Over the next month, Defending Big D will be counting down the most important "impact" players for the upcoming season for the Dallas Stars. Starting from the player we believe will have the smallest influence on this season to the player with the most, we'll countdown from #23 all the way to the top as we get ready for what we hope will be a very promising season.
When the Dallas Stars signed Adam Burish last summer as a free agent, the news was met by a bit of amusement and wonder by the hockey world and Stars fans. Burish was a guy who had seen limited action for the Chicago Blackhawks the previous few seasons and was in the press box more than on the ice during their Stanley Cup run in the summer of 2010. At the time, he was more famous for what was said off the ice rather than what was being done on the ice and his impact on the Dallas Stars was unknown.
We had no idea how important he would be for this hockey team.
It's talked about in hockey and sports circles in different ways and for those that are stat geeks it can be annoying, but Adam Burish is the sort of player who cannot be analyzed based on his numbers -- it is the intangibles he brings to the ice that really matter the most. He instantly became a fan favorite in Dallas, with his personable ways and his willingness to interact with the common man. For the Stars, he brought a much-needed energy to the ice and provided a versatility at the wing and center position that helped open things up for others on this team in ways not easily categorized or measured.
Adam Burish was the spirit of this hockey team in 2010-11 and when his spirit (and face) were broken, so were the Dallas Stars. So what lies ahead for Burish as the Stars head into a transition period that is still filled with hope? We're guessing more of the same -- and that is far from a bad thing.
Last season, Adam Burish was the anchor on the third line after the Stars briefly experimented with his presence next to Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow. One of the positive outcomes from Marc Crawford's constant line tinkering ended up with Burish and Ott paired together on the third line and creating an insanely effective defensive and physical presence that opened things up for the Ribeiro and Brad Richards lines.
Burish was able to work with Ott to bounce back and forth between winger and center as needed, creating a tandem that was monstrous in the faceoff circle (relatively speaking) and was physical and intimidating up and down the ice.
What was most refreshing to see, at least for Burish, was how he found a way to reinvent himself on the ice. After spending four seasons in Chicago (and appearing in just 13 games in 2009-10), Burish had become known as a banger of a player and used his physicality and aggression to make a difference on a team filled with talent. In 2007-08, Burish racked up 214 PIM in 81 games. Last season, Burish had just 91 in 63 games while scoring a career high eight goals and six assists. While he'll never be much of a massive scoring threat, Burish proved that he was not a liability on the third line and could contribute more than a fist fight every now and then.
More importantly, Burish did his best to anchor a struggling penalty kill. His selflessness in front of the net is something that inspires teammates and his willingness to get in front of any and all shots -- and to do so effectively -- is a lost art in today's NHL. Unfortunately, his desire to succeed at any cost ultimately cost him playing time as he suffered from what was apparently a broken bone in his foot that limited him in the second half of the season.
In 2011-12, Burish is going to be handed the keys to the same role as before -- although this time he'll have a bit more help. Most likely he will share most of his ice time with Vernon Fiddler on the third line, especially if Steve Ott makes the jump to the second line as we're all expecting. Fiddler provides good offensive punch and defensive responsibility and his pairing with Burish could be the start of something significant. Both are capable in the faceoff circle and both can play well up and down the ice. There's a great chance that both will be used extensively on the penalty kill as well.
The hope is that, after the second half of the season last year ended in collapse, Burish can continue to work to build a positive and fun-loving atmosphere in the locker room. We saw pieces of that last year but it was apparently nullified by the way the players were isolated by Marc Crawford. This season, with Glen Gulutzan focused on building a positive feeling around the team and wanting to make hockey fun again, Burish will have all the support needed to once again be the catalyst for a team that loves to play hockey.
Burish may not be the most talented player on the roster, but he's one of the hardest working. With the Stars adding several high-impact players this summer, Burish's ranking may seem a bit low to some. What should be important, however, is remembering how much he meant to this team last season and how they struggled without him -- something no one ever anticipated would happen when he was signed. Burish is going to have some pressure taken off his back this season and hopefully he'll be freed up more to do what he does best: inspire those around him.