DALLAS, TX - MARCH 09: Left wing Jamie Benn #14 of the Dallas Stars celebrates a goal with Loui Eriksson #21 against the Calgary Flames at American Airlines Center on March 9, 2011 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
This past weekend both NBC Sports and NHL.com took a detailed look at the Dallas Stars, as each site is dedicating to one day over the next month to each team. I always find these "in depth" looks from a national scale to be very interesting as they tend to reveal not only how reputation and biases can affect an opinion of a team but also shed light on issues that perhaps we had never considered.
When I myself worked at NBC Sports and through my work covering the NHL as a whole for SB Nation, I've learned that attempting detailed breakdowns of teams across the league can be a dangerous game. It's impossible to really have a full grasp of every team's roster and prospect system but more importantly, it's tough to get a hold of what the actual narrative or "momentum" of a team might be when you aren't involved in the day-to-day news cycle.
This is why beat writers and local writers are generally called upon for more in-depth breakdowns of teams and their respective situations on national television and radio programs, to get a better look at a certain team that the national guys come short of reaching. It's not exactly an insult against national writers or hosts, but there can be glaring holes in analysis at times that showcase just how limited knowledge can be when covering things at a national scale.
All that being said, I thought that the guys at NBC and NHL.com had some interesting things to say this weekend and a few common storylines emerged between the two. Let's take a closer look after the jump.
The Dallas Stars Have 'Intriguing' Depth At Forward
Corey Masisak of NHL.com seems to have a very optimistic opinion of the Starsheading into this season, encouraged by the aggressive moves by the Stars this offseason to build upon what was already an improving group of young forwards. Masisak praises Jamie Benn as an "elite NHL player" and a "legit No. 1 center" and notes that Philip Larsen has become a "bona fide top-four defenseman," and praises the Stars for attempting to improve the roster around those young players.
What's really interesting are his line combinations:
I still believe, depending on training camp, that the Stars are going to have Whitney and Jagr playing with Jamie Benn on that top line. I know what Joe Nieuwendyk said after the Jagr signing but I just don't see how the Stars play three under-sized forwards on the same line, and I think adding Loui Eriksson to that second line creates all sorts of matchup issues for the opposing teams.
What really stands out is how Fiddler is centering that third line with Cody Eakin on a wing. Eakin has been touted as a potentially elite defensive forward and checking-line center and many believe Fiddler will be centering what could be a very dangerous fourth line. I just don't see how this sort of line combination happens, especially when you consider that Ryan Garbutt -- on a one-way contract with the Stars -- has been left out completely.
Kari Lehtonen Is Good, But Boy Does He Have Injury Issues
If there is one narrative that just won't go away, it's that Kari Lehtonen has injury issues. Last season, Lehtonen missed just over a month with a groin injury suffered not due to poor conditioning but an ill-fated lunge at a dead puck. In 2010-11, Lehtonen appeared in 69 games for the Stars and seemed to wear down as the season progressed -- likely due to the fact that the Stars refused to play Andrew Raycroft down the stretch. Last year Lehtonen played in 59 games and, according to James O'Brien at NBC Sports, that just isn't enough.
Lehtonen was limited to 59 appearances last season, 10 fewer than in 2010-11.
Lehtonen missed a bit more than a month of action, which was a significant issue since the Stars didn't really trust Raycroft. While incoming backup Richard Bachman showed some promise during that time, Dallas needs Lehtonen to pile up starts like a workhorse No. 1.
He's been much healthier in Dallas, but his long-term history and last season's groin injury inspires some concern.
Personally, in an ideal world, Lehtonen would play in around 60 games a season anyways. Only a handful of goaltenders can historically handle the "workhorse" load of 70 games or so a season, and even then it's rare that such a goaltender can lead his team in the playoffs -- Jonathan Quick being an exception to the rule.
Eddie Belfour, the stalwart in goal for the team during the glory years, regular played between 60 and 63 games each season. He was prepared and ready for the postseason and rested enough that 20+ games after the season was over far from a burden. Marty Turco, much more of a 'workhorse' than Belfour, played in just 62 games in 2007-2008, which also happened to be the longest postseason appearance of his career. Coincidence?
NHL.com includes a note about Lehtonen in their "Six Questions" series, saying this:
Injuries always have been an issue with the goaltender, notably a pesky back issue. Last season, though, he played 59 games and set personal-bests with a 2.33 goals-against average and .922 save percentage, each of which ranked in the top 10 in the League. He missed a month with a groin injury and the Stars went 7-5-0 in his absence. Rookie backup Richard Bachman played well, but the Stars need Lehtonen to be healthy if they have any hope of returning to the postseason.
To me, it's not so much about Lehtonen staying healthy as it is the Stars needing to find a viable backup option that can successfully take on 20 or so games each season. Andrew Raycroft was 2-8-0 last season for the Stars; imagine how differently the season had been had he won just half of his games.
Defensive Depth Is An Issue But Everyone Forgets About Brenden Dillon
Now, I'm not arguing that the Stars defense is not the top concern heading into this season. Losing Sheldon Souray is going to hurt in the short term, as the Stars just don't have the type of player ready to step into those tough, defensive minutes that Souray at up so well last year. While his offense tailed off as the season progressed, Souray and Robidas combined to be the most effective pairing for the Stars last year while playing primarily against the toughest competition the team faced night after night.
NBC Sports isn't exactly fond of the defense in Dallas, throwing in this little gem:
The team hopes to get the most out of Alex Goligoski, their highest paid defenseman at $4.6 million per season. Goligoski stumbled a bit last season after initially making Dallas look like the "winners" of the James Neal trade.
(That didn't last long.)
The defense corps looks solid, but might be one more consistent player short. Dallas still has plenty of room below the salary cap ceiling and a stable ownership situation, so that could be remedied at any point between now and the 2013 trade deadline.
One thing both agree with -- and we here at DBD agree with as well -- is that the Stars to truly contend for the postseason they might need the addition of another top-four defenseman. What's interesting, however, is that the defensive pairings by Masisak includes Jordie Benn and the article by NBC Sports doesn't even mention Brenden Dillon -- the ace in the hole for the Stars.
Dillon is completely unproven and is merely untapped potential at this point, but all signs say that he could develop into a special defenseman sooner than later. He has the size, the speed and the intelligence to become a very good two-way defenseman, one who isn't afraid to be physical in his own zone and who is more than capable of creating offense on the other end. While Dillon is far from a lock to become a game-changer for the Stars, there's a good chance he plays most of this season as a top-four defenseman with the Stars and brings more balance to the defense. That is something that cannot be overlooked.
Jamie Benn & Loui Eriksson Are Really, Really Good
NBC Sports took the time to separately highlight Benn and Eriksson, with Joe Yerdon stating that Eriksson is the "best player you're not paying attention to."
That's two former MVPs and a tw0-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner. Meanwhile, Eriksson has been to one All-Star Game and hasn't won an NHL award for himself.
We all know that Eriksson is the best all-around player on this team and deserves far more attention and praise than he receives, a byproduct of playing in Dallas and for a team that his missed the postseason in four straight seasons. Jamie Benn is in a similar boat, with James O'Brien wondering if Benn can make a "Claude Giroux-like jump" this next season -- especially with Jagr on his side.
O'Brien states that the Stars have set up this next season to be all about Jamie Benn, with the trades of Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro opening up the possibility for more ice time for Benn. The star center had just 18 minutes of ice time a game last season and received limited time on the power play -- both of those issues should be addressed this next season.
NHL.com finished up their coverage of the Stars with a "six questions" article, asking about Glen Gulutzan's growth as a coach and whether the Stars will be tough enough next season after losing some grit. Adam Kimmelman also is astute in finally bringing up Dillon, a player to to keep an eye on as the Stars figure out the future of their defensive corps.
It was interesting to see the two differing views (or, in reality, four) on the Stars from a national level and the takeaway is that they feel largely the same as us -- encouraged about what this team has done to improve but worried about defensive depth and issues if injuries hit the team.
EJ Hradek also provided a video breakdown of his thoughts on the Stars, which you can watch below.