Regardless of what you may think, neither the owners nor the players want the ongoing CBA negotiations to result in a lockout, but both sides have made preparations to remain off the ice for the first few months of the 2012-13 season.
Dallas, perhaps more than any other team in the NHL, is in the middle of a significant transition. Off the ice, a new ownership regime has brought with it renewed hope and optimism, and that has translated into a busy summer with regards to the on ice product. On paper, the top six forward group is as strong as it has been in a long time. There are still holes to fill at forward and on defense, but an underrated prospect group will have something to say about that.
Here are a few reasons why I see the Stars benefiting from a delayed start.
1) Derek Roy’s injury
The Stars lack depth up the middle. It is no secret – after Jamie Benn and Derek Roy, things fall off very quickly. Roy had his shoulder cleaned up this summer (a procedure that was pushed for by the Dallas management and ownership), and because of that he is on the mend until mid-to-late November. If the season is pushed back a few months, he should be returning around the same time as the rest of his teammates.
As things stand right now, Tom Wandell, Cody Eakin, and Verne Fiddler would likely compete for the second line center gig. None of the three are proven second line centers, but the worst part of having a hole on line two is that it would once again mean Benn would have to do the heavy lifting defensively. He proved last year he is capable of doing so, but doing so took away from his ability to be productive offensively. Ideally, Roy would take some of the pressure off of Benn (which is a reason he was brought in, as he is much better defensively than the departed Mike Ribeiro).
Roy is a very good player who struggled quite a bit last year. He had a serious leg injury and never quite recovered – for a 5-9 center, speed and agility are paramount to success, and Roy was lacking in both departments. A fully healthy Roy is one of the better second line centers in the game.
I could see the Stars rolling with an offensive unit of Benn between Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, and more of a two-way line (still capable of scoring) with Roy centering Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder.
2) More development time
Several young players spent an extra year developing, including Eric Staal and Jason Spezza, who both dominated the AHL. Staal emerged as a superstar after the lockout ended, racking up 100 points 2005-06 and leading Carolina to the Stanley Cup, while Spezza led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Final just one year later. The elite draft crop from 2003 was given another year of developmental time, as NHL teams weren’t able to rush players from the CHL or Europe to the NHL. The 2005-06 rookie crop was one of the strongest ever, and several players benefitted from more time developing, including the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Ryan Getzlaf, Mike Richards, and Zach Parise.
Dallas has one of the most intriguing prospect groups in the league. One reason – so many of them are close to NHL action. Brenden Dillon is essentially a lock to make the roster this fall, but a delayed season would give him a bit more time to dominate at the AHL level. Jamie Oleksiak and Patrick Nemeth aren’t too far off, either.
Up front, Matt Fraser and Alex Chiasson both could be on the big club this year. Chiasson turned pro last year and has very projectable skills – his size is the first thing you notice (6-5 and well over 200 pounds), but he plays a very responsible game and he has few weaknesses. Fraser, on the other hand, has terrific goal-scoring instincts, but he needs to improve his play away from the puck. Scott Glennie is another forward who could benefit from a start in the AHL.
Dallas isn’t close to the salary cap right now, but having two or three players in the lineup on entry level contracts would grant GM Joe Nieuwendyk a ton of flexibility when it comes to player transactions (the Stars could better absorb a big money contract, like Jay Bouwmeester, for example).
Having an extended look at their young players would give Dallas more time to make personnel decisions before placing rookies into roles they may not be ready for.
3) Less wear and tear on the veterans
Back in 2005, there were a few veterans that came out of the lockout refreshed, recharged, and improved. Teemu Selanne is the most obvious example. The Finnish Flash used the year off to completely rehabilitate his wonky knees, and he has been one of the best forwards in the NHL since that time.
This isn’t a benefit exclusive to Dallas, but they have a few veterans who have logged some serious miles over their respective careers. Stephane Robidas and Brenden Morrow are being counted on to be big parts of the roster in 2012-13, and both have had their fair share of injuries in recent years. And although his dedication to fitness and health is legendary, Jagr has never experienced the travel of the Western Conference (although the road trips that he had to endure in the KHL must have been something). On top of that, Whitney turned 40 back in May.
A 50 game season would mean 32 less games to play (yes, I am a whiz at math). Morrow was pretty ineffective last year due to injuries, and some more time to recover would likely help him the most.
Morrow at his best:
Off the ice, however, the lockout is going to be detrimental to the team. The front office (Jim Lites and Jason Farris, in particular) has worked extremely hard to bring back old partners, build new ones, and once again establish the Stars as a strong presence in the Dallas and Texas community. A lockout would shift some attention away from hockey, and in a town with the Rangers (likely headed for another MLB postseason), Mavericks, and the Cowboys (one of the most popular sports franchises in the world, even with Tony Romo at quarterback), the Stars need all of the help they can get.
A delayed start would be nothing more than a bump in the road, as owner Tom Gaglardi isn’t leaving any time soon.
"I’m confident in the marketplace for the long term. I wouldn’t have bought the team if I wasn't."
Without sounding overly optimistic, a month or two of more time to sell tickets and plan for the future wouldn’t be the worst thing to happen. Gaglardi has been officially in charge for less than a year, and he and his people have already accomplished a lot.
"The two previous seasons when the team was being run by lenders, much of the sales and management team left and the lenders hired an interim president. Because of that, the push to sell tickets fell flat. Dallas ranked 28th in the NHL last season in average attendance at 14,226. Most alarming was the fact the Stars announced four crowds of less than 10,000 early in the season — including the smallest crowd to ever see the Stars play in Dallas, 6,306.
However, since Gaglardi and Lites have come in, they have pushed sales back up and started distributing either complimentary tickets or good deals. The last nine games of the season all had announced attendance in excess of 16,600, and that included three sellouts."
One step back, two steps forward, as they say. On the ice, a November or December start would help Dallas immensely.
The rest of my lockout series:
Lockout Beneficiaries, Part IV: Dallas