Well, well, well, what do we have here?
It is a legitimate question as this new season quickly approaches. I've been fan of this team going on the better part of 2 decades, but this year may be the first time that I can't quite put my finger on just what this team will be like on the ice.
Part of this feeling stems from the roster turnover.
Another part is the change of division(conference, whatever they are calling it these days).
Yet another part is the new head coach.
And yet another part is how this new roster will mesh (even if not right out of the gate, eventually).
And still yet another part is Jim Nill and his mid-season / trade deadline attitude / decisions.
And even still yet another part is this vague concept of playoff hockey (they still do that, right? I mean, I have only heard rumors...).
Is it any wonder why so many Dallas Stars fans are both simultaneously apprehensive and ecstatic about this upcoming season?
Now onto my general thoughts about this off-season:
1. Jim Nill moving Jamie Benn back to left wing is a stroke of brilliance. If I was not enthusiastic about Mr. Nill being our GM before that (which, who am I kidding, I was already squarely planted in the back of his bandwagon), I certainly am now. I know that Lindy Ruff will have some input on it, and from what I have seen, it sounds like Owner, GM and Coach are on the same page on a lot of different subjects (which is never a bad thing). Jamie having faceoff experience and knowledge of the center position can only be a good thing.
2. Speaking of Jamie Benn...Is it healthy for a fan to get this excited about the possibilities of Seguin and Benn on the same line? Benn the power-forward, crashing into the corners and winning puck battles, Seguin shooting and passing from basically everywhere. What is not to like? And the fact both are under contract for a good long time, for good solid money (not outrageous amounts either) is fantastic.
3. Whom does Lindy Ruff put with Benn and Seguin? Cole? Nichushkin? Chiasson? Whitney? Peverley?
It is a tough call. I think Nichushkin should be a second or third liner to start. Don't throw the kid to the wolves. on the same train of thought, I'd like people to tap the brakes on Chiasson. Lets keep him on the second line till he proves how good he can be. Personally, I hope he puts Peverley with Benn and Seguin. That is a quick, hard hitting and quick striking line.
I guess if I had to pick my version of picture perfect lines...
Benn - Seguin - Peverley
Whitney - Horcoff - Chiasson
Cole - Eakin - Nichushkin
Roussel - Fiddler - Garbutt
Robidas - Dillon
Goligoski - Gonchar
Daley - Connauton
4. Speaking of Nichushkin...I am very skeptical of him right at this moment; well not him as a person, but his game on this continent. From all the interviews I have seen, from the willingness to stay in the US and "acclimate" to our culture and our language. No small task, nor a shy endeavor. I have no doubts about his work ethic or his willingness to improve. He could not have gotten to this point without pushing himself to be this good.
My concern stems from things I have read and the few times I have seen the kid at "practices" directly following the draft. He shoots low a lot. Perhaps it is just me being nit-picky. It is more of a bad feeling I guess. If he starts off the season not able to score, it won't surprise me. What I am actually looking from him is similar to what Reilly Smith was last year. Is he a possession player, or does he just burp the puck up a lot? Is he getting shots? Are those shots of quality? Is he getting discouraged or just patiently waiting for the lamp to light? If he turns into the next Teemu Selanne, perfect. But I really don't see that he will. I predict a scoring drought and when it happens we'll see what this kid is really like. That is when my opinion will be solidified of him (as a hockey player).
5. A problem I have realized this off-season is I no longer have a favorite Dallas Star. Growing up, I was a huge Sergie Zubov fan. Modano was the "pretty boy, and Brett Hull was the big sniper, but Zubov was and still is my all time favorite player. After his last season, I was heartbroken he was not returning. I sort of shifted to the real deal James Neal and I was again heartbroken. So I moved on again to Eriksson. He was everything I had hoped he would be in his time with Dallas and he is going to do great things with Boston (not put up 40 goals like the real deal did with Pittsburgh his first year, but 80 points is certainly in reach for him). So I find myself again without a favorite. I know it will not be either Benn, Seguin, Whitney, Peverley, Horcoff, Nichushkin or Goligoski. I guess I am waiting to see who makes the bigger impact between Chiasson and Dillon. Time will tell on this one. (who knows, it might be Faksa, because why not?)
6. I am not sure what to make of Lindy Ruff. With all the roster turnover, the new uniforms, the new division and all the other things going on, his hiring is being forgotten about as quickly as Gonchar's signing. You know what...not that I think of it...I am not sure about Gonchar either. Lets lump both these guys into the same category.
Gonchar is going to be amazing for Nichushkin. And that, for no other reason is a great reason to have him. I am not sure about Sergie's overall game though. People say he isn't the player he once was, he is sometimes too much offence not nearly enough defense, and he gets caught flat footed far too often for comfort. While I read all these things, I can't help but think of another defenseman that fit that mold almost exactly (the "wonderbomb" Sheldon Souray). That seemed to work out pretty well when he has here, so I'll give Sergie the benefit of the doubt.
Lindy Ruff I am also going to give the benefit of the doubt to, just because that is the kind of person I am. It is true he has only made the playoffs twice since the second to last lockout, but I really like his no nonsense attitude that he had in Buffalo. Dallas has tons of younger, very promising players. A hard line coach could be just the thing to get all the ducks in a row for these kids.
7. This change to the playoff format is really going to be kind of cool. Of course, now we only have to worry about a handful of teams instead of half of the western conference. With (4) of (7) making it out of Chicago, Nashville, Minnesota, St. Louis, Colorado, Winnipeg and Dallas, odds are in our favor. As long as we can beat three of those teams, we'll see the playoffs for the first time in a long time.
8. This prospect camp in Traverse City is going to be awesome. Plain and simple. Nichushkin, Faksa, Chiasson, Ritchie (who I am convinced looks like Phil Mickelson), Stransky, Dickinson, Oleksiak, Nemeth, Jokipakka (every time I try to pronounce this it comes out Yogi-pawka, which is kind of funny to me). It looks like the Stars are really putting a quality team together this year, probably trying to figure out who on this roster is going to make a big jump or who shines when the "pressure" is on.
9. The "new" jerseys are starting to grow on me. I, at first, didn't like the new symbol (thought it looked funky and out of place if you clicked on NHL.com and saw it next to all the others). But as time continues to pass, it does look like it belongs. When they make a "third" jersey, I hope it has black shoulders with the "victory green" main color and the round D symbol or that state of Texas logo that is on the pants. Those would be killer.
Thanks for putting up with my mental train of thought. I guess that is all for now. Boy, what an off-season it has been so far. Let's see where this season goes (and just how good those new jerseys look on the ice!). GO STARS!