Over the next month, Defending Big D will be counting down the most important "impact" players for the upcoming season for the Dallas Stars. Starting from the player we believe will have the smallest influence on this season to the player with the most, we'll countdown from #23 all the way to the top as we get ready for what we hope will be a very promising season.
While much of the Dallas Stars off-season commentary has centered (nationally) around the signings of Michael Ryder and Sheldon Souray to go along with the departure of Brad Richards, those "in the know" think veteran center Vernon Fiddler, newly departed from the Phoenix Coyotes, might be the most important change for this team going forward.
Even without seeing him in preseason or how Glen Gulutzan adjusts his lineup, it's not a stretch to project Fiddler into the Stars' third line center role. He did it in Phoenix, he did it in Nashville, and his skill set screams checking line. Dallas has rotated Toby Petersen, Steve Ott, Tom Wandell (and even Mike Modano) in recent years following the departure of players like Stu Barnes and Jeff Halpern. Fiddler's three year deal (at a very reasonable $1.8 million per) gives them stability moving forward while Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro nail down the top two pivot spots.
Fiddler instantly becomes one of the team's better penalty killing forwards and along with Radek Dvorak, solidifies that part of the Stars game. Toby Petersen, as we discussed previously, will probably see his role marginalized to a certain extent by Fiddler as they share job descriptions: Penalty killing depth centers. He's also a much more accomplished face off taker.
Speaking of faceoffs, along side Steve Ott he instantly becomes the team's best man on the dot. (52% last year). Add Adam Burish (hopefully a very healthy Adam Burish this year) and what was a liability for Dallas starts to turn back into asset. He's played 72, 79, 78, 76 and 71 games since becoming a full time NHLer with the Predators in 2006-2007. He led all forwards on the Coyotes in blocked shots (60) and averaged nearly three minutes of SHTOI/G last season.
Tremendous offensive contribution has not been a hallmark of his NHL game but he's shown the ability to add 30 points per season, and from the third lines in Phoenix and Nashville, that's pretty impressive. With the likes of Brandon Segal, Brian Sutherby, Jason Williams, Fabian Brunnstrom, Adam Burish, Toby Petersen, etc contributing only half of that (or in most cases less) in recent years from the "bottom six", 30 points from a third liner would be most welcome.
Speaking of Adam Burish, Mike Heika likes Burish to play along side with Fiddler on that checking line and I would tend to agree. Burish doesn't figure to be a top-six guy, nor a fourth liner, so you have to like him there in a group that will be tough to play against indeed.
If the Stars are to compete in the ultra-tough Western Conference, it's players down the lineup like Vernon Fiddler that are going to make the difference. Still on a budget, now without Brad Richards and James Neal, the Stars have to give teams a harder time and they must get scoring from a variety of places. Fiddler embodies this concept and has done it before with Phoenix and Nashville. With a little luck perhaps he can be a Stu Barnes/Jere Lehtinen hybrid: A utility forward who does all those little things a team needs to be successful.