Stargazing: Is it October yet?

Before we get into the various bits of news on the Dallas Stars, I wanted to share with you some thoughts on my plans for the site moving forward in the offseason.

The past month or so has been an incredibly busy time for me outside of Defending Big D, and I haven't executed my initial offseason plans exactly how I originally wanted. Without Gravypan's and Derek's help, this site would have been a barren wasteland throughout the past few weeks. While I've been getting a lot accomplished in "real life", I feel like I have let the DBD faithful down. For that, I apologize.

There hasn't been a whole lot of news surrounding the Dallas Stars since the regular season ended, which is both a great thing and a bad thing (for me as a writer). On one hand I'm extremely grateful the Stars aren't mired in offseason controversy and have a fairly stable infrastructure in place, yet on the other I've found it's much easier to write about the team and provide interesting coverage of the Stars when they are actually doing something.

Thankfully, Jamie Benn and the Kelowna Rockets have provided us with some offseason excitement. Watching Loui Eriksson, Matt Niskanen and Nicklas Grossman go deep in the World Championships also helped liven things up a bit.

Moving forward, we're going to really start to focus on the various Dallas Stars players scheduled to become free agents, as well as take a look at free agents around the NHL and whom the Stars might target. I'm not expecting the Stars to make a big free agency splash this season, but there might be a few available players who could make a big difference for this team next year while remaining relatively inexpensive.

We also plan on profiling the top prospects in the upcoming NHL Entry Draft. If you didn't know by now the Stars have the 8th pick in the draft, their first top ten pick since 1996.

Speaking of which, hopefully next week we'll have some big news to share about our coverage of the NHL Draft in Montreal, June 26-27. There is also some talk around SBN about some interesting ventures among the hockey sites to network together to form some of the top draft coverage on the web. Stay tuned for more next week.

As always, I am more than open to comments and suggestions on how to make Defending Big D a better site for you the reader. Feel free to email me anytime at defendingbigd@gmail.com. You can also find me on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DefendingBigD (We have nearly 800 followers!).

Follow the jump for the latest Dallas Stars news including updates on Mark Fistric and the Manitoba Moose, Steve Ott and Brad Richards.

A reminder of the good times...

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There is still one Dallas Stars regular (and several prospects) that is still playing hockey. Mark Fistric and the Manitoba Moose lead the Houston Aeros 3-1 in the AHL Western Conference Finals. Houston stayed alive thanks to a 5-4 overtime win last night. Dallas Stars prospect John Lammers had three assists for the Aeros, including the primary assist on the overtime goal. Former Dallas Stars great Mike Keane had two goals and an assist for the Moose.

Thanks to Mark Stepneski at Andrew's Dallas Stars Page, here are the playoff stats for the remaining Stars players in the playoffs:

Manitoba Moose
Player Pos GP G A PTS +/- PIM PPG SHG
Ray Sawada RW 14 3 3 6 0 4 1 0
Mark Fistric D 14 1 5 6 +1 18 1 0
Maxime Fortunus D 14 2 3 5 +5 2 2 0
Houston Aeros
Player Pos GP G A PTS +/- PIM PPG SHG
John Lammers LW 16 0 7 7 +2 4 0 0
Player Pos GP MIN REC GAA GA SA SV% S0
Matt Climie G 3 50 0-0 0.00 0 25 1.000 0

 

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Mark Stepneski also has the story of Brad Richards making an appearance at the Memorial Cup last night, where he took part in the pre-game ceremonies for his former team and Cup host, the Rimouski Oceanic.

"Hockey night was the thing going on here. When you're a teenager, to have that atmosphere every day where you live and breathe hockey, there's nothing but great memories here," Richards said of Rimouski on Rogers Sportsnet. "It was a lot of fun."

In Richards' final season with Rimouski he was the Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League MVP, QMJHL Playoff MVP and Memorial Cup Tournament MVP.

"We were fortunate enough to get a chance to play in the Memorial Cup and win one," Richards said. "It's every junior kid's dream. It's a tough trophy to win."

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DallasStars.com also has a feature story on Brad Richards, focusing on his fight to return to the ice after breaking both his wrists (at different times) in the 2008-2009 season. The loss of Richards on Feb. 16 against Columbus seemed to be the final blow for a Dallas Stars team struggling to overcome injuries to it's top playmakers earlier in the season. After he triumphantly returned five weeks later against San Jose, and with the Stars still with a realistic shot at the playoffs, losing him a second time to a broken wrist deflated whatever air was left in the Stars balloon.

“I can’t really explain it,” Richards said of his ridiculous run of bad luck. “(I was) pretty much speechless for a while and it’s been a depressing month. I had a lot of thoughts going into that, and pushing myself to get ready to come back, and I was excited and wanted to be there for the final push and then, it’s pretty much… It’s all relative, life goes on, but when you want to be out there, it’s tough.”

“We fought, I’m pretty proud of how they fought all year with all this adversity,” said Richards, the Lightning’s second-round choice (64th overall) in the 1998 Entry Draft. “It was probably the most messed-up year I’ve ever been around a team, with all the surrounding stuff going on and injuries. I’ve never been part of something like that. To hang in there to the last two weeks shows a lot about the character of the team.”

“We’re not going to be messing around now, I think there’s going to be a real business-like attitude right at September 1st, even before. I think Brenden is going to be really anxious to get going. He’s going to be in top-notch shape, that’s going to pull a lot of people along. I’m going to be very excited to get going, so I think our core group, with Otter playing the minutes he did and showing what he can do and Loui leading the way, coming into his own, I think we got a lot of guys that are going to be very excited to build on last season or get back into it, in my case. 

“It’s a good team.” 

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After a tremendous season in 2007-2008, when three young and inexperienced defensemen carried the Stars into the playoffs, this past season saw a natural regression to start the year amid the always dreaded "sophomore slump". After struggling the first few months of the season Matt Niskanen, Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric all finished the season strong, giving confidence in their abilities moving forward.

After strong finishes, all three of them had their year extended beyond the Stars’ regular season. Niskanen and Grossman were rewarded with invitations to represent their respective countries at the prestigious World Championships tournament in Switzerland, while Fistric reported to AHL Manitoba and has helped spark them on a playoff run that has the Moose sitting on the verge of the Calder Cup Finals. 

Those additional experiences under high-stakes conditions should help advance the development process even further and can only benefit the Stars heading into next season. 

“I think it’s tremendous,” said Stars associate coach Rick Wilson, who usually handles the defenseman, regarding Niskanen and Grossman playing overseas. “What it says is that the rest of the league, the outside hockey world, recognizes these players are good players, really good players, on a world stage. I think it speaks volumes for our whole organization, how we recognize them, identify them, how we’re developing them, the whole thing. They’re still young, but they’re thought of as good players.”

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And finally, we come to Steve Ott.

Ott had perhaps the best all-around season of any Dallas Stars player and established himself as not only one of the top "agitators" in the NHL, but as a legitimate scoring threat. After Brenden Morrow was lost for the season with a knee injury, Ott returned from a hand injury and stepped up seamlessly onto the first line with Mike Ribeiro and Jere Lehtinen. His energy and emotion and penchant for scoring big goals provided the spark this team was needing in the middle of an extremely disappointing season. His physical style and emerging leadership had coaches and fans alike comparing him to another Dallas Stars great: Brenden Morrow.

“That was the thinking with putting Ott there, as a similar kind of player,” Tippett verified. “He’s bringing a lot of the same attributes to the game that Brenden does on that line - hard around the net, coming up with loose pucks. Since Ott has been with Ribeiro, I’ve thought the two of them have played very well together. They feed off each other pretty well.”

“First off, I got a ton of opportunity this year to play, obviously, with Ribeiro and in situations that I haven’t played in before,” acknowledged Ott, who will be 27 when next season starts. “And next year we’re going to have healthy wingers with Morrow back and everybody else and I think it just makes our team that much better. For myself, goals and assists-wise, I just want to help contribute again and be a part of a good team and that’s something that we’re going to have next year, is a good team with a bunch of strong players ready to go.”

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