Determined Heading Into Offseason

by Mark Stepneski / Dallas Stars

The Dallas Stars gathered at American Airlines Center for exit interviews, physicals and a team picture on Tuesday. There still was disappointment over Sunday’s Game 6 overtime loss to Anaheim, and optimism about the future.

“It would have been nicer to have that Stanley Cup in front of us [for the team picture],” said goaltender Kari Lehtonen. “It’s been a rough couple of days to kind of think about things. We just have to keep going forward.”

“We’re going in the right direction,” said captain Jamie Benn. “Great coaches, [GM] Jim Nill has done a great job with this team. We have an exciting future and I can’t wait for next year.”

There was a lot of pride in what the Stars accomplished over the course of this season.

“I am extremely proud of where we came from and where we ended up. We came a long ways. We fought hard to get where we were at,” said coach Lindy Ruff. “We had our share of ups and downs, but I thought as a team we really came together. There weren’t many nights we got outworked as a team. There weren’t many nights that we got outskated. … We’re disappointed right now, but we have a lot to build on.”

The Stars had a bumpy ride over the course of the season, dealing with injuries to Lehtonen, the group of defensemen and then the cardiac event that sidelined Rich Peverley for the rest of the season. There was a nice run in December, and then a dismal stretch in January that almost sidetracked the season. But the Stars finished strong down the stretch and secured a playoff spot for the first time since 2008.

“Every team faces adversity, but we faced quite a bit this year,” said center Tyler Seguin. “We had a lot of ups and downs. We’re a young team and we blew away a lot of expectations of outsiders. We created an identity here; we’re excited to get better and are excited about next year.”

“We proved a lot of people wrong this year and opened a lot of eyes around the league. I think we gained a lot of respect for our team,” said defenseman Brenden Dillon. “We’ve got a great group of guys that battled from day one. We had our ups, we had our downs and I think we showed not just to everybody, but to ourselves that we can be a good team.”

The Stars showed well in the playoff series against Anaheim, and it’s a series that could have gone either way. But in the end it didn’t go the Stars way and that’s a good lesson for a team with a lot of young players.

“Sometimes you have to lose to learn how to win,” said forward Vernon Fiddler. “It’s a bad taste in our mouths right now. Hopefully it makes these young kids stronger, they can learn from this and we can move on.”

“I think it was necessary for a lot of the players to see how it is,” said Lehtonen. “We all know it is hard to get there and it’s even harder to win in the playoffs. It was good and it makes us hungrier for the next one.”

And the message moving forward was don’t be satisfied with what was accomplished this season. It was just one step, but it will take more to take the next one.

“I am very optimistic. We have a great core of young players here, with a good mix of some veterans. I am excited. Now, I am also realistic. We’ve got a lot of work to do, too,” said Stars GM Jim Nill. “We made the playoffs. That was great. We had a great run in the first round, but we didn’t win. Our goal is to eventually win the Stanley Cup, so there is still work to be done. I think it was a great learning tool for the players in the playoffs, and it hurt. Losing is no fun. It’s tough and it was a tough loss.”

“Don’t take this eighth place finish as that we had a great year. We have room to grow, but we have to put the work in,” said Ruff. “This is one of the best teams I’ve coached. This was a tough, but fun year as a coach. These guys brought it every night. But you just can’t think that it is going to happen again. We have to use these next three weeks to decompress and then use the next three months to become a better team.”

Nill, Ruff on needs

Stars GM Jim Nill and coach Lindy Ruff were asked about the team’s biggest need moving forward. Here’s what both had to say.

Ruff: “Defending. We came a long ways from the start of the year to the end of the year on the defending front, on what we gave up, the shots we gave up and the quality of chances we gave up. We made good strides. I still believe we are a big defender away from being a harder team to play against. I think we have some young guys that could easily step in there. [Patrik] Nemeth got a little bit a taste of it. I have high hopes for other players in the organization as well that I’ve seen play.”

Nill: “That’s a pretty big question because in this cap world you have weaknesses everywhere. It would be great to add two or three more forwards, high end forwards. It would be nice to add a No. 1 and No. 2 defenseman. I would say moving forward – and this is everybody’s wish list – it would be great to have a No. 1 and No. 2 defenseman. There’s 25 other teams that want to do the same thing. That’s something we are probably going to have to draft and develop and go from there. It’s hard to find a true No. 1 defenseman in this league anymore.”

Nill on restricted free agents

Stars GM Jim Nill was asked about contract talks with the team’s key restricted free agents, which include Cody Eakin, Brenden Dillon and Antoine Roussel.

“I’d like to get it done as soon as possible,” Nill said. “I think they would too, but it kind of gets drawn out. They have agents that have to do their job, and I have to do my job. There’s a business part to it. We’re going to get them done. It’s no problem. We’ll get them signed. They are a big part of our team going forward.”

Dillon slowed by ankle injury

Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon revealed it was an ankle injury that kept him out of the first four games of the playoff series against the Anaheim Ducks.

“[It’s] not 100 percent. It was an ankle injury,” Dillon said. “I suffered it with six to eight games left in the season and in that St. Louis game at the end of the year it was over the top. I wasn’t able to put my foot in a skate.”

Roussel to play at World Championship

Stars forward Antoine Roussel said he is going to play for France at the 2014 World Championship, which begins May 9 in Belarus. Stars GM Jim Nill said there’s a good chance goaltender Tim Thomas will play for the USA. There could be a few other Stars who could take part in the tournament, but those players have to decide if they want to play or get medical clearance.

This story was not subject to the approval of the National Hockey League or Dallas Stars Hockey Club. Mark Stepneski is an independent writer whose posts on reflect his own opinions and do not represent official statements from the Dallas Stars. You can follow Mark on Twitter @StarsInsideEdge.

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