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For Dallas Stars, Center Ice Position a Question Mark as Player Movement Picks Up

Of the 14 forwards currently listed on the Dallas Stars NHL roster, Brad Richards, Mike Ribeiro, Mike Modano, Brian Sutherby, Toby Petersen and Tom Wandell are listed as "Centers." Jamie Benn is still seen as a left wing, but his commitment to the center position is clear. This makes for a grand total of 7 (left handed) center icemen, or, if you like, 50% of the forwards.

One word that comes to mind is "depth." Others include chaos, disorganization, and misallocation of resources. Words further on down the list aren't fit for "family" consumption.

Sticking with "depth" for now, we wrote about it in January after Mike Ribeiro's freak throat contusion/spearing incident and how the moves made by the coaching staff (including Jamie Benn's sudden transformation) spoke to a lack of depth and confidence in the position, no matter how the roster reads. The offensive production at the time was telling. As we move into a busy time in player movement and trades, it's natural to take a look at the position and ponder just how drastically different things could look next season, or even next week.

The sale of the team, Mike Modano's presumed retirement (or not), the idea of trading of Mike Ribeiro (or not) and the difficulty of extending Brad Richards this summer (or not) paint a variety of pictures. Here they are in no particular order: Some unlikely, others very unlikely...

Scenario 1:

Mike Ribeiro is traded to alleviate dollars (not cap room, mind you, we have lots of that) to be spent on defense. Richards is extended.

Outgoing: Mike Ribeiro
Brad Richards, Jamie Benn, Tom Wandell, Mike Modano, Toby Petersen

It's been speculated on enough times, mostly wildly and without substantiation from any team sources, anonymous or otherwise, that it's starting to sound like part of "the plan." Mike Ribeiro's unique, ahem, pace and vision do not fit well in the Marc Crawford system of "up-tempo" offense. He's a wizard, he's a joy to watch most nights, and his absence tore a big hole in this team in January, but the differences in style are plain to see. The difficulties are real and the financial need is pressing.

In this scenario, the teams subsequent need and free minutes at center ice give Mike Modano a reason to come back and play a role. He's not close to making up his mind, and he's even working out already "just in case." It's not far fetched.

Brandon Worley at Pro Hockey Talk wrote about one possible scenario this weekend, but more importantly the spirit of such a scenario: Mike Ribeiro might need to go so we can afford some defense.

Scenario Likelihood: It's not too far along the crazy scale, actually.
Scenario Outlook: Depends on Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell. Stars offense could struggle to find balance throughout lineup. Scenario could also include a larger multi-player deal that see a center come back in the trade.

Scenario 2...

Brad Richards and the Stars are unable to come to an agreement on a contract extension. Richards is traded (either before the season or at the trade deadline) to avoid losing him for nothing.

Outgoing: Brad Richards
Staying: Mike Ribeiro, Jamie Benn, Tom Wandell, Toby Petersen, and possibly Mike Modano

This one is largely dependent, as everything is, on the Stars ownership situation and what kind of cap number they can afford to take in the long term. Richards will be looking for some years and some security, and he's coming off a season that saw him finish #7 in the league in scoring with 91 points. His number would be very large, and the contract would be a significant piece of the Stars immediate, medium, and long range plans.

Does Mike Modano come back in this scenario? An abundance of center minutes, power play and penalty kill minutes would be there for the taking, but a trade of Brad Richards would almost necessitate bringing in another center-iceman in return. He's the most important player on this team without a doubt. The loss would be devastating and a 40 year old hall-of-famer wouldn't mitigate it. Mike Ribeiro then becomes the #1 center on a team that is likely not undergoing yet another philosophy change. (See scenario #1). It's very dicey.

Scenario Likelihood: Word of contract negotiations is nowhere to be seen (or heard.) Difficult to say, but moving him before the season starts seems highly unlikely as of this writing.
Scenario Outlook: Makes a bad faceoff team worse, renders the power play ineffective and hurts the value of James Neal, Loui Eriksson and pretty much everybody else. No bueno.

Scenario 3:

Mike Ribeiro is traded, defense is added, and then the aforementioned Brad Richards difficulties arise sometime later. This is the apocalyptic scenario. Avert your eyes...

Outgoing: Mike Ribeiro, Brad Richards
Staying: Jamie Benn, Tom Wandell, Toby Petersen, Mike Modano, Sutherby, and probably un-named new center-man pickup.

Obviously this is the very worst case scenario and we probably shouldn't worry about it. Each of these decisions likely informs the other in kind. If GM Joe feels good enough about Richards, the imaginary trading of Ribeiro becomes much more palatable. If they can't trade Ribeiro or get value for him, he's a better option that most to have if you're forced to lose a player like Brad.

This unsavory scenario would leave the Stars in a desperate search for another center. Tom Wandell (64 career NHL games) and Jamie Benn (who's played less than half a season at center in his entire career) could likely not carry a hockey team to anything but a nightly train wreck.

Scenario Likelihood: Don't worry about it. It's pretty out there.
Scenario Outlook: I liken it to a proverbial super-plague that wipes out the human race.


Scenario 4:

Mike Modano retires. Richards is extended.

Outgoing: Modano (retires)
Staying: Richards, Ribeiro, Benn, Wandell, Petersen

Ah, finally...Something realistic, no?

This scenario presents Benn and Wandell with a more nurturing environment for further development of their young NHL careers and Brad Richards continues to be this teams options #1, 2 and 3. Mike Ribeiro is given another season to come around to the new way of thinking and the team as a whole benefits from roster continuity and another training camp with Crawfords mentality.

You might also say that doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity. That, and the faceoff problem isn't going to improve itself. That's a constant with all of these scenarios that we shouldn't be looking forward to.

Scenario Likelihood: High
Scenario Outlook: This set of circumstances doesn't leave much room for defensive maneuvering. The outlook, therefore, is the same as last year, and we all look forward to new ownership down the road.

Scenario 5:

Nothing changes. Modano is back.

There isn't much to say about this other than that it is somewhat unlikely given what we've heard about Modano's criteria for return. He wants a role to play and he wants to get back into the playoffs. More of the same on the roster isn't a particularly good recipe for either one of those things.

The plus side is that Mike can still play this game. We saw that at the end of the year. If he can keep his head in the game, he can help this team win hockey games. The real question is why would the Stars sign him other than because he is Mike Modano? Is that enough? The financial situation dictates spending those precious dollars elsewhere. This is an awkward conversation between Gm Joe and Mike waiting to happen, and Mike knows it. Still, you get the feeling he wants to continue playing the game.

Scenario Likelihood: Unlikely. Mike needs more of a reason and so do the Stars.
Scenario Outlook: If you're committed to Benn at center, what minutes do you have for Modano?