Dallas Stars Blogger Roundtable; Thoughts On The Season So Far, Part II

In Part II of our blogger roundtable, things started to get interesting as we got into some of the more sensitive subjects surrounding the Dallas Stars. We talked about our actual realistic expectations for the team, some of the leadership issues we might be starting to see, and then got into some of the dreaded trade talk scenarios. You can find Part I of our discussion here.

As a reminder, joining us last night were Cole Jones (TheOther6Seconds.com), Myra Lackey (Laughs2Loud.com), Brandon Bibb and none other than Bob Sturm of 1310 The Ticket fame and resident blogger at DallasStars.com.

Quick note: This was a fairly loose discussion with minimal structure. It a chat among serious Dallas Stars bloggers and we let the conversation go where it might. This is a slightly abridged transcript of the chat.

Brandon B. - Mike Heika pointed out that Tom Hicks would tend to get a better return on the money he put into the Stars because of the economics of the NHL. He had an easier time keeping up with the Red Wings than he did trying to keep up with the Red Sox and Yankees in baseball. So there's that

Cole J. - I think a lot of fans expected the salary cap in hockey to hamper our spending... but I know I personally didn't expect us to be so far below the cap so quickly.

Brandon W. - We're not going to see any big changes soon (supposedly), and the Stars still need to win now. Do we have faith the coaching staff can maximize the performance of this current team?

Cole J. - I think the bigger question isn't if the coaches can maximize it, but what this team's ceiling is... what IS our max? How good can we be?

Brandon B. - Well like I said earlier, the Stars are in a position in the standings where most of us could reasonably expect them to be with a lowered payroll, young roster, and new coaching staff coming in.

Cole J. - After last season, I'll take the 8th seed as a victory. A summer without playoffs hurts.

Brandon B. - As long as the club can stay relatively healthy, I do think you'll start seeing the coaching change pay some dividends as the season goes along.

Myra L. - I think we were handling the season's ups and downs alright until those last two games. Something about the way they came unglued was more troubling than previous losses. Was it a coaching problem? I think you can't say it didn't have something to do with it.

Brandon W. - I definitely think the Stars have the ability to at least hold on to the 8th seed, and this team desperately needs a playoff berth. Mark Stepneski had a great article today detailing that despite all of the issues this team has had, they've still been able to keep pace with the rest of the teams around them.

Cole J. - What worries me the most is that we've been able to keep pace by racking up on "loser points."

Brandon B. - And what the loser point give, the loser point can taketh away.

Cole J. - As someone who hates the entire loser point system, it really takes the wind out of your sails.

Myra L. - Those stats breaking down into 5 and 10 game blocks were pretty amazing. I had felt like they were slipping much more than the stats indicated.

Brandon B. - And lest we forget, this team is -4 in head to head point differential with Phoenix, -2 against Minnesota, and -2 against Edmonton. That could come back to bite them at the end of the year if they don't start making up some of that lost ground later in the season.

Cole J. - I think what's so disconcerting is that while we have been consistently inconsistent, it feels like it's getting worse, because we all expected it to get better.

Brandon W. - Well, I think we're all in agreement that the Stars are at least treading water. What's nerve wracking is how quickly things can go in either direction, good or bad from here moving forward.

Cole J. - Definitely.

Brandon W. - I know it all feels negative right now, but I want to try and talk about the positives about this team. I wrote about it early today but I'd like to hear your thoughts on the most uplifting part of this current Stars team, not named Brad Richards.

Brandon B. - I'm trying to keep a 30,000 foot view of it all by telling myself that no matter what happens this year, next year will be better.

Myra L. - What are our expectations for the end of the season? Do we really think they can work miracles with a new GM and coaching staff and a very young team? I'm usually Ms. Positivity but I'm a realist as well.

Cole J. - I'm usually a "negative nancy" so to speak, so I'm pretty par for the course so far. lol.

Cole J. - I think Neal's start to the season, and Benn's ability to hang with the top lines straight out of junior have got to be big pluses. They're both young and have many years ahead of them. Benn's going to have his ups and downs, but there's no question he's going to be a good one.

Myra L. - I have a positive for you, which you already discussed in today's post, but MARK FISTRIC. The advances he has made in every aspect of his game are tremendous.

Cole J. - And Tommy Wandell. I can't say enough good things about him.

Brandon B. - I do think you have to be encouraged with the fact that a kid like Jamie Benn, who was a later round draft pick, was able to basically barge his way onto this team by virtue of his play in training camp and the early part of the season. The Stars drafting issues in the 90's and early part of the decade have been well chronicled. So it's nice to see that there's one part of the organization that's improved over the last 3 to 4 years.

Cole J. - Ohhh. I agree there, too. In my last few game recaps, I've been singing the praises of "The Fist" as well. I really like how he's stepped up his physical play.

Brandon B. - And I second what Cole said about Tom Wandell. His speed and offensively ability seem to be a natural match for a Marc Crawford coached team.

Myra L. - Tommy has been a huge surprise. I cannot get over this maturity and composure on the ice. Now if he could just learn not to get plastered into the boards at least twice a game, that would be good. But he seems to be able to shake even really big hits.

Brandon B. - That's not to say I expect him to one day get into the top 6 forward group. But there will always be a spot on the team for him as long as Crawford's here.

Cole J. - I think Ralph and Razor mentioned it recently, but when Modano finally hangs them up, Wandell is just a perfect fit on that third line.

Brandon W. - I don't have anything to quantify this, but I knew that Benn was going to be on this team to start the season. I watched every game he played in during the WHL playoffs and it was apparent that he is such a special, special player. I'm not surprised at all by what he's done this season and in fact I'm a bit surprised he hasn't produced more.

Cole J. - What's impressed me the most about Benn is how smooth he is for a bigger guy. There are times that he receives passes that he has no business contorting around to snag, but he does it all in stride.
Brandon W. - What's surprising is how strong he is on the backcheck and in the defensive zone. Usually a player like that embraces his offense first, but Benn has focused heavily on his defensive coverage and it's shown. That allows him time to grow on offense; if only he'd shoot the damn puck more.

Myra L. - It's interesting that all our positives are the new kids.

Cole J. - Took me a while to get used to seeing Benn in a Stars jersey though. Every time I saw that #14, I thought "Holy crap. When did Stu get giant?!"

Brandon W. - The only regular forward with less shots than Benn right now is Wandell.

Brandon B. - Well, again, I think that speaks to how far the quality of scouting and drafting has come. Which means I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that's Les Jackson's baby.

Brandon W. - Exactly, and frankly I'm ecstatic he's back in that position. I know that technically he was 'demoted', but the Stars need him to be focused on what he excels at.

Cole J. - Les Jackson doesn't get enough credit, I'm afraid.

Brandon W. - Last night in the podcast we talked extensively about the actual leadership structure of the team. What are your takes on what we're seeing right now from the coaches and the players?

Cole J. - I think leadership structure might be the wrong term, considering I think everyone but Auldy has worn a letter at some point... but overall, I think Morrow has shown solid leadership. Like I said earlier, when he's having one of his "loud shifts" things are going good. I think with Morrow though, he's more of an on-ice leader than an off-ice leader... and no matter what he says, it's obvious he's still feeling after effects from his knee surgery, which might be hampering his role as super-captain kamikazee.

Myra L. - I do think we are going to need to see Crawford get more tough with them. Morrow is starting to get back into leadership form on the ice, so that should help. How serious can they take Brad though. Everytime they interview him, all I can think is, EYEORE! And that he is gorgeous, but I doubt that is a distraction for the team.

Myra L. - Sorry, I can only stay serious for so long.

Brandon W. - Lol.

Cole J. - I'm in total agreement with everything you said about Crawford... you only lost me at the "Richy's Dreamy" part.

Brandon B. - Well, it does appear that, for the time being, Marc Crawford has been content with letting the players lead without really putting his own stamp on this team. It's clear that Morrow and Richards are the leaders on the ice. And it's also clear that they are the classic 'lead by example' players. When I think of Morrow, I think of the quote Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babock had after the 2008 Western Conference Finals when he said that guys like Morrow are 'what you want leading your team.' He's certainly not a vocal leader as his weekly show on BaD Radio proves. He just goes out and leads by his play on the ice. Richards falls into that category as well, I think. And on Richards, I think he started to take on more of a leadership role when Morrow went out last season with his injury.

Brandon B. - But like Cole said, he doesn't have the goatee that Cole has. So he doesn't have that working in his favor unfortunately...or maybe not...I dunno...I've never been one to admire hockey players for their looks.

Cole J. - Do you think that one of the leaders on the team needs to be vocal though? When your top 2 leaders lead by example, do you need a vocal leader in there to hammer it home?

Brandon W. - Heika touched on that last night...

Cole J. - great minds think alike

Brandon W. - Hockey is not so much a sport where the players get up and yell around the locker room...it's all about leading out on the ice.

Myra L. - With an older team probably not. But with the youngers guys, they may need a little more direction. But I'm more familiar with football and basketball in that respect. And vocal doesn't have to be yelling.

Brandon B. - Well, Hatcher was a 'lead by example' guy. But he had the backup of more vocal guys like Mike Keane, Carbo, and Screwy. I think there's room for a vocal leader and I do wonder if come trade deadline time (and assuming the Stars are still firmly in the hunt for the playoffs), Nieuwy's first big move will be to acquire such a voice for the dressing room.

Brandon W. - Now here's a loaded questions as we start to wrap things up: As we get into the final few months before the trade deadline (and there is still a ton of hockey to be played), which players on this team have the most trade value that you'd be willing to give up in order to secure that big-name player we all believe this team needs?

Myra L. - I hate to say it but Ribeiro is my first choice.

Brandon W. - Intriguing choice, Myra.

Brandon B. - Turco first and foremost since he's in a contract year. But the Stars are hamstrung by the fact they don't really have any other goaltenders in their system to take over for him. So unless it's for another goaltender, he's not going to get traded. And like Heika intimated last night, there are people in the organization that think he's got another long playoff run in him. So he's out.

Cole J. - I touched on it earlier, and I think that Niskanen, Vishnevskiy, and Larsen are starting to get redundant... and I think Nisky has to be the one to go from that group. He probably won't bring a huge return, but he could definitely be included in any deal. Obviously, if we're struggling near the deadline, I could easily see Turco shopped around.

Myra L. - I just don't see him as a good fit for this system. Which translates as he has been driving me crazy with his puttering around style of play. Let me puts around here until everyone knows exactly what I'm going to do. ARGH.

Cole J. - I also think if push came to shove, we might see Fabian shipped out. He's still got loads of potential, but you have to wonder how patient we're going to be with the emergence of Benn.

Brandon B. - And I have to disagree with Myra from the standpoint that Ribs' contract, both in money and length, almost makes him untradeable. I like to think the only reason the Stars got Richards at the deadline two years ago was because he was a Conn Smythe winner in 2004. Ribeiro has shown no tendencies to reach that level and you'd be committed to him through 2013.

Myra L. - Yes, but how much can you really get for a Nisky or Brunnstrom? And like you said, there is not an obvious alternative for Turco.

Cole J. - I think we're a place now that out most tradeable assets are the ones that we'd have to be blown away to part with.

Bob S. - Wow. I think that is a very slippery slope. The only guys on the team that make any money are the ones you don't want to part with. And guys who make no money cannot bring back anybody ready to dominate. Honestly, and I know this is a very controversial thing to say, but Ott is the guy who gets you the most while not destroying your talent base. Trouble is, he is soooo vital to this team's pulse.

Myra L. - AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!

Brandon B. - Well, they've been extremely patient with Brunnstrom this season. I'd be a little shocked if they got rid of him THIS season. Offseason is another story.

Bob S. - I don't believe Ribeiro and Richards should be touched at all. You must have 2 centers that stress your opponents.

Myra L. - Dangit, I knew someone was going to say Otter.

Bob S. - Morrow is Morrow, and Turco will not be traded for anything but goalie. Robidas makes money, but you already to thin there. Who else is surplus who makes money?

Myra L. - Does Ribs still stress your opponents? He stresses me but for very different reasons. And I knew I should looked at contract lengths.

Bob S. - He has 30 more points than anyone on the team since the Richards trade.

Cole J. - The Other 6 Seconds is willing to trade future considerations for one of Defending Big D's Brandons.

Bob S. - Surely that suggests he is doing something right.

Brandon W. - I just don't see the Stars trading Ribeiro.

Bob S. - Further, Ribs name is mud around many NHL ports

Cole J. - Neither do I. He seems to finally have found his home. If only we can get him to try something special in the shootout again.

Brandon W. - An early season mini-funk while adjusting to a new system does not mean a trade is necessary or warranted.

Cole J. - He's at his best when he's being crafty... and he's just been too straight forward this year.

Myra L. - So you are saying I should stop my wishful thinking? Bummer.

Bob S. - I don't have a beef with the guy. He plays hard, and he produces. And his contract is very pedestrian for that stat sheet.

Brandon W. - Ok guys, I want to sort of wrap things up here. I'd like to get your final thoughts on the Stars as of now at this point in the season and what you think we'll see from this team moving forward.

Cole J. - I think we've been fairly mediocre so far... but that we should see moderate improvements as the year goes along. We'll see which top team we play in the first round of the playoffs, and then try to make a run of it. Stranger things have happened.

Bob S. - They are neither good nor bad. Neither fish nor fowl. They are a team that could go either way. Trouble is that there has not been a whopper of an injury yet, so we must wonder what happens then. I think this team should be in the playoffs, but not by much. On the road against a power in the 1st round suggests 1-and-done. But, if someone would open the checkbook and you can get a $5m defenseman in here from a team that is cashing out, they could be taken more seriously.

Myra L. - As we have said, they are a young team in transition. We are going to continue to see breakdowns/meltdowns but I think Crawford will begin to take hold of the steering wheel and Morrow is coming into form. I see them barely making the first round, but I don't see them getting past that.

Brandon B. - Probably more of the same, I'm afraid. But financially, the picture might be cleared up a bit here in a week when we find out who the new owner of the Rangers will be and how much they'll be paying for the club. It just depends on when that sale gets finalized. On the ice, I think it'll be more of the same. As long as the club stays healthy, they should check in somewhere around the magic number of 93 points, which is where I think a team in the West is going to need to be at to make the playoffs. But if they sustain an injury to a front line offensive player like Richards or Morrow, all bets are off.

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