Brad Richards, Dallas Stars’ success currently slipping under the radar

Brad Richards and the Dallas Stars have quietly put together an outstanding start to the 2010-11 season, as they currently sit one point behind the Western Conference-leading Detroit Red Wings after beating that team in overtime on Sunday.

The problem is that a precious few people seem to notice Richards’ individual achievements and the Stars team success, judging from preliminary MVP voting (as Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski points out) and poor attendance numbers for Dallas home games (which Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News discussed today).

First, let’s discuss Richards’ tremendous contract year efforts. While his 38 points “only” ties him for sixth best in the NHL with Daniel Sedin and Alex Ovechkin, the Stars are a team that leans heavily on the playmaking forward’s production. He helped create or score 38 of the Stars’ 95 goals this season, which means he accounts for a staggering 40 percent of the team’s offense.

Does that mean he deserves to be win the Hart Trophy? Not necessarily, but he definitely is worthy of being a part of the discussion. If the team didn’t have Richards and Kari Lehtonen, they might not be competitive right now.

But the Stars are competitive, earning a 20-10-3 record for 43 points in 33 games played. They sit atop the ultra-competitive Pacific Division to the surprise of many, but their normally loyal DFW market is barely batting an eye at the team’s success.

Heika writes that the team is falling victim to the “wheel of fame.”

Bottom line, the wheel of fame is a tough thing. When you are on it, people crave attention about you, they get information about you and that feeds the fame. When you’re not on it, they don’t, and it’s tough to get people excited about your product. The Stars are not on the wheel right now, so they have to fight extra hard to get back on. This home stand will be a good test to see how things are working. The Stars play five of the next six at home, and they are playing at a time when families have time and might want to enjoy an entertainment event like a hockey game.

If the Stars win and the crowds come, the media coverage will follow. While hockey does fight some special battles for coverage in the Sunbelt, the Stars aren’t that much different than the Mavericks or Rangers. The more they win, the more people care, the more coverage they get. The Cowboys are different, and every single marketing number will tell you that, but the Stars are right in there with the rest of the pack.

Just ask FC Dallas or TCU how they feel about the coverage on a lot of days. This is not about hockey alone.

Hopefully people will start showing up for Stars games once the playoffs draw closer, because the region certainly got excited about the Texas Rangers when they made a similar Cinderella run. Otherwise, many pundits might wonder if the inevitable loss of Mike Modano also meant the inevitable loss of fan interest.

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    Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

    Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

    Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

    Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

    Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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    Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

    The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

    Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

    After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

    Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

    Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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    MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

    But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

    “I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

    Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

    “I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

    Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

    Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

    Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

    All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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    SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

    Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

    The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

    Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

    Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.