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.

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    Shane Doan wasn’t pleased with the Martin Hanzal trade

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    Shane Doan has in the past been critical about some of the trades the Arizona Coyotes have made.

    He did so again on Sunday, seemingly in disbelief that the Coyotes traded Martin Hanzal to the Minnesota Wild.

    In March of 2015, the now 40-year-old forward, who has played his entire career with this franchise despite all its financial and arena turmoil, voiced his displeasure when Arizona dealt defenseman Keith Yandle.

    “It was not my idea, not my ideal situation,” he said at the time. “There’s no one that’s 38 years old that thinks it’s a good idea, ‘Let’s rebuild.’”

    The Coyotes entered Sunday with 49 points and well out of a wild card spot. They are selling, in a rebuilding phase and Hanzal’s name had been tied to trade speculation for months.

    The Coyotes were in action versus the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday. Standing in the dressing room and still trying to capture his breath, Doan addressed the Hanzal deal with Todd Walsh of Fox Sports Arizona.

    “It’s really hard. Obviously he’s a huge part of our team and someone that you get to play with for 10 years, you appreciate and understand how valuable and how you can’t really replace him,” said Doan, before the frustration really began to appear.

    “The fact we just continue to seem to go — I don’t know, it’s hard to understand exactly. I mean, you understand people’s hands are tied and you just don’t get it.”

    Meanwhile, Doan is on a one-year contract and his future with the club has also been talked about recently.

    However, Coyotes GM John Chayka reiterated to reporters that Doan has not asked for a trade.

    Blackhawks continue red-hot streak with win over Blues

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    It’s been quite a month for the Chicago Blackhawks.

    The Blackhawks on Sunday concluded their schedule for the month of February with a 4-2 victory over the St. Louis Blues, and their recent surge over the last few weeks has put them right into the thick of the fight for first place in the Central Division.

    They now trail Minnesota by only a single point, although the Wild — they were busy Sunday, acquiring Martin Hanzal from Arizona — still have three games in hand.

    Still, the Blackhawks are heating up ahead of Wednesday’s trade deadline. They have now won nine times in their last 10 games and that includes a pair of victories against Minnesota. The fight for this division is basically now solely between these two teams.

    Meanwhile, the Blues had enjoyed instant success after making their coaching change at the beginning of this month. But they have now lost three straight and on Tuesday will play Connor McDavid and an Edmonton Oilers team that is looking to remain in contention for the Pacific Division lead.

    The Blues, who fell behind early and then fought back to tie the game before the deciding Artem Anisimov goal, still hold a wild card spot, but they sit only three points above the L.A. Kings for that final spot.

    Anisimov scored the winner for Chicago. He buried a beautiful cross-ice pass from Artemi Panarin late in the third period to give the Blackhawks the lead. Patrick Kane had a two-point night while logging more than 21 minutes of ice time — more than any other Chicago forward.

    Big win in the Big Apple for Blue Jackets

    COLUMBUS, OH - DECEMBER 20:  Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets celebrates after scoring a goal during the second period of the game against the Los Angeles Kings on December 20, 2016 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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    NEW YORK (AP) Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg each scored twice to lead the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 5-2 victory over the New York Rangers on Sunday.

    Sergei Bobrovsky stopped 28 shots to tie his career high with his 32nd win. Josh Anderson also scored and Oliver Bjorkstrand had two assists to help the Blue Jackets win for the fourth time in five games.

    Columbus won for the second time in two days after its bye week and moved past the Rangers into third place in the Metropolitan Division.

    The Blue Jackets won three of five in the season series – including both games at Madison Square Garden – after losing seven straight meetings coming in.

    Rick Nash scored a tying goal for the Rangers early in the first period. Jesper Fast scored in the final second, and Henrik Lundqvist finished with 26 saves.

    New York lost for just the third time this month (9-2-1) and had its four-game point streak snapped (3-0-1). The Rangers, who came in 5-0-1 in their last six at home, were playing for the fifth time in six days – with the previous three games going beyond regulation.

    With Columbus leading 2-1 after one period, Lundqvist made a nice stop on a breakaway by Atkinson to keep it a one-goal game just past the 9-minute mark of the second.

    However, seconds after Nick Holden made a sliding save of Zach Werenski‘s shot at an open net with Lundqvist out of position, Wennberg scored off a rebound of a shot by Bjorkstrand for his second of the game and 12th of the season to make it 3-1 at 9:47.

    Atkinson got his second of the game and career-high 29th at 4:12 of the third. He took a pass from Brandon Dubinsky, skated in and beat Lundqvist on the stick side. Atkinson also tied his career high of 53 points set last season.

    Anderson scored from in front in the final minute for his 14th, and Fast scored just before the final buzzer.

    Wennberg got the Blue Jackets on the board 1:02 into the game when he deflected David Savard‘s shot down out of the air and past Lundqvist for his 11th.

    The Rangers tied it when Nash received a no-look pass from Jimmy Vesey and fired it from the right circle over Bobrovsky’s glove at 4:07. Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella challenged for offside, but the goal stood after a review.

    Columbus went ahead 2-1 with its second power-play goal in 14 games. With the Rangers’ Adam Clendening off for roughing, Atkinson wristed a shot from the center point past Lundqvist at 6:47.

    Nick Foligno was sent off for holding with 2:47 left in the first, putting the Blue Jackets short-handed for the first time in three games. Bobrovsky stopped great power-play chances for Brandon Pirri and Mats Zuccarello.

    Columbus’ Brandon Saad was awarded a penalty shot when he was held before he could get a shot off during a short-handed breakaway in the final minute, but Lundqvist deflected his attempt away.

    A ‘number of concerns’ about Jonathan Quick led Kings to pursue Bishop

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    Dean Lombardi revealed that he and Steve Yzerman had been working on a deal for Ben Bishop for about two or three weeks.

    On Sunday, a deal between the Kings and Lightning was finally completed and it had basically everything to do with Jonathan Quick. Speaking in a conference call, Lombardi, the Kings general manager, noted a “number of concerns” for Quick coming back from a 59-game absence because of a groin injury before finally returning to game action Saturday.

    Quick, 31, was impressive in a win over the Anaheim Ducks, but Lombardi and the Kings just could not be sure about how he would fare in the stretch drive after coming back from such a lengthy time away, and were therefore set on acquiring another No. 1 goalie.

    “You’re never sure how well a guy who’s been out this long — is he going to have his ‘A’ game, so to speak, or not? These type of injuries, which are fairly serious, the history of comebacks can go either way,” said Lombardi.

    “On the other hand, we all know Jon’s a tremendous athlete. He’s one of the top goaltenders in the game and most importantly he’s one of the game’s top competitors. So you certainly don’t worry about Jon … once he passes the mental part that ‘I’m capable of doing athletically what I have in the past’ that he’s going to be able to give it his all.”

    The Kings, currently three points out of a playoff spot in the West, are in a stretch of three games in four nights.

    Bishop is expected to join the team for the morning skate tomorrow. Lombardi even mentioned that coach Darryl Sutter had actually planned on playing the newly acquired netminder Monday versus the Wild. That is still to be determined but it’s likely Bishop plays one of the Kings’ next two games. They’re in Calgary on Tuesday.

    The condensed schedule over the next few weeks was another factor in making the trade for the Kings. They just simply don’t want to wear Quick down.

    “This is not an insurance policy,” said Lombardi. “There’s not a lot of room here for error. We just want to take that out of the equation by making sure that we have a No. 1 goalie in there every night.”

    Bishop is a pending unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. The Kings have Quick under contract until 2023 at a cap hit of $5.8 million.

    While Lombardi didn’t completely rule out the chance of re-signing Bishop — “You never say ‘never,'” he said — bringing in a player on an expiring contract was something the Kings were willing to do in this case.

    “If not, we’re comfortable with what we had to pay to give ourselves a chance here to get in. After that, as we know, anything can happen,” he said. “The focus was on getting the best goalie available.”

    The Kings face other issues. You could argue more pressing issues.

    Sure, they made a move they believe will strengthen the goaltending position. But they’re also 25th in scoring, averaging just 2.44 goals-for per game. They had a nice third-period outburst Saturday, but for the most part, goals have been hard to come by for L.A.

    “There’s players that will freely admit right to you that they’re capable of producing more. We don’t want to lose our defensive identity. We’ve got two of the best goalies in the league there now,” said Lombardi.

    “Now when we get into the other team’s end … we’ve got to bear down.”