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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    Bruins management failed to improve roster as planned

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    After missing the playoffs for the second year in a row, the Boston Bruins went into the offseason with three major things on their to-do list:

    1. Fix the defense.
    2. Get a better back-up goalie.
    3. Get “heavier” at right wing.

    By the time the offseason was over, they’d:

    1. Done nothing to fix the defense.
    2. Signed Anton Khubodin to back up Tuukka Rask.
    3. Signed David Backes.

    In other words, Cam Neely, the Bruins’ president, and Don Sweeney, the general manager, went 1-for-3. Signing Backes made the B’s heavier on right wing. There’s no disputing that.

    But the defense? It has 39-year-old Zdeno Chara on a top pairing with 20-year-old rookie Brandon Carlo. And it still has Adam McQuaid in a top-4 role.

    That’s not meant to slight McQuaid. It is less about him than the two right-shot defensemen who have been traded away and not replaced: Johnny Boychuk and Dougie Hamilton.

    The fact is, when the Bruins were winning championships and going to the Stanley Cup Final, McQuaid was a bottom-pairing guy. Since his role has been expanded, the Bruins have not made the playoffs.

    Read more: The Bruins didn’t fix their defense, but Neely still expects improvement

    Which brings us to the backup goalie. Khudobin was a bad signing, plain and simple. He went 1-5-1 with an .885 save percentage before he was dispatched to the minors — and, if you were paying attention, it was not a huge surprise that he failed to deliver. This is a goalie who hasn’t put up good NHL numbers since 2013-14. Heck, he spent most of last season in the AHL.

    And make no mistake, for bubble teams like Boston, backup goaltending can be the difference between making and missing the playoffs. Not only does it cost wins when a bad backup plays, the coach’s reluctance to use his backup means more work for the starter. Consider: only three other goalies have started more games than Rask (37) has this season, and he has not looked particularly fresh in his last few outings.

    That, finally, brings us to the head coach. Claude Julien has been on the job for almost a decade, and perhaps it’s time for a new voice with some new ideas. After all, the league is faster now, and these aren’t Milan Lucic‘s Bruins anymore. Sometimes, change can be a good thing.

    But just remember — if Julien does, indeed, get fired — Bruins management had three things they wanted to fix over the summer, and they only fixed one of them.

    And that’s not on the coach.

    Related: Julien’s job reportedly in danger

    They fixed the defense, but now poor offense is ‘killing’ the Bolts

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    Two weeks ago, Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said the team had lost its defensive mindset. His remarks came during a four-game losing streak in which the Bolts surrendered a whopping 22 goals.

    Since then, things have tightened up considerably. Tampa Bay has only surrendered 10 goals over the last five games — which coincided with Ben Bishop‘s return from injury — but now, there’s a new problem at hand.

    The Bolts can’t score.

    “It’s not for a lack of trying, not for lack of chances,” head coach Jon Cooper said following Thursday’s 2-1 loss in San Jose, per the Tampa Bay times. “The shooting sights are off on the stick, too many missed nets.

    “It’s killing us.”

    After scoring four times in a win over Buffalo on Jan. 12, the Lightning offense has really dried up. They were only able to beat Sergei Bobrovsky once in a loss to Columbus on Jan. 13, then squeezed out a 2-1 win over the Kings on Monday.

    Tampa then suffered consecutive 2-1 defeats in Anaheim (in OT) and San Jose.

    All told, it has just five goals in the last four games.

    One could point to all the missing bodies as a reason for the slump. Steven Stamkos‘ absence looms large. And while fellow injured forwards Ryan Callahan, J.T. Brown and Brayden Point aren’t elite offensive guys by any stretch, they were relied upon for depth production.

    Not having Victor Hedman is a problem, too. The minute-munching blueliner generated plenty of offense from the back end, and is second only to Brent Burns in d-man scoring across the league.

    This isn’t to say Tampa Bay is bereft of scoring options, though. Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Alex Killorn were all in the lineup last night. Killorn had a terrific chance for an equalizer late in regulation, but sailed his shot from the slot wide of the net.

    “It was a grade-A chance,” Killorn said, per the Times. “And I missed.”

    Tampa Bay needs to figure this all out, and fast. While the Bolts are only three points back of Toronto for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference, they’ve got to hurdle four teams — Philly, Carolina, Florida and New Jersey — to get there.

    Thankfully, there’s some promise on the horizon. The Lightning are in Arizona tomorrow night, to play a Coyotes team that ranks 29th in the NHL in goals allowed.

    Five team stats you may find interesting

    St. Louis Blues goalie Jake Allen is slow to get up after giving up a goal to Washington Capitals' T.J. Oshie during the second period of an NHL hockey game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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    27.5 — Shots per game for the St. Louis Blues. Only one team, New Jersey (27.3), is averaging fewer. So while it’s true that goaltending has been their major issue, it’s also true that in the eight games since the Winter Classic, the Blues have averaged just 22.9 shots, and that’s not very many at all. Perhaps it’s related to the goaltending — i.e. they could be playing more conservatively in order to protect Jake Allen and Carter Hutton. But coach Ken Hitchcock said recently that Vladimir Tarasenko “is getting checked to death, and other people are responsible for creating the space for him. He’s trying to play against four guys right now. We need more participants in order to help him.” So it’s not all on the goalies. In his last six games, Tarasenko has no goals and just nine shots total.

    58 — Goals scored by the Washington Capitals since Christmas. That’s an average of 4.5 per game. Only the Rangers (4.4) and Penguins (4.0) are averaging four goals or more in that time frame. Since Christmas, the Caps have been led in scoring by Alex Ovechkin (17 points); however, the resurgence of Evgeny Kuznetsov (15 points) has also been key. Kuznetsov only had 17 points in his first 32 games. He’s up to 32 in 45 now.

    73.8% — The Buffalo Sabres’ penalty killing, which has been terrible. In fact, the Sabres are on pace to have the NHL’s worst PK of the salary-cap era:

    pk

    3 — Power-play goals for the Blue Jackets in their last eight games. In a related story, the Jackets are 3-5-0 in those eight games. “There’s gonna be times where it just doesn’t feel like it’s going in,” said captain Nick Foligno after last night’s 2-0 loss in Ottawa. Columbus went 0-for-3 with the man advantage against the Sens, who got a 42-save shutout from Mike Condon. The Jackets still have the NHL’s best power play (24.6%), but the Maple Leafs (24.1%) are catching up. The Leafs have scored 12 PP goals in their last 10 games.

    14 — Games the Colorado Avalanche have lost by three goals or more, the most in the league. Just how bad are the Avs? Well, they’re 30th in goals for and 30th in goals against. And if they keep up their pace, they’ll be the worst team of the salary-cap era:

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    Leafs claim Griffith off waivers… again

    SUNRISE, FL - DECEMBER 29:  Seth Griffith #24 of the Florida Panthers takes a shot on Al Montoya #35 of the Montreal Canadiens during a game  at BB&T Center on December 29, 2016 in Sunrise, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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    Seth “suitcase” Griffith is off to join another team — a team he’s joined once already this season.

    On Friday, the Leafs announced they’ve claimed Griffith off waivers, just two months after exposing him on the wire and losing him to Florida.

    Toronto had originally acquired Griffith off — yup, you guessed it, waivers! — when the B’s cut him loose just prior to the start of the regular season.

    The 23-year-old, who played under Leafs assistant GM Mark Hunter in OHL London, appeared in three games for Toronto this season, going pointless. Griffith had a bigger role in Florida — notching five assists in 21 games — but suffered a concussion earlier this month and, after recovering, was a healthy scratch for three straight games.

    Per multiple sources, the Leafs are sending Griffith straight to their AHL affiliate, the Marlies.