I've been defending Joe Nieuwendk a lot over the past year. I know a lot of fans are upset with the decisions that have been made and even more upset with the apparent static nature of the franchise. Whether it's the financial situation of the franchise or the inherent decision making of the general manager, it's impossible to deny that this isn't the Dallas Stars team we've been so accustomed to for 17 years.
Despite my stringent defensive nature when it comes to Nieuwendyk, I'm still concerned with the team that is going to be taking the ice this season. I think that the team has made the moves that it could realistically make -- especially considering the free agent market from the past summer -- and while we've seen some changes made, it's tough to determine if these Dallas Stars really will be different from the past few seasons.
The good news is that it appears the Stars understand that while the big personnel acquisitions never came that doesn't necessarily the team will roll over and accept the status quo; this team desperately wants to improve, no matter who is or isn't on the team.
Last preseason and training camp was about the "system" and the changes that Marc Crawford was bringing with him to Dallas. We expected some sort of drastic change as far as how the Stars played the game of hockey and we had hoped that this change to a more modern scheme would mean a return to postseason glory.
Instead we began to instantly realize just how difficult it is to force a new scheme upon players that don't necessarily fit in that system and the season became a clash of styles as the Stars failed to win more than two games in a row all season. There was inconsistency on the ice, there was inconsistency with the coaching, there was inconsistency in the locker room; no wonder this team didn't make the playoffs.
Forget the emotions of the decisions, but Nieuwendyk and the Stars became focused on putting together an actual cohesive team; if he couldn't go out and get the big name free agent or trade target this team needs to take that next step, then he would construct a team that at the very least buys into the goals the coaching staff is attempting to accomplish.
This training camp, so far, just goes to show the steps that Crawford and Nieuwendyk are taking to do what they can to ensure another 2009-10 season doesn't happen.
After a lackluster opening to the preseason against Tampa Bay, changes were instantly made. The team made it has made it known that while the evaluation of the younger players are certainly important, this training camp is all about improving the actual NHL club.
Kari Lehtonen will play three full games; interesting considering the backup goaltender battle, yet certainly important after the Stars made a long-term commitment to the Finnish goaltender. Lehtonen played well at the end of last season yet Crawford realizes how important it is to get him experience on the ice with this team, to get him back in the flow of being a starting goaltender in the NHL. Lehtonen is the key to the team's success this season and the Stars realize this.
Most importantly is the sudden split of the NHL and the AHL players. While getting the younger players experience in games is still important, this shows just how dedicated the Stars are to avoiding another slow start. The past few seasons we've seen teams that look like they're playing together for the first time; the Stars are intent on building that chemistry now when the games don't count.
The Stars are also apparently open to having younger players make this team over some of the veterans. We all assumed that either Brent Krahn or Andrew Raycroft would be the backup this season yet Richard Bachman is poised to steal the backup goaltender position. Aaron Gagnon is going to force the Stars to make a very difficult decision and a number of younger defensemen are pushing to make the team as well.
This sort of competition, along with the emphasis on improving the NHL squad, is what could set this team apart from what we saw last season. Word from training camp is that the Stars were far from happy with the performance against Tampa Bay and the team is dedicated to avoiding such lackluster performances in the future.
Crawford and Nieuwendyk are being forced to do more with less and for now, it appears the team is truly dedicated to avoiding any mistakes that were made last season. We'll get a good idea if this change in atmosphere at camp is paying off or not immediately as the Stars take on the Avalanche tonight. A good, hungry and fired up team would do wonders not only for the players and the coaches, but the fans as well.
Hopefully the fans have something to feel positive about tomorrow morning.