As we enter the dog days of summer, I've started contemplating the fact that we have no clue what will happen this season.
I've got to get some things off my chest. We've been working hard here at Defending Big D to come up with content every day, doing our best to provide multiple posts each day during a time when there is absolutely no news surrounding the team to speak of. It's actually pretty amazing: there is a surprising lack of noise coming from Frisco during a summer in which we've seen more turmoil and turnover than the Stars have had since coming to Dallas.
Everything just feels a bit stale. Last season was a major disappointment, and fans are quick to lay the blame on injuries but the fact remains that the season started extremely poorly and there's nothing to prove the Stars wouldn't have finished any differently than they did. For the past seven years or so, the Stars have been perennial underachievers and their playoff woes have been well documented. Each year we've been optimistic that the regular season will be fine and we've been wary of what will happen once the playoffs start. After the magic feeling for of the BIg Playoff Run of 2008, we were hopeful that the 10th anniversary season of the Stanley Cup Championship would head in the same direction. We all know how that went.
If I have to be completely honest as I look back upon the past few years from an objective viewpoint, I feel that the need for change was definitely needed. Dave Tippett is a great coach and an even better person, but it's rare that things completely turnaround on a dime without things changing at the very top. Joe Nieuwendyk came in as the General Manager with a plan in mind and immediately started to get things rolling in a new direction.
And that's is where this feeling of the unknown comes from.
Never before has this team had such dramatic change during the offseason. On top of the coaching and front office maneuvers, the team has seen the departure of franchise defensemen Sergei Zubov. It will feel as if a brand new team will be taking the ice in training camp in December with Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards and Toby Petersen all returning from season ending injuries last season, despite a notable lack of free agent signings this summer. Karlis Skrastins and Alex Auld have been added, but it's hardly the offseason splash fans were hoping for after a dismal season.
Yet it's not the returning players or newcomers that will make this feel like a completely different team. As part of the sweeping changes Nieuwendyk put into place this summer, the Stars will be implementing a brand new style of play. New coach Marc Crawford teaches a completely different brand of hockey than we've ever seen the Stars use before; instead of the steady, stifling defensive strategy the Stars have become known for we'll be introduced to more wide-open, offensively-minded system that will utilize the players in ways we've not seen before.
I get excited when I think of what Mike Ribeiro, James Neal, Brad Richards and Loui Eriksson can do when allowed to really open things up on the ice. Yet just like with any new coach and brand new system, there's bound to be some growing pains. When playing a fast, aggressive game you need a group of defensemen that are skilled enough to make up for the mistakes made when you take a chance in the offensive zone. Skrastins will definitely help in that regard, but the Stars have a very young group of defensemen that are still learning. Marty Turco will need to be at his very best, and it's unknown exactly how he'll rebound from the worst season of his career.
It's also uncertain what a team that has thrived on dump and chase, counterattack hockey will do once given the chance to really open things up for the first time in a long time.
Taking a look at the premature, preseason rankings, not many believe the Stars will be back near the top of the Western Conference. My first reaction as seeing these projections was once of surprise but in reality, can we honestly expect much else? The Stars have become known as underachievers ever since the 2000 season, and with the loss of a key veteran, several franchise players a year older and a brand new coach, G.M. and a new system being put in place, no one knows what the hell the Stars will do in 2009-10. The players could fully embrace the system and finally realize their offensive potential and the team rides all the way to the playoffs, or the team could rebel against a coach that is known for being hotheaded and a bit crazy and things fall apart under all of the turmoil.
I have no idea what to expect either. The number of variables facing this team is overwhelming in scope. I am extremely optimistic and excited, but wary of what could happen this season.
Am I alone in all of this? Do you agree that the need for change existed, even if it meant the firing of beloved coach Dave Tippett? Can Marc Crawford turn this team around from being underachievers? Will this team thrive as the underdog this season under a brand new regime?
My head hurts.