2010-11 NHL season preview: Dallas Stars

marccrawfordhaha.jpgLast season: (37-31-14, 88 points, 5th in Pacific Division,12th in Western Conference) Things have not been good for the Dallas Stars since they made a nice run to the Western Conference finals during the 2007-08 season. The team’s defense floundered so much without Sergei Zubov and coach Dave Tippett that it was hard to get too excited about their more explosive offense. Last season will undoubtedly be the end of an era as Mike Modano, Marty Turco (and possibly Jere Lehtinen) are long gone.

Head coach: Marc Crawford won a Stanley Cup, but he did so with ridiculous talent (seriously, Joe Sakic, Peter Forsberg, Patrick Roy, Rob Blake and Ray Bourque played together on something other than an All-Star team?). Since then he’s been known more for ugly incidents (in Vancouver), losing young players (in Los Angeles) and his hair (everywhere). I’m not sold on Crawford as a head coach.

Key departures: F Mike Modano, G Marty Turco, F Jere Lehtinen. You can’t blame the Stars for letting 40-year-old Modano go and Turco needed to leave, too, while Lehtinen probably won’t play in the NHL next season. There’s only so much room for nostalgia in a salary-cap world.

Key arrivals: G Andrew Raycroft, F Adam Burish. The Stars are restricted by their messy ownership situation, which explains why they signed a journeyman backup in Raycroft and a tough player (but frequent healthy scratch) in Burish. You could probably consider Kari Lehtonen a near-new-arrival too, though.

Thumbnail image for Lehtonen.jpgUnder pressure: Lehtonen needs to stay healthy and put together the type of season people have been hoping for since the Thrashers made him a No. 2 pick in the 2002 draft. It’s not even the regular season yet and he is already struggling with groin problems, so he’s off to a bad (but sadly typical) start.

Protecting the house: Don’t get me wrong, Lehtonen shows flashes of brilliance. He’s a big, talented goalie who probably still leaves many scouts swooning on a game-by-game basis. It’s just that those appearances are depressingly seldom and trusting him to stay healthy is risky at best. If the Stars think Andrew Raycroft is going to get it done, then Stars fans should be very, very worried (note: the same goes for Brent Krahn).

Stephane Robidas is a rugged, likable defenseman but isn’t really an ideal No.1. Nicklas Grossman is a solid, stay-at-home type while Mark Fistric and Trevor Daley have some ability too. Yet let’s not avoid the obvious: this isn’t the kind of defense that wins divisions, let alone championships. At some point, GM Joe Nieuwendyk needs to add some security to this porous group.

Thumbnail image for brichardstrendingup.jpgTop line we’d like to see: James Neal-Brad Richards-Loui Eriksson. Neal brings the rugged power forward element, Richards is one of the league’s most gifted passers and Eriksson is one of its most underrated finishers. This trio has a little of everything, really.

Oh captain, my captain: Brenden Morrow hasn’t been the same since injuring his knee, but he’s still a rugged, heart-and-soul player who wrestled the captaincy from Mike Modano. Who knows if he’ll get his game back, but he’s still the right choice for captain.

Street fighting man: Krys Barch is enough of a fighter that Cam Janssen made a fight date with him on Twitter. Sometimes he’s more of a punch absorber than a fighter, but someone has to answer for Steve Ott’s big mouth.

Best-case scenario: Kari Lehtonen stays healthy and provides the Stars with stable, sometimes splendid goaltending. Their defense scraps and survives. Financial inspiration helps Richards match his 91-point output. A second year removed from knee surgery helps Morrow bounce back, which also enhances Mike Ribeiro’s game. The Stars score enough to cover up other blemishes and they take advantage of a weakened division to steal the second spot in the Pacific and make a respectable run to the second round of the playoffs.

Worst-case scenario: Lehtonen falls apart and Raycroft gets shredded behind an awful defense. Morrow never recovers from his injuries while Ribeiro sulks and is traded for draft picks. Richards cannot match his output from last season while Neal regresses. The Stars end up in the 10-12th range in the West so they don’t get a top pick and Crawford keeps his job.

Keeping it real: For a team that produces so much negativity, the Stars have plenty of firepower. Richards, Ribeiro, Morrow, Neal, Eriksson and even Ott can produce some nice offense. The problem is in their own end, where their coach, defense and injury-prone goalie all provide question marks at best. The Stars are likely to be in fourth or fifth place in the Pacific. Honestly, after years of being competitive and therefore settling for mediocre draft picks, maybe Dallas would be better off if they take their lumps during the season.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Stars get a 2. There are just too many strong points in the ‘cons’ column for the team’s notable pluses to produce much optimism. The Ducks have better top-end forwards and a more stable goalie, the Coyotes can protect their goalie with greater efficiency and the other California teams are just flat-out better. A playoff berth would be overachieving for this bunch, but again, they do have some talent.

Scroll Down For:

    Pens coach praises Murray: ‘He doesn’t get rattled’

    3 Comments

    Hot take: the Pittsburgh Penguins probably won’t deal with a goalie controversy going into Game 7.

    (Ugh, that’s a failed hot take … you can’t use “probably” in those things, right?)

    Matt Murray was fantastic at times during Game 6, much like his counterpart in the Tampa Bay Lightning’s net in a 5-2 win. Granted, there were some tense moments during the Bolts’ late-game push:

    Much has been made about experience, especially from those calling for Marc-Andre Fleury earlier in this series. It’s telling that the praise Murray draws sure sounds like what you’d expect from a “veteran.”

    “He has a calming influence,” Sullivan said. “He doesn’t get rattled. If he lets a goal in, he just continues to compete. That’s usually an attribute that usually takes years to acquire that, and to have it at such a young age is impressive.”

    Thanks in part to Murray’s efforts in Game 6, he’ll get a chance to prove his resolve in something new: a Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Final.

    Once again, his teammates seem pretty confident in this elimination situation.

    Lightning lament Game 6 effort, Cooper doesn’t blame disallowed goal

    8 Comments

    The Tampa Bay Lightning seemed to sleepwalk through the first two periods of Game 6, and waking up in the final frame wasn’t enough to edge the Pittsburgh Penguins.

    On the bright side, at least the Lightning aren’t in denial about that weak first 40 minutes.

    It seemed like everyone on the team more or less admitted as much in unison.

    Brian Boyle added that he felt like the Lightning tiptoed around this game. Jon Cooper often provides great quips, yet he was pretty matter-of-fact in this case.

    Many will linger on this disallowed goal for Jonathan Drouin, which would have provided a 1-0 lead for Tampa Bay in the first period.

    Let’s face it; that moment came pretty early in the game. To Tampa Bay’s credit, they’re not pinning the loss on that setback.

    Now they must set their sights on competing throughout Game 7 … and maybe earning some bounces of their own in the process.

    Read more about Game 6 here.

    Penguins force Game 7 after holding off Lightning rally

    23 Comments

    The Pittsburgh Penguins played with fire late in Game 6, but they also showed plenty of fire in beating the Tampa Bay Lightning 5-2.

    With that, this thrilling Eastern Conference Final will go the distance with Game 7 on Thursday.

    There are at least a few “What if?” scenarios to consider, especially for the Lightning.

    What if that offside goal counted?

    Jonathan Drouin played some fantastic hockey on Tuesday, yet his most memorable moment came via something that ultimately “didn’t happen.” An offside call on a goal review kept a 1-0 lead from happening for Tampa Bay:

    Instead, the Penguins poured it on during the first period and eventually went up 1-0. They then carried that momentum over through the second period, adding two more goals to go up 3-0 heading into the final frame.

    What if Tampa Bay played more like they did in the third period?

    The difference between the level of play in the first 40 minutes and the final frame were night-and-day.

    Now, you can make a chicken-and-the-egg argument here. Did the Penguins take their feet off the gas with that lead? Maybe Jon Cooper finally unleashed the hounds when the Lightning were facing a big deficit?

    Maybe it’s a combination of those factors; either way, the Bolts couldn’t come all the way back even after making it interesting. At one point the game was 3-2 before a Bryan Rust breakaway goal and an empty-netter put things out of reach.

    Both Matt Murray and Andrei Vasilevskiy faced plenty of tough chances and came through more often than not. We’ll see if there are any goal controversy rumblings, but each netminder came through at times tonight.

    ***

    Now the series shifts back to Pittsburgh for Game 7 with a Stanley Cup Final on the line. Excited and/or nervous yet?

    More: Great goals by Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel.

    Sidney Crosby scores a superstar goal

    13 Comments

    With the Pittsburgh Penguins’ season on the line in Game 6, plenty of eyes are on big guns Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel.

    Those marquee names are really coming through so far as they’ve now built a 3-0 lead through two periods against the Tampa Bay Lightning.

    You likely already saw Kessel’s display of high-end hand-eye coordination (if not, check it here). Kris Letang scored his first goal of the series to make it 2-0 on a very tricky, well-placed shot.

    The highlight really might be Crosby’s tally, though. He left multiple Lightning players baffled and beat a very-much-game Andrei Vasilevskiy to beef that lead up 3-0.