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Keep Your Heads Up Stars Fans ( Part 2 )

Posted By Travis Currie On Sep 8 2010 @ 11:59 am In Dallas Stars | 4 Comments

If you’re skeptical about wether the Stars can return to the playoffs this coming season, you would be part of the majority. I can only imagine the prognosticators predictions over the next few weeks. There will likely be plenty who place the Stars in that 15th position in the West. Also known as dead last. Normally I would argue anybody seeding them out of the playoffs. But this year will be different. Even when it comes to those last place predictions. Though last place may be a tad harsh, it’s not exactly ridiculous.

The defense is a glaring weakness. But defense doesn’t just mean defensemen. It means every player on the ice as a unit. The team was 19th in the league in shots against last year and 23rd overall with a 2.98 GAA. That compared to 4th in the league in shots against and 6th with a 2.49 GAA in 2007-08. Pretty big difference. I think it’s a combination of things that are responsible. Marc Crawford’s style of play focuses more on what you do when you have the puck, not what you do without it. Dave Tippett, Ken Hitchcock, and Bob Gainey, he is not. The transition game is greatly affected by the weaknesses and that’s how you’re going to win and lose most hockey games. Get the puck back up the ice as quickly as possible and limit the other team’s chances while creating your own. That is the game in a nutshell and we’ve been losing at it.

Of all the players drafted by the Stars between 1989 and 2002, only Jere Lehtinen, Brenden Morrow, and Steve Ott have gone on to have atleast one 20 goal season with the team. Since 2003, the Stars have drafted Loui Eriksson ( 33rd overall in ’03 ), James Neal ( 33rd overall in ’05 ) and Jamie Benn ( 129th overall in ’07 ). Eriksson has scored 65 goals over the last 2 seasons, Neal scored 24 goals as a rookie and 27 goals last year as a sophmore, and Jamie Benn scored 22 as a rookie last year. 23 year old Swede Tom Wandell could possibly join that group one day soon aswell. If that isn’t encouraging then I don’t know what is. Nobody will ever replace Mike Modano and it will definitely be weird not having #9 in the lineup, but we have a new generation of stars to be excited about that will carry this team for years to come.

A question that all Stars fans are waiting to be answered is, can Kari Lehtonen finally live up to expectations ? The 2nd overall pick in 2002 hasn’t really been able to do so yet but that’s mostly been due to health, not lack of ability. Though it’s been said that lack of conditioning has contributed to his problems aswell. He did well in Atlanta when he was healthy and he appeared to be heating up the more he played last season. And let’s keep in mind he hadn’t played an NHL game since the previous season,only had 4 warmup games in the minors before being thrown into the fire, and was fairly fresh off of back surgery. So let’s hope durability is no longer an issue. And hopefully there are no fast food joints between his place in Dallas and the rink. Or the Stars took action and put up ” Do Not Serve” pictures of him in every drive-thru.

The bigger names in free agency have been picked over this summer, which is fine. Even if we had a new owner, I didn’t care for this year’s crop of free agents anyways. So that is likely a blessing in disguise. Buying for the sake of buying or settling for whatever you can get is never a good shopping strategy. And in the NHL, it doesn’t matter that you kept the receipt and the product is still in unused condition. No refunds or exchanges. If we save our money, Zdeno Chara, Andrei Markov and Tomas Kaberle are among the group of free agents next summer should we choose to go that route.

So if we take a step back and look at this team realistically, we shouldn’t wonder what the heck happened if we end up missing the playoffs for a 3rd straight season. Not that I ever want to accept losing as the status quo, but we’re doing some rebuilding and have not been able to add to the roster due to the budget. So let’s just sit back and watch the youngsters this team has that will carry the load for years to come. A playoff spot is not out of the question though. There’s something to be said for a young hard working team with everybody on the same page working as a unit. And we still have a good core of veterans leading the way let’s not forget.

Nobody loves the current overall situation. But with the young players already on the rise and the ownership problem rumored to be close to a resolve, better days are not too far away.

Don’t bet on a playoff spot this year, but don’t be surprised if the Stars are in the battle for 8th come late March either.

5 things to watch for:

1. Continued emergence of Loui Eriksson, James Neal, and Jamie Benn.

2. Bounce back seasons by Brenden Morrow and Mike Ribeiro ?

3. Can Kari carry the load ?

4. 20 year old Danish  defenseman Philip Larsen.

5. Can the overall defense improve ?

Prediction – 8th to 12th.

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