As we move closer and closer to the Sept. 15 deadline for the expiration of the current CBA and what many feel could be at the very least a delayed season and at worst a lengthy lockout, it seems we move further and further away from analyzing the immediate future of the Dallas Stars when play actually resumes. For some it has been an exercise in futility, faced with the distinct possibility that hockey is months away instead of weeks, as it would normally be at this time of year.
Reality is likely somewhere in between, with many hopeful that a deal could get struck in time that only a slight delay to the season is forced upon us; we'll certainly know more this afternoon after the NHLPA's response to the latest NHL proposal is known. What is facing us, however, is that at some point in the near future the Dallas Stars will be back on the ice with a much different team than we saw at the end of last season -- the fourth straight year without the Dallas Stars making the postseason.
Part of those changes involved signing two veteran forwards to short term contracts -- Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney. Both players are likely going to be strong candidates for the Hockey Hall of Fame (Jagr certainly, and possibly Whitney) and both players are coming off strong seasons at the ripe age of 40.
So what sort of impact will these players have on the ice for the Dallas Stars? We've already discussed what their presence means for the Stars in the locker room; let's examine the most important aspect of their signing after the jump.No one knows exactly what the coaches will decide once training camp and preseason actually begin, and we all know how quickly plans can change once the games actually starting counting, but right now conventional wisdom holds that Whitney and Jagr are going to be playing on the either side of incumbent No. 1 center Jamie Benn.
Last season Benn spent the better part of the season with primarily defensive forwards who would normally have been on a third line on a deeper hockey team. When paired with more offensively gifted forwards, such as Loui Eriksson, Benn absolutely shined and his ability to push the envelope offensively was on full display. Benn showcased just how important he is to this team down the stretch, taking on expanded defensive responsibilities and excelling in that role; Benn was perhaps the most impressive even-strength forward in the NHL last season.
Now the Dallas Stars are moving forward with the plan of building a hockey team around Jamie Benn, of giving him better tools for success and building a group of forwards that places less defensive pressure on Benn and allows him to take a much more centralized offensive role. Whitney and Jagr are the major pieces of this plan, albeit in the short term.
Jagr and Whitney are two completely different types of forwards who will benefit Benn in separate ways, especially if both players end up on the top line as expected.
Benn falls into the category of a "power forward," one of the better ones in the NHL actually, yet has the potential to be so much more. With Jagr, Benn would have a winger who is more than capable of taking advantage of the plays that Benn is able to create through his strength and creativity but more importantly, has the size and puck possession skills to create plays for Benn as well.
One of the issues last season was that Benn would fall into the trap of trying to do too much on his own, likely because of the issues he faced with his wingers being able to finish plays or create them. While Steve Ott certainly showed good ability to move the puck at times, he's far from the dynamic offensive talent that Jagr is -- even in this advanced stage of his career.
With Whitney, Benn has a speedy forward who was one of the more creative playmakers from the wing the NHL had last season. He's defensively responsible and more than capable of moving the puck quickly and smartly in transition and once again, has above-average puck possession skills, something the Stars struggled mightily with last season. Whitney is capable of putting the puck in the net as well but it's his ability to dish the puck that is going to be most valuable for the Stars and have the biggest impact on a center like Benn.
Because Jamie Benn is not a traditional playmaking center and likely would be better off on the wing, this combination of skill and experience on either side will serve to free him up from the pressures he faced last season. What's interesting is that Benn enjoyed an incredible breakout season in 2011-12, proving he can be the centerpiece of a hockey team at center and more than capable of shoulder an incredible amount of responsibility. What the Stars found out, however, was that even Jamie Benn cannot do it all alone.
The Stars are moving into this next season with a completely new approach on the ice and a revamped top six that is designed to not only be incredibly competitive this season but help progress the team into the future, where some talent young wingers and centers are waiting for their chance. While Whitney and Jagr will only be here for a very short time, their ability to help Benn grow and learn as the top center on this hockey team is absolutely invaluable.