We are now exactly one month away from the Dallas Stars hitting the ice for the first day of training camp. It's been a long summer, one that's been tougher to get through than ones in the past after the Stars failed to make the playoffs. It's also been an offseason filled with change and uncertainty, as the team will move forward with a new coaching staff and a new General Manager. We also saw the departure of long-time defenseman Sergei Zubov, although the team should get a boost from the return of several key players from injury.
Things have been slow around the site the past few weeks but get ready for a big jump in articles to soothe your hockey-starved mind. Over the next month we'll continue our look at the season expectations for each player on the roster, as well round up our feature on the best players in franchise history. We'll also start to zero in on the main storylines for the upcoming training camp and season, which should provide plenty of debate fodder as the Stars will be implementing a system never seen here in Dallas.
Follow the jump for a rundown of just some of the stories we'll be covering here on Defending Big D leading up to training camp, starting September 12th in Frisco.
How will the team respond to new coach Marc Crawford?
The firing of Dave Tippett was surprising for most. The hiring of Marc Crawford as his replacement was even more out of left field. Crawford, a coach who had previously won the Stanley Cup in Colorado and had early success in Vancouver, had struggled in Los Angeles and had spent the past season working as a television analyst in Canada. Crawford's teams have only won one playoff series since 1997, so it's tough to say he's an instant upgrade over Tippett who has also struggled with postseason success.
Yet new General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk took over with a plan to shake things up, and going from Tippett to Crawford is certainly a move in a different direction. While there will certainly be plenty written about the change in offensive styles (see below), the big test for this team will be in how they respond to a complete change in personality from one coach to another. Tippett was a soft-spoken "players coach", who let the leaders and captain on his team police the locker room and demand accountability among themselves. It was a successful approach, evidenced by the Stars' regular season success during his time, but there were thoughts that he had lost the ability to kick the team in gear when they needed the most.
Crawford is the exact opposite. He's a fiery, in your face coach who will personally demand top effort while pushing his players as far as he can. In theory, the change is one that could do a lot of good for a team that has lately been high on talent but lacking in results. A different voice and a brand new approach in preparation and playing styles will be a new beginning for this team and it's going to exciting to see just how much things change under a new coach. The big test will be how the players themselves respond to a coach like Crawford, as their attitudes and effort will define the direction this season will take.
Just how different will the Stars play under the new coaching regime?
Ever since coming to Dallas, the Stars have been known as a defensive-minded team with solid goaltending and an offense that is more about capitalizing on mistakes than it is about producing gaudy numbers. Some the NHL's top scorers have come through Big D over the years (Brett Hull, Bill Guerin, Joe Nieuwendyk, Pierre Turgeon) and all have seen their numbers significantly drop off while still having success on the scoreboard. Mike Modano, the highest scoring American-born player in NHL history, was destined to have perennial 50 goal seasons before the Stars enacted a new strategy in the early 1990's. He embraced his new role and has become known as one of the greatest two-way players in the NHL.
Over the past few seasons, in this "new, post-lockout NHL", we've seen the Stars pick up the scoring touch a bit. Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards, Brenden Morrow and Loui Eriksson have all had great seasons the past few years with Eriksson and Ribeiro finishing in the top 20 in the NHL in scoring.
Under new coach Marc Crawford, we'll see an even bigger shift in offensive philosophy. The goal will be to open up the ice more for the defense and the forwards, to play a more aggressive transitional game while still maintaining defensive integrity. Having one of the NHL's top goaltenders (when he's on) in net will help ease the transition from one style to another, but it will certainly be fun to watch Ribeiro and Richards have the freedom to really use their offensive instincts.
How will the young defensemen play without Sergei Zubov?
We already have this answer. Sort of. Zubov played just 10 games last season so we have a starting point to how the defensemen will play without him on the roster. It was painful at times and at others, slightly promising.
The young defensemen on the team regressed as the season started after having phenomenal rookie seasons the year before. Mark Fistric spent half the season in the AHL and Nicklas Grossman and Matt Niskanen struggled. The good news is that after a few months their play started to turn around and after Fistric returned, we saw that flashes of what should be an very good young core of defensemen for years to come. With Karlis Skrastins coming to the team via free agency, the young guys will once again have a grizzled veteran to ease them along as they continue to develop.
What kind of boost will the return of Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards have on the Stars?
There were some that were a bit discouraged by the lack of additions this summer via free agency, especially with the Stars well under the salary cap. Yet with Morrow and Richards both entering training camp healthy after missing significant time last season, their return to the ice should provide the same boost to this team any flashy free agent would make.
Morrow especially will have an incredible impact on the Stars once he returns. There's no doubt that he is one of the best leaders in the NHL and he is without question the emotional epicenter of this Stars team. While the team fought hard in the months after he went down, it was easy to see just how his absence affected the heart of the team. Without Morrow, the Stars are good. With him in their day in and day out, putting everything on the line when he's on the ice, the Stars can be great.
Richards should have a similar impact on the team, albeit in a different way. Before his injury Richards was enjoying a incredible chemistry with Eriksson and we were seeing the offensive prowess and vision that led the Stars to trade for him in 2008. With him the Stars were surging up the standings and were exceeding expectations after a horrible start. Once he was lost, the Stars floundered and it became more apparent than ever his value to this team.
Will this be the final season for Mike Modano and Jere Lehtinen?
Modano, after taking some time to weigh his options decided that he still had the fire to play and would honor the final season of his contract with the Stars. Modano holds nearly every single Dallas Stars record and has been the face of this franchise for 20 years. The thought of not seeing #9 flying across the ice any longer for the Stars is more than depressing, but it's an inevitability that we will eventually have to face. He will 40 years old next summer, and it's doubtful that he returns to the ice next season. Part of his motivation for returning this season was to have more shot with the US Olympic team, a chance he'll get in February as the senior player on the team in Vancouver. No matter what happens this season with the Stars, the chances are that we'll see his final games in the NHL in less than a year.
Both Lehtinen and Modano have been fixtures on this team for so long, it's unfathomable to think of a Stars team without them. The only hope is that the fans in Dallas will have one last chance to honor them on home ice, something that we couldn't do for Sergei Zubov.