This is the summer that Dallas Stars fans have been waiting for, for a very long time. As we spend another summer watching the intensity and thrill of the NHL playoffs it seems that the memories of the Stars actually being in the postseason seem to fade farther and farther back into our minds. This past season, as the Stars were finally playing meaningful games at home against division rivals -- and playing well for a time -- we were reminded of just how incredible it feels to be a fan of a team playing at the highest level that hockey has to offer.
As we enter into the first full offseason under the new ownership regime there is no doubt that changes are coming. What has been exciting is the prospect that for the first time in four years the Dallas Stars finally have the ability to add to the team, to make significant changes to actually improve the team -- both in the short and the long term.
As we witnessed last season, the Dallas Stars are not just "one player away." While the Stars ultimately fell just short of the postseason and in the middle of the pack of the NHL, talent-wise and salary-wise the Stars are somewhere near the bottom-third. The Stars need to make major changes in order to become a team that perennially contend for the postseason and with changes coming to the divisional alignment of the NHL, it's likely the Stars will find themselves in an even tougher division.
The new ownership and focus on improvement should lead to a much-different team next season -- in theory. Yet the Stars are looking at more than one summer of an "improvement plan," brought about because of CBA negotiations, a limited free agency market and the simple fact that the Stars need more than just one or two new players. While we'd all like for the Stars to be able to bowl their way into the 2012-13 season as contenders, it's important to remember that the Stars can only do so much in a few months.
With that said, let's take a look the immediate needs for the Dallas Stars this summer that many fans feel should be addressed right away -- and the possibility of that actually happening.
Top Six Forward
This is what should be the main focus of the Dallas Stars this season and it apparently what the Stars are indeed addressing more than any other need. With the lack of true depth in the top six forwards, the Stars were forced to put players on the ice in roles where their potential was not maximized and they weren't used to the best of their abilities. Before the season started we expected that Brenden Morrow, Mike Ribiero and Michael Ryder would create a formidable top line -- allowing Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson to unleash hell with whomever was lucky enough to play with them.
As we now know, the regression of Morrow -- due to injury or other reasons -- created a situation where Ribeiro was grossly overexposed defensively and while the Benn and Eriksson combination was pure magic, the Stars needed to spread out their best player to help the rest of the team. The loss of Morrow from the top six forced players like Steve Ott, Adam Burish and others to take on a bigger role and while Ott was certainly decent (career-high in assists and plus/minus) it was obvious that his skills are better suited for a third line checking role.
In fact, the lack of depth on the top two lines had a tremendous domino effect on the rest of the roster that has been well documented over the course of the past few months. The third line of Nystrom, Fiddler and Dvorak seemed best suited for fourth line work and their inability to play consistent defense forced the Stars to use Jamie Benn in the checking role that Steve Ott and Adam Burish has filled so well the season before.
The problem here, as we'll see in our coming free agency coverage, is that the cupboard is bare when it comes to elite talent at the forward position this summer. There's going to be a lot of focus on Zach Parise and the idea of him coming to Dallas, but the simple fact remains that the Stars are likely not going to be able to add a player that is a significant upgrade over the players already on those top two lines.
With someone like PA Parenteau, however, the Stars can at least sign a player -- like Michael Ryder -- that allows the rest of the roster to settle into their more familiar roles.
Top Pair Defensemen
This has been the #1 need for the Dallas Stars even since the days of Mattias Norstrom. Alex Goligoski was the most valuable defenseman for the Stars last season but does not have the size or defensive ability to be the true No. 1 guy that every team desperately needs. And that is where the problem is going to lie this summer.
Every team wants that number one defenseman, the hottest commodity in the NHL and the player that nearly every successful team possesses. For so long the Stars were spoiled by the presence of Sergei Zubov and after his departure, and the retirement of Norstrom, the Stars have struggled to put a defensive corps on the ice that can rival those found throughout the NHL.
The fact that the Stars have had one of the cheapest group of the defensemen the past few years should not be overlooked. It's a position that has not been addressed thoroughly through free agency and with the exception of Sheldon Souray, most of those signings have not worked out anyway.
The big name this summer is going to be Ryan Suter and to a lesser extent, Matt Carle. These are guys that are going to be paid top dollar on the free agent market and for the first time in a while the Stars will actually have the ability to be a part of the conversation surrounding these big names.
While it would be interesting to see just how far the Stars would be willing to go to get one of these players the question that we'll be addressing this summer is: Are the Dallas Stars just one defenseman away and are these players worth such a commitment?
Remember that the Stars have a few very fine defensemen coming to the AHL next season, led by the monstrous Jamie Oleksiak -- who has apparently found his scoring touch with the Niagara Ice Dogs. Perhaps what the Stars would be better suited to do, instead of spending $7 million on one defenseman, is to spread that salary around and beef up the defensive corps overall while allowing time and room for Oleksiak and Nemeth to find their spots in the NHL.
It's tough to ask fans, after this long, to wait even longer for the Stars to take the leap from where they have been to the Cup contender we all want them to be. With Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Kari Lehtonen on the roster, the Stars have a very good core to build around and after so long without a postseason appearance it's natural to feel anxious for the Stars to take that next step as soon as possible.
Yet there is another route, one that we'll be looking at over the coming months, that the Dallas Stars could go down. While the short term plan of drastically improving the team and spending to the cap might be abandoned, it's important to remember the long-term plan when we get caught up in wanting the Stars to get back to the playoffs as soon as possible.
Instead of going after Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, sign players this summer for a reasonable price that adds to the team and allows other players to fall back into the roles in which they serve the team best. We also have to remember these young prospects that we've been so excited about and remember Jamie Oleksiak will be on the NHL roster in the the next two years -- a player who potentially represents that top pair defenseman that the Dallas Stars so desperately need.
Use the money reserved for two "big name" players and spread it around, building better depth and overall talent on a team that has needed such an influx for the last two years. Have faith in the building process started through the draft and don't get caught up in the want to build Rome in a day just because an owner is suddenly running the team. The Stars are looking to become a team that can contend not just next season -- but for many more years to come.
Then again...Zach Parise in a Dallas Stars jersey sure sounds nice.