Dallas Stars Centers Anything but Strength Down the Middle

 

The Dallas Stars will start Jamie Benn as their second line center iceman tonight in Montreal. The rookie left-winger with only 46 games experience (who has never played the center position, reportedly, in his entire hockey-life) will start between Jere Lehtinen and James Neal. What has happened to the center position on this team?

Flashback: 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs:

The consensus in the media was that the Dallas Stars made a run to the Western Conference Finals with 3 rookies in-tow on defense because of their depth down the middle with Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro and Mike Modano. This strength at the center position gave them a balanced attack from shift to shift. Having Mike Modano playing third line center was a luxury. Now it appears Brad Richards is the only middle-man in Marc Crawfords' good graces.

with Mike Ribeiro out 4-6 weeks with a throat contusion, Tom Wandell was given every opportunity to fill his proverbial shoes. Now It seems as though the young Swede has proven himself, at least temporarily, lacking in the role of Ribeiro's understudy. With Mike Modano, Toby Petersen, and Brian Sutherby healthy, it seemed Dallas has options at the position but Marc Crawford has opted to shake things up and try the 20 year old Benn in the middle.

Is this more of a shot at Wandell, or Modano, who will be playing on the 4th line tonight with fellow centers Toby Petersen and Brian Sutherby. That's right, a 4th line entirely full of centers.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News reports lines from practice this morning as the following:

Morrow-Richards-Eriksson
Neal-Benn-Lehtinen
Ott-Wandell-Brunnstrom
Sutherby-Modano-Petersen

In case you were wondering, Jamie Benn is a 50% faceoff guy. (He's taken a grand total of two this year)

Follow the jump for a look at the beleaguered Wandell, and how this has been a longer time coming than some might think...

Dbd-sm_medium

Brenden Morrow, Tom Wandell, and Jamie Benn. 

This line was actually put together two weeks before the injury to Ribeiro, and I think it was a line that had a lot of people excited at first. There's youth, speed and of course, Brenden Morrow. We love all of those things. But why did Mike Ribeiro get moved off his line following a win over Detroit in the first place? A win in which he and Jamie Benn combined for a goal? There was no mention of it at practice in the days preceeding, and then against the Sharks, under cover of an Ivan Vishnevkiy mistake and a Matt Niskanen healthy scratch, Crawford made the old switcharoo.

There seemed to be no harm in it at the time. Ribeiro was paired with Steve Ott and the two of them have had good chemistry in the past, notably last spring. Stars fans weren't worried about Wandell and Ribeiro getting switched, they were worried about Mike Modano playing with Krys Barch and Fabian Brunnstrom. I don't know that any of us paid it much attention. It's not like they haven't split up Morrow and Ribeiro before, and for the first two games of the switch, the Wandell/Morrow/Benn line produced the following:

Goals Assists Points +/- SOG
Brenden Morrow 0 1 1 0 3
Jamie Benn 2 0 2 +1 8
Tom Wandell 0 1 1 0 4



Morrow and Benn had at that point been on the ice for even strength scoring in 4 or 5 straight games, regardless of their center. The Tom Wandell effect had not yet taken hold.

After Morrow missed the Colorado game, Crawford had gone back to this line in 7 of the last 8 games, and in those seven games Morrow/Wandell/Benn have produced the following:

Goals Assists Points +/- SOG
Brenden Morrow 1 2 3 -3 6
Jamie Benn 0 1 1 -1 12
Tom Wandell 0 0 0 0 18



Which is to say, zilch, nothing, nada. One goal against the Islanders at home. Morrow's other points were on the PP. And we're talking about a stretch of games that included those two 5 goal bonanzas against the Hawks and Ducks. In a perfect world, the solution would be pretty simple. This obviously is not working out so put Ribeiro back on the line and see what happens.

But you can't.

Actually, Crawford tried to fix it a different way first. He put Modano on the Benn/Morrow line against the Rangers with mixed results. Later in that game of course, Ribeiro got speared in the throat, and for the three games since Wandell had been back with Morrow and Benn.

Wandell has been completely unable to facilitate offense with that trio, and now will play with Brunnsrom and Ott on a line that doesn't exactly scream defensive responsibility.

Any Change is Good Change?

This change was needed. Benn has only 12 shots on goal in his last 7 games, Morrow only 6. Those numbers are simply not acceptable for two wingers who you expect to help carry much of the offensive load. But is Jamie Benn at center your ideal solution?

I guess we'll find out tonight. At this point, for this team, any change might be good change.

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