It's the week after the draft and Dallas Stars fans are still buzzing about the decisions made over the past month by Joe Nieuwendyk. The loss of Brad Richards hurts, but suddenly the Stars have reason to be hopeful for this upcoming season. The focus has now shifted a bit to the future, with the Stars building a very solid foundation with promising prospects with great potential, all on display this week in McKinney at development camp.
As excited as I might be about the idea of Patrik Nemeth, John Klingberg and Jamieson Oleksiak leading the charge on defense in front of ultra-competitive Jack Campbell, there is still plenty of time between now and then before this dream becomes reality. Instead, we must shift at least part of our focus back to the upcoming season with the "rebuilding" of the Dallas Stars will truly begin.
I'm not expecting magic this season. If the Stars make the playoffs, that would most likely be the pinnacle of any and all expectations I may have. Instead, I'm hopeful for an entertaining and competitive hockey team that at the very least can play well on home ice, build some excitement once more in the arena and start to get fans interested in a team that's going to be damn good sooner than later.
Nearly all of the additions made by Nieuwendyk had this goal in mind. Keep the core of this Stars team intact while building a bridge from now until the future when his true vision of a hockey club is realized. While the past two seasons have been ultimately frustrating on multiple levels, it's clear that despite having a noticeable lack of support Nieuwendyk has somehow found a way to still continue to mold this team and progress the franchise forward. Sure, the loss of Brad Richards and the failures of Marc Crawford became setbacks, but perhaps in some ways these changes needed to happen for the greater good.
We are still far, far off from October and seeing any meaningful hockey in Dallas. It's also been nearly three months since the Stars last took to the ice in Minnesota with their season on the line. I miss hockey and I miss the Stars and all of these latest transactions has me itching for next season.
After the jump, what I'm looking forward to the most about next season..
In no particular order....
Ralph & Razor: A recent, very scientific study by a good friend of mine determined that the dynamic duo was one of the top five broadcasting tandems working in hockey today. For most of us, they're simply the best and can never be surpassed. After all these years they still do the radio/t.v. simulcast, a perfect blend between dead-accurate play by play and incredible color analyst by Razor himself.
This isn't just about the "Razor-isms", which are now nationally famous, this is about the production as a whole. The two have such incredible chemistry and despite the Stars being in Dallas for nearly two decades, they still find a great way to relate the game to those that are still learning. The fact that they do this without angering the die-hards is nothing short of pure magic. These are two guys that love and cherish the sport of hockey and have been the rock and anchor that have carried the fans through all of the ups and downs since the 2000 Cup Finals.
They're fair, they know the sport well and they'll call it like they see it; including when the Stars are struggling. You can't ask for a better team.
Walking out of the AAC after an emotional win: Last season was the first chance I'd had in 10 years to watch more than one Stars home game a season. I lost count, but I attended around 15 games in total and every single one was a great experience. You forget the magic that happens when watching your favorite team live and in person; after years of just watching on t.v. you get a new and fresh perspective on the team you love so dearly.
More importantly, you can share that experience with fellow fans. Last season, before things went bad, there were a number of games that made me feel like we were back in 2008; before the ownership issues, before three seasons of no playoffs. The fans were wild, the arena was rocking and after a very rowdy and joyous win I felt like there could be no better feeling that walking out of that arena with fans chanting "Let's Go Stars" and strangers hugging. It was just a lowly regular season game but it shows just how much these want to feel that hunger once more.
Watching Jamie Benn become a star: Jamie Benn scored just 22 goals last season along with 34 assists. Nearly every single one of those goals was highlight-reel stuff, and it always seemed he found a way to score with the team needed it most. Not just the goal scoring, Benn showcased that he's an exceptionally physical two-way hockey player, just as dangerous on defense as he is on offense.
This season he'll be expected to take a larger role with the team, to step up and help fill the void left by Brad Richards. Benn is growing into a superstar in Dallas, the team unable to keep his jersey stocked at the fan shop and he's growing into the ultimate leader on this team. This season will be his third in the NHL, and he'll be playing under the coach that led him to playoff magic last year in the AHL. I can't wait.
- Celebrating that first bomb from Sheldon Souray that hits the back of the net: For too long I've watched Souray do this to the rest of the NHL and the Dallas Stars as well, always hoping for the Stars to somehow have this level of firepower on their own blue line. Souray is likely here for just a year and the Stars don't exactly have that sort of shot in the system, but for now it's going to be to just sit back and watch Souray unleash his fury at opposing goaltenders.
- Seeing a composed and productive Steve Ott: He's a fan favorite because he's incredibly fun to watch play. He is the ultimate pest who toes a very fine line during games and has just as much of an ability to piss off the fans as he does the opposition. This season, Ott is going to be asked to step up and fill a more substantial role on this team, shifting from third line checker and agitator to become a scoring and productive winger with Benn & Eriksson (we assume). Ott's tenacity and physicality will certainly be needed, but Ott is going to need to stay on the ice for the Stars to be successful; he can't afford to constantly be in that penalty box.
Seeing an owner in a luxury box at the AAC: This one I can't stress enough. It's been too long since the Stars have operated with an owner that is at least interested and involved with the team. It wears on the front office, it wears on the Stars themselves, when there is no one that is the driving force -- leading the franchise forward. Nieuwendyk is doing the best he can but for now, the franchise as a whole is locked into stasis: no wide-spread and needed changes or upgrades can happen without an owner.
That's what I look forward to the most.