With a limited budget the Dallas Stars have had to stay relatively quiet thus far in the offseason.
We were prepared for nothing to happen. Stars fans were warned not to expect anything big to happen this summer. Yet you can't help but get the feeling that there is a frustration mounting among the Stars hopeful, that the team is just standing idly by while other teams around them in the conference and in the division improve by the day. The question is, should fans feel frustrated or are the Stars well enough as they are to not need any big improvements?
It's only natural to feel a sense of worry and anxiousness as the Stars remain relatively content with the current roster. After all, this team suffered from a very disappointing season last year and has lost some key players to free agency. Darryl Sydor is likely gone and it's uncertain whether Sergei Zubov will return. Also gone are Joel Lundqvist, Brendan Morrison, Steve Begin and Mark Parrish (although Begin is the only one to sign elsewhere at this point). Losing Zubov would painful for Stars fans to stomach and I can't imagine seeing him play in any other jersey next season. But it's a distinct possibility.
So far the only addition the Stars have made was to sign veteran defenseman Karlis Skrastins to a two-year contract. He's a solid pickup, but nowhere near the offensively talented big blue liner Stars fans were hoping to see. The organization has been forced to work with a severely limited budget compared to past seasons. This means the only exciting news we'll most likely hear in the next few weeks is whether or not Jonas Gustavsson has chosen to sign with Dallas.
Yet things might not be as bad they seem.
With the addition of Skrastins, the Stars now have a steady veteran on the blue line to help with the further development of the young defenseman the Stars have. This will be the third season Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric and Matt Niskanen play together in the NHL and the hope is that all have recovered from their sophomore struggles of last year. Skrastins will help manage the minutes of Stephane Robidas, who tired as the season wore on, and should afford Trevor Daley the chance to show his ability on the power play. While it's far from the puck moving defenseman we were hoping for, the fact remains that the Stars have the potential to put a solid and talented defensive corps on the ice next season. Factor in Ivan Vishnevskiy, who should make the jump to the NHL a couple of months in the season, and the Stars future is still bright at the position.
With the forwards, it's the same story it's been for the past few years: the Stars desperately need a scoring right winger. Unfortunately, that wasn't going to happen via free agency. The team did address this need (several times in fact) during the draft, but none of those players will be ready for the NHL for at least a few years. So where does that leave Dallas for next season? Fairly well off, in fact.
Think of all the players lost to injury last season as a welcome addition to this year's roster. Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards, Toby Petersen and Jere Lehtinen were all players lost for significant portions of last season and are now healthy and set to return.
Compare this proposed line combination for next season:
Morrow - Ribeiro - Lehtinen
Ott - Richards - Eriksson
Neal - Modano - Brunnstrom
Sutherby - Petersen - Barch
To what the Stars had on the ice in late March, when their playoff hopes were still alive:
Ott - Ribeiro - Eriksson
Neal - Modano - Lehtinen
Morrison - Wandell - Wilson
Begin - Lundqvist - Barch
I'd say what we should see in October is a vast improvement over what was on the ice in March. The Stars will be rolling three very talented, very versatile lines with several players still improving after having breakout seasons last year. James Neal became a powerful weapon on the power play late in the season, and Fabian Brunnstrom was at his best the last few months of the season playing on the right wing. We all know the magic that the combination of Morrow, Ribeiro and Lehtinen can bring. With Marc Crawford calling the shots now, expect a much more explosive effort from the Stars' offense than what we've been used to seeing. The Stars have several pure goal scorers poised to have big years under their new coach, and it will be interesting to see what changes are made to a power play that was a bit horrendous last season.
Depth is still a concern, but you can't spend a lot of money trying to plan for another round of cataclysmic injuries.
The only aspect of this offseason that has truly been worrisome for the Stars is the Jonas Gustavsson situation. The latest reports is that he will wait a few more days to make his decision, and in the meantime the Stars are still without a backup goalie for Marty Turco. There are still some decent names available, but it's tough to think the Stars could have missed out on the most valuable players and then not have Gustavsson pick Dallas.
While every fan would love to see their team go out and try and acquire the top talent that's available, the truth is that Stars couldn't afford...and perhaps don't need to. Dallas will most likely enter the season $8-10 million under the salary cap which will then set up the team for next summer, when another large group of Stars' players is set to hit free agency. Don't forget that it's also speculated the salary cap will drop next year as well. If the ownership's financial situation takes a turn for the better, then the team could make some moves to improve during the season. But as it is, things will stay about the same and not change much from now until October.
Perhaps that's not that bad of a thing.