Let me preface this by just saying that I'm very happy with the moves the Stars have made. While they didn't replace Richards' offence (and they couldn't have); they added scoring some more finish to Ribeiro's line by putting Ryder on it, they greatly improved on the faceoff dot, team defense, and grit by adding Fiddler Dvorak and Dowell, and they made some improvements on defense with Pardy and Souray (who will also hopefully help the PP. All of these players are great additions to a team at times lacked grit, heart, killer instinct, and focus last year. Nieuwendyk did the best he could with the money he had.
That being said...While it is always most important for teams to focus on how they can make themselves better, you can't objectively call the Stars a playoff team solely based on the fact that they missed the playoffs by a single point last year and improved this off season; you have to look at what the rest of the teams in the conference did to better their chances. I'm going to take a look at the most improved western teams other than the stars and maybe give a little prediction as to how their additions will do and where they'll end up.
Los Angeles Kings: They added former Flyers captain Mike Richards who is a 30 goal 60-80 point guy who also produces in the playoffs, his former teammate and also a great offensive and defensive player Simon Gagne. Sure they lost Brayden Schenn but he wouldn't have had a major impact on the Stars this upcoming season and those two certainly will. They also lost Ryan Smyth who was very good and beat the Stars a couple times but again Gagne and Richards will more than make up for that. On top of that Quick is a great goaltender who's only getting better, and Johnathan Bernier is also a great sophomore to be who despite some of his struggles last year killed the stars a couple times. Richards will score 30-35 goals this year and Gagne will probably finish with 60-75 points and Quick will be one of the better goaltenders in the league. I think the Kings will finish 3rd in the conference.
San Jose Sharks: They added Brent Burns and Martin Havlat while losing Setoguchi and Heatly as well as Charlie Coyle who's a great prospect who will be a solid 2nd line guy in the NHL. Havlat will be an improvement on Heatly since Heater got lazy after his first year in the bay and Havlat can create for other players as well as finishing scoring plays himself. Brent Burns helps their already great d-corps a lot and can provide a good amount of offense too. With Niemi not having a rough start and playing more like he did the last 3/4-1/2 of last season the Sharks will be an even better team. I see them finishing 2nd
Now to some of the other teams in the conference:
Columbus Bluejackets: They added Jeff Carter a 40 goal scoring winger who will play well with Rick Nash and James Wisniewski who can provide something they've always lacked- Offense from the blueline and a well run powerplay. They got rid of Nikita Filatov who never lived up to hype and also sent Voracek over to Philly for Carter. While Voracek was a good scorer and will probably turn into a great one, he was streaky and also not living up to expectations in Ohio. If Steve Mason returns to his rookie form I think they will be a top 5 or 6 team in the conference. But the thing about their situation is Mason doesn't even have to do that, as long as he plays well with some consistency they'll be a playoff team. I see them finishing 5th, 6th, or 7th, maybe even 4th if Mason plays really lights out.
Minnesota Wild: They added Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi while not losing many of their other players. Defense has always been a strong suit of the Wild that level of defensive play shouldn't tail off too much since Burns was more of an offensive guy. With Backstrom in net and a consistently stifling defense, their offense will have to be able to keep up for them to make the playoffs. This has been the case for the Wild year in and year out but the difference now is that they have more bonafide scoring threats. Mikko Koivu is a great center for a first line, Pierre Marc Bouchard is back from his long lasting concussion and he's absolutely slick (not many people realize how disgusting he is), Heatley and Setoguchi provide the finishing touch and sniping they have never had enough of (Havlat and Gaborik were their 2 snipers at two different times but by themselves they weren't enough). I think they'll finish 7th in the conference.
That's it for my in depth analysis but then you have all the other good teams in the conference who have improved a little or at least not gotten any worse. The Stars will have to compete with the above greatly improved teams as well as Vancouver, Chicago, Nashville, Anaheim and Detroit.
My honorable mention would go to Colorado because whether or not they are good enough for the playoffs completely hinges on the play of Semyon Varlamov so it really could go either way. Also, Edmonton might be a playoff contender just because their young guns are getting even better. Calgary is always a bubble team but I don't see them as much of a threat really. Also St. Louis will probably recover from last year which I believe is an anomally given how good that roster is.
The one place the Stars might catch a break is with Phoenix. Before they had a goaltender they were pretty much an after thought of the conference and league. Then they got Bryzgalov who played great and they built some guys around him. While they have some pretty good players and a solid roster, I don't think the Smith-Labarbera tandem is going to get them anywhere. If the difference between the Stars making the playoffs and missing them is one game again this coming year those games against phoenix could be really important.
As an overview we have: Vancouver, San Jose, LA, Detroit, and probably Chicago as definite playoff teams. then the other 3 spots will be fought for by Nashville, Minnesota, Columbus, Anaheim, St. Louis, Colorado, and the Stars so it will be very tough.
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