In the final part of my 2012 year in review series, I will count down the top five stories relating to the Dallas Stars from the past year. In Part I, I looked at the busy summer for Joe Nieuwendyk, the new jerseys, the return of Jim Lites, and more.
5. The draft
The Stars are committed to building a winner the right way – through the draft. There are different ways to use a draft to build a team. One way is to draft the best players available and give them the proper environment to develop in (a winning one sure helps, just as Detroit). Another is to draft and develop top young talent and then use those assets to acquire proven stars (the LA Kings model with their acquisitions of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards – the team drafted Jack Johnson, Brayden Schenn, and Wayne Simmonds in previous years).
The Stars grabbed two-way center Radek Faksa with their first pick. For those people who aren’t familiar with Faksa’s back story, it is quite remarkable.
"Faksa is from Opava, a city of 60,00 people located in a poor region of the Czech Republic, just minutes from Poland’s border. He has two siblings, and with divorced parents, all three lived with their Mom. He was an exceptional hockey player.
Opportunities for a talent like him in a town like that were almost nil. His family was barely scraping by, and all he wanted to do was be a hockey player.
Well, people had noticed his unique gifts, and one option arose.
If he would leave his home and family and play for a team in Trinec, they would put him up in a hotel and feed him two meals a day. That sounds pretty fair for a young player trying to move on up, there was just one thing. "Young" is a bit of an understatement – he was 11 at the time."
It remains to be seen if the Faksa pick was the right one, but the Stars can’t afford to have any more weak drafts if they hope to get back on track. The 2010 draft isn’t looking very good right now (although it is way too early to write off Jack Campbell or Patrick Nemeth), and Scott Glennie is still struggling with the pro game, but the Stars have done a great job in other drafts and with prospect free agent signings.
4. Another late season collapse
For the third consecutive season, the Stars faded down the stretch and ultimately missed the postseason. This time was different, however, as the Stars made it clear that they wanted to shake up their leadership core that had failed them once again. Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro, both key players in Dallas for the past few years, were moved in a pair of trades. Brenden Morrow was rumored to be on the trading block, but many in the hockey world speculated that the Stars wouldn’t be able to get fair value for him due to his recent injuries.
Gaglardi shared his thoughts on what needed to be done entering last summer:
"I don't see a position that we don't need to get better at," Gaglardi told ESPN. "We need more scoring depth, clearly. Secondary scoring wasn't there when we needed it. Our top line carried us there for a while, but once it stopped we weren't able to muster up enough offense."
Dallas brought in Ray Whitney, one of the most respected veterans in the game. Jaromir Jagr, another free agent signing, is known for his incredible work ethic both on the ice and in the gym. He was a positive influence on Claude Giroux in Philadelphia, and he had the same sort of impact on many of the Rangers during his tenure in the Big Apple.
Kari Lehtonen did his best to keep the Stars afloat, but he couldn’t do it all himself behind an inconsistent defensive group and an offensive group that relied too much on Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson to produce its goals. The Stars had a great start to the season and were undefeated during an impressive 11-game run in February, but they ended up losing eight of their final 11 games. With stability in place off the ice, and a new leadership group in place on the ice, expect heads to roll if the Stars wilt in pressure games once again.
3. The Steve Ott/Mike Ribeiro trades
As mentioned above, the Stars made a statement with these two trades. Both were hockey trades (player for player, not just player for futures), and both involved trading away core pieces. Ribeiro, like him or not, had developed into a solid offensive center capable of playing on a top scoring unit. However, his role changed thanks to Jamie Benn’s impressive switch to center, and the Stars wanted a more defensively reliable center to play behind Benn.
Down the road, that could be Cody Eakin (the player the Stars acquired in exchange for Ribeiro). Eakin is a do-it-all forward who plays with a lot of tenacity. He saw limited minutes last year for Washington, but has been very consistent this season for Texas. He isn’t ready for top six duty right now, but he could be at some point down the road.
Ott was a hot commodity at the trade deadline, but the Stars ultimately decided to keep him (Vancouver, in particular, was very interested in Ott, but they wouldn’t part with Cody Hodgson for him). After the Ribeiro trade, a short term need opened up at center. Ott can play center and he is one of the best faceoff men in the game, but he isn’t a viable top six solution. Enter Derek Roy, who Dallas acquired from Buffalo in exchange for Ott.
What should the Stars expect from Roy? If healthy, he is a capable two-way center who draws penalties and produces at a respectable clip. He is more dependable in his own zone than Ribeiro. The risks with Roy are two – one, he is a free agent this summer, and two, he has sustained a few serious injuries in recent years (leg and shoulder). His game is built around speed, and he lost a step after tearing his quad a few years ago. He may benefit from the lockout more than any other player in the league.
It didn’t happen overnight, and Stars fans knew that Jamie Benn was a special talent long before the rest of the league did. His true "arrival" in pro hockey came during the Texas Stars Calder Cup run back in 2010 – Benn put the team on his back with 14 goals in 24 games. He has taken steps forward each season, and the only thing holding him back from emerging as a true offensive star is better talent around him in the Dallas lineup.
Benn is currently without a contract, and I wrote a few weeks ago on what we can expect his new deal to look like.
Assuming the new CBA carries with it a UFA age of 28, I see the two sides agreeing to a four-year pact. Even if there is no contract limit in the new CBA, I don’t see Dallas giving Benn a long-term deal (six or more years). If they were to go that route, it probably would have made more sense to do so this past summer (when they could have gone really long term to drive the cap hit down).
It looks like the new CBA will leave the UFA age of 27 unchanged, so that may change my prediction by a year.
If Benn "arrived" in the eyes of Dallas fans back in 2010, he "arrived" in the hockey world after decimating the Columbus defense with this ridiculous goal.
As Dallas Stars President Jim Lites said when Modano retired:
"Hockey in Dallas is Mike Modano."
Add in three words and that sentence could describe Benn, too.
"The Future of hockey in Dallas is Jamie Benn."
1. The lockout
I held out as long as I could with regards to mentioning the lockout, but the most pointless work stoppage in the history of professional sports (to some, at least) is very worthy of the top spot. Dallas may be a team that benefits in the long run from a lockout, for a few reasons. However, most fans don’t care about that, as they have been robbed of watching the game they love. Even if the NHL does return in a few weeks, the league has a lot of work to do in order to get back in the good books of its fans.
The lockout gave Roy time to heal, and it gave the young Stars time to gel down in Austin. A new CBA will hopefully also come with realignment, which will ease the travel burden and the ridiculous start times for the Dallas Stars. The team was losing money hand over foot in recent years, but that was more due to absentee ownership than the team not being able to compete under the rules of the old CBA.
And one more piece of good news? The new CBA may contain a draft lottery for all 14 teams that miss the playoffs. If Dallas doesn’t find a way into the postseason in a shortened 2012-13 season, imagine having a crack at Texas prospect Seth Jones? That would take care of the need for a number one defenseman (and then some).
Tom Gaglardi hasn’t had to make any cuts to staff yet, and he deserves some praise for that.
At the end of the day, Dallas is a city that celebrates winners. The Stars haven’t been there in over a decade, and their fall into irrelevancy has been expedited thanks to a lack of stable ownership and massive improvements by the NBA’s Mavericks and MLB’s Rangers. It remains to be seen how the current team performs on the ice, but things are finally headed in the right direction, lockout or not.
I want to wish all DBD readers a very happy 2013!