Why Stars fans should be more optimistic about the future

jamesneal.jpgOne of the fan bases who have had their patience tested throughout this off-season is that of the Dallas Stars. From seeing their franchise icon Mike Modano shopping his wares around the NHL, to rumors of the team being sold, to the team not being overly active in the free agent market it’s tough to blame Dallas fans if they’re feeling edgy about the team’s prospects. The Dallas Morning News’ Mike Heika wants Stars fans to know that not everything is coming up empty for the team and that there’s reason to have hope.

I’m trying to be realistic with this roster, and I have asked a few friends if you had to rank the teams based on roster and coaching staff, where would you rank the Stars. My guess is most of you would say around 20th. That’s the reality for a team on a tight budget. Now, people would have ranked the Coyotes and Predators much lower before last season, and they both made the playoffs on extremely tight budgets, so the Stars can do the same thing.

But the bottom line is Nieuwendyk and his crew are trying to improve this thing any way they can, and they believe they are taking steps forward, and that is reason for optimism. Plus, if you remember back to when Norman Green owned the team in 1995, things were falling apart everywhere. Tom Hicks bought the Stars, and they immediately started making changes and improving. Nieuwendyk has the team positioned to do that once more money is available, and that is reason for optimism.

So, will the Stars be one of the better teams in the NHL in 2010-11? I don’t think they will be. I’m amending this part. If they do get a new owner, and Nieuwendyk is freed to make a few moves, I do think they could be one of the better teams. I think they are positioned to be a good team fairly quickly now. There are still a lot of question marks, but I think they are closer to Nieuwendyk’s vision of a winning team now.

Having a general manager hamstrung by an ownership in flux is always a huge problem. You can’t spend much money because you don’t know what the new guys will say about the budget. The only thing you really can do to impress any potential buyer is to shed payroll and hope that it all works out in the end so when new ownership comes in they take the leash off to spend again.

The Stars do still have some loose ends to take care of still this off-season, the leading one being signing scoring winger James Neal to a new contract. The Stars have made their bed in goal opting to go with Kari Lehtonen as their starter and their forward lines and defense are mostly all set, whether fans agree with that or not. Perhaps Mike Ribeiro still gets traded but that talk has cooled of late. As for Stars fans eager to head for the bridges because of everything Dallas-related being in flux… Patience, friends.

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    Video: Beagle gets stick stuck in visor

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    Through 40 minutes of action in Game 1 of the second round series between Pittsburgh and Washington and we’ve already seen some big moments, along with a pretty unusual one.

    Beagle ended up with a stick lodged into his visor towards the end of the second frame. He tried to get it out himself, but ended up having to go to the bench for assistance. You can see that below:

    Stamkos close to game shape, but return might be weeks or months away

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) competes in the hardest shot competition at the NHL hockey All-Star game skills competition Saturday, Jan. 30, 2016, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey)
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    Steve Stamkos began to practice again on Tuesday and he was back out there on Wednesday and Thursday, which some might interpret as him being close to returning. It seems premature to say that definitively.

    “It could be weeks. It could be months,” Stamkos said of his timetable, per ESPN. “That’s the tough part.”

    The problem isn’t getting back into game shape after undergoing vascular surgery in early April. He feels he’s already close to reaching that objective. The issue is that Stamkos is on blood thinners, which prevents him from taking any contact. It remains to be seen how long he’ll be on blood thinners.

    For what it’s worth, Tampa Bay’s Andrei Vasilevskiy underwent the same surgery and was out for two months and the original timetable provided on April 4 for Stamkos was one-to-three months. So based on that, it sounds like it would be surprising if he returned anytime soon.

    Bergeron, Kesler, Kopitar named Selke finalists

    Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron celebrates after scoring against the Montreal Canadiens during the second period of an NHL hockey game Tuesday, Jan. 19, 2016, in Montreal. (Ryan Remiorz/The Canadian Press via AP)
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    Will Patrice Bergeron join Bob Gainey as the only players to have ever won the Selke Trophy four times?

    That’s a distinct possibility after the Bruins center was named as a finalist along with Anaheim’s Ryan Kesler and Los Angeles’ Anze Kopitar.

    The Selke Trophy honors the league’s top defensive forward and for three of the last four years, that distinction has gone to Bergeron. However, Kesler and Kopitar have been popular with the voters of this award as well.

    Kopitar has finished second in the voting in each of the previous two campaigns while Kesler won back in 2011, though he finished outside of the top-five in each of the last three years prior to the 2015-16 campaign.

    Among the trio, Kesler excelled this season on the draw with a 58.5% success rate, which was good for second in the league among forwards who took at least 200 faceoffs. Bergeron was up there too, winning 57.1% of his draws while Kopitar posted a 53.5%. Meanwhile, Bergeron ranked seventh in the NHL with 67 takeaways compared to Kesler’s 39 and Kopitar’s 43. Where Kopitar stood out was in plus/minus as he finished second in the league at plus-34. Kesler was plus-five and Bergeron was plus-12.

    Kopitar similarly led the trio with a 57.4% Corsi For versus Bergeron’s 55.9% and Kesler’s 52.9%.

    Capitals get Orpik back for series opener

    Washington Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik (44) celebrates his goal with teammates on the bench during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils, Saturday, Feb. 20, 2016, in Washington. The Capitals won 4-3. (AP Photo/Nick Wass)
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    Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik missed half of Washington’s first round series, but he’s back in time for the opener against his former team.

    Orpik last played on April 18 and was regarded as questionable going into tonight’s contest against Pittsburgh. He’s expected to be paired with John Carlson throughout the contest.

    Washington’s other projected pairings are Karl Alzner and Matt Niskanen as well as Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.

    Orpik was limited to 41 games during the 2015-16 regular season, but when he did play he averaged 19:48 minutes per contest. He also recorded 125 hits and 102 blocked shots despite missing half the season. The 35-year-old blueliner got his start with Pittsburgh and played in 703 regular season contests with them and an additional 92 postseason contests. This is his second season with Washington.