It's been a very busy offseason for the Dallas Stars so far, busier than just about any other team in the NHL. When you factor in all of the changes that have been made in the organization since the end of the season on April 27, it's clear that perhaps the Stars have been the most aggressive team in the NHL as far as organizational changes go.
It's been a whirlwind, for certain, and with the true offseason of July and August upon us we get a chance to stop and catch our breath a bit and really take a moment to reflect on everything that has happened in the past two months. I also wanted to use this Monday morning to sort of organize my own thoughts on the offseason so far, and what they mean for both the short-term and long-term future of this franchise we are all so passionate about.
Jim Nill Bringing Respect Back to Dallas
It was interesting to see some of the fan reactions after the trades and the draft, with some dissenting opinions out there upset that so much praise has been heaped upon Jim Nill for the moves he had made so far. Some feel that Nill is being given too much latitude for moves decisions that Joe Nieuwendyk might have been lambasted over. Some others say that too much praise has been placed upon Nill for moves that haven't even played themselves out on the ice yet.
Valid points, but it's clear that Jim Nill has had a very sudden, drastic and extraordinarily positive impact on this organization -- and that's not just including last week's draft and the big trades that were made.
Talk to anyone with the organization and they'll tell you that the Stars have not had someone like this in the front office for quite sometime. Nill's two decades of experience working in Detroit have afforded him the opportunity to forge relationships with front offices from around the league, bringing a level of respect to the franchise that perhaps hasn't existed the past few years or so.
That's not to knock down Nieuwendyk on his way out, but there's a very good reason the Stars jumped at the chance to hire Nill. The atmosphere around the organization is incredibly different than it was previously, and Nill is almost entirely responsible for those changes.
It's interesting to look back on the coaching search and how so many of us were strictly against the hiring of Lindy Ruff. After he was hired however, and once you start to do some deeper digging into his past five years with Buffalo and you talk to some others around the league, it's clear that Ruff -- like Nill -- brings a level of respectability behind the Stars bench that perhaps didn't exist before.
Ruff is obviously a very experienced head coach, and it comes across in how he carries himself around the rink and how he approaches the media. I was a big fan of Glen Gulutzan and felt he was one of the better guys I've met while doing this job, but Lindy Ruff comes across as a true, no-bullcrap hockey coach.
He was on the ice for the practice session at Development Camp on Saturday and along with Willie Desjardins orchestrated the toughest practice I've seen yet at one of these prospect camps. Once again, the true test comes when the NHL team hits the ice in October but the change in atmosphere and approach by the new regime is already very, very apparent.
Who Are These Dallas Stars?
There has been an incredible amount of change on the Dallas Stars roster the past two years, a movement of change started by Joe Nieuwendyk last summer. Not counting Kari Lehtonen, the Stars only have five players remaining from the team that started the 2011-2012 season under rookie coach Glen Gulutzan -- Jamie Benn, Alex Goligoski, Trevor Daley, Stephane Robidas and Vernon Fiddler.
When you think about it, that's an absolutely insane rate of turnover, and in the process the fans have had to say goodbye to some very beloved favorite players. It happened last season and it will happen again this year; there's going to be a lot of "who the heck are these guys, where's Steve Ott" type of reaction from the casual fan and there's already some blowback from fans upset their favorite players have left the team.
Yet the name of the game is winning, and the previous teams didn't accomplish the task before them. This is a brand new and completely different looking Dallas Stars team now, and while fans might not have the connection to the players they did before all it will take is a winning season and suddenly these players are near and dear to the fans once more.
Tyler Seguin Is A Risk Worth Taking
The Dallas Stars paid a hefty price for center Tyler Seguin -- along with Rich Peverley -- and there is some very real risk involved in this blockbuster move by Jim Nill. Yet the Stars have been wanting and needing a true No. 1 center for quite some time, and it was clear from the very start that Nill's immediate intention was to move Jamie Benn back to his natural position of wing.
First, there was Vinnie Lecavalier and there was talk of some of the veteran centers being pursued via free agency. Yet Lecavalier, Stephen Weiss, Valterri Filpulla or any of the other centers on the open market did not solve the true problem at hand -- none were really top-line centers and none were the long-term solution the Stars were really searching for.
Seguin comes to Dallas with a ton of potential, with three years of NHL experience under his belt and now moves back to his natural position at center. Just 21-years old, Seguin is superstar waiting to be made and there's an incredible amount of pressure already placed upon his shoulders. Yet this is exactly the sort of player the Stars were needing up the middle and more than any of the other options, this allows Jamie Benn to move back to left wing.
Right Wing Is Still A Need
As much as Jim Nill might have turned over this roster with a few deft trades, there still exists a very big hole on this roster -- it's just moved from center to right wing. You get the feeling the Stars were hoping to address this need via free agency, but suddenly this is a team that is pressing right up against the salary cap. As much as fans are frustrated the Stars aren't pushing the limits of the cap, it's important to remember the Stars need to maintain some room under the cap or else they'll be handcuffed with any future moves that can be made.
How the team will fill out the right wing position at the NHL level is unknown, especially earlier in the season. We can't just through Valeri Nichushkin and Alex Chiasson to the wolves as rookies on the top two lines, and it seems the Stars are ready to have Rich Perverley play on the wing rather than at center like we all expected when he was traded for.
That leaves an opening at No. 2 center and suddenly the same issue as before has presented itself again. Cody Eakin? Shawn Horcoff? The Stars say there will be an open competition in training camp for these open positions on the wing and at center, but you still feel as if one more player is needed for the top six.
Don't Be Surprised if Stars Roll With Eight Defensemen
Many fans were most upset about the lack of changes on defense, with many expecting a trade or two and the three-year contract handed to Jordie Benn leaving some scratching their heads. You get the feeling the Stars are preparing to enter the NHL season with eight defensemen on the roster, and just cycle the bottom pairing as needed.
Still, this is a team that desperately needs a shutdown defenseman and just like the need at right wing -- you wonder how they could afford such an addition without taking something away. We heard that the Stars did indeed try to move an expensive contract but were unable to do so, and now they're up against the wall a bit with the options before them.
Fresh New Start
In more than just a few ways, this is a complete reset for the Dallas Stars franchise. After five years of disappointment and diminishing returns, the Stars had faded more and more into obscurity in the very tough Dallas sports market. Even with the sale of the team to Tom Gaglardi and the boost that came with it, the lockout and another season without the playoffs arrested any forward momentum that he had previously gained.
A full rebranding of the Stars image, along with aggressive changes in the front office and and on the ice have the Stars approaching this next season with an almost completely blank slate. Expectations will be very high, however, and the Stars have placed this pressure upon themselves with the moves that have been made.
Still, we've talked about how the future of the Stars will be bright and we all must be patient -- and now it seems that patience could be paying off. The team on the ice is still far from complete and far from the sure-fire contenders we'd like them to be, but we also can't complain about a team willing to make such aggressive changes after the struggles of the past few years.
New jerseys, a new coach, an exciting new general manager and a brand new, fresh start on the ice. There's no telling what the future many bring, but for the first time in a very long while it feels we can actually be excited and optimistic about the Dallas Stars -- right here and now.