[Editor's Note: Josh does a great job helping us move on from tragedy with one heck of a FanPost. This is a great breakdown of why Stars fans should be feeling confident, even without Richards on the team.]
The most obvious difference between the 2010 and 2011 Dallas Stars is going to be the hole opened up by the departure of Brad Richards. The prevailing assumption is that without Richards this incarnation of the Stars is destined for hard times. Richards was clearly viewed as the alpha male by the Stars, and when he was hurt you could tell the team was completely out of sorts. The team was identified by Brad Richards, and his presence as a Star for three seasons has spoiled some fans. His presence greatly magnified the flaws of Mike Ribeiro, and marginalized Steve Ott to an extent. The biggest question heading into training camp is how will the Stars top six forwards look without Brad Richards, and that question hinges on the duo of Ribeiro and Ott up the middle.
To really consider this issue we first need to establish the value of Mike Ribeiro.
For a player who has been in one spot as long as Mike Ribeiro has been he is significantly underappreciated by his home fanbase, and some of that is his own doing. Ribeiro is one of those flashy players that spends significantly more time in the offensive end of the rink than the defensive end. He has had some off-ice issues (the bar fight and the missed team meeting come to mind) which have combined with his on-ice play to create a disconnect between his production on ice and what his perceived value should be. So, what is he?
Simply, Mike Ribeiro is a legitimate first line center. The Stars happened to have two of those for the past three years, and we, as fans, were incredibly lucky in that regard. The best way to see how valuable Ribeiro has been to the Stars is to compare what he gave the Stars last year to what other teams got from their top two centers. Ideally we need to compare apples to apples. The best way to gain an appreciation for Ribeiro is to compare him to the top two centers from all teams in the NHL in terms of GVT60. Remember GVT (goals versus threshold) is a comparison of what extra value the player in question contributed versus what a replacement level player would contribute. Thus, GVT60 would be how much they contributed per 60 minutes of ice time (IE one full game). Where does Ribeiro rank among the 60 top two line centers (based on total time on ice per team) from last season?
18th. He’s a borderline All Star on a year to year basis.
The question then becomes a question of whether or not Steve Ott can contribute enough as the Stars second line center to make the Ribeiro/Ott 1-2 punch a viable option. First we need to establish a benchmark level of production that we can expect from Ott for 2011-12. His average production the past three seasons has yielded 18 goals, 20 assists, and a 5.77 GVT. If you combine the average Ott season with Ribeiro-level production from last season (ignoring numerous incalculable preseason variables such as significantly different ice time, injuries, etc.) you come to a composite production from the Stars top two centers for 2011-2012 as follows:
155 games 37 goals 72 assists 109 points 20.27 GVT and .810 GVT/60
Composite stats of the other top two center duos from 2010/11:
146 games 40 goals 67 assists 107 points 19.1 GVT and .833 GVT/60
Basically, it isn’t all doom and gloom. A very modest projection has the Stars top centers as middle of the pack for 2011, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. Steve Ott isn’t the player Brad Richards is. The forward corps is taking a definite step back, but I don’t think the drop off is as exaggerated as it appears at first glance. There are several factors to consider that aren’t easily quantifiable.
How much of an impact will the infusion of Steve Ott’s defense have on the forward group? After the great defensive purge since 2008 (Halpern, Lehtinen, Hagman, Miettinen, Barnes, etc. being shown the door), the top six group has lacked a defensive presence. It appears Ott is going to be viewed as a less expensive Brooks Laich-type, and very few people would argue against the value Laich has to the Capitals. His faceoff ability will add some value to the group also, but one area he will have to watch is the penalty minutes. The average top two center duo in the NHL had 78 total penalty minutes last season. Otter had 183 alone, and a total that high in a top six capacity will certainly hinder his value.
The most significant potential impact will be on Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn. A simple thought experiment yields the completely reasonable idea that both players will suffer without Richards. I disagree with that thought, and I would like to argue that they will have every opportunity to be bigger contributors with Richards out of the fold. Last season the Eriksson, Richards, Benn line had little physical presence. If anyone needed to be a board presence they were taken away from their natural skill set. Injecting Ott into the mix allows the two talented wingers to be in offensive position as much as possible. And most importantly, Brad Richards took the 15th most shots in the NHL last season. Every player above him played less-to-significantly less games than he did. For a playmaking center he took a ton of shots, and he did so with a relatively low shooting percentage. If you even those shots out some between Eriksson and Benn I think you can reasonably project more production out of them on top of natural improvement.
Ultimately you would rather have Brad Richards than not, but the Stars will be fine at center. They have a duo who will give them at least league average production, and they have a group of wingers who are as good as any in the league. It will be interesting to see how Ott reacts to the added responsibility, but he has every bit of talent and past production history to suggest that he will be just fine as the Stars second line center for 2012. When you combine him with the year to year top-level production of Mike Ribeiro you get a solid center situation for 2011/12, and one less question mark heading into training camp.
[GVT numbers taken from the hockeyprospectus all time GVT file hosted on Google Docs]