On paper at least, the Dallas Stars have a better team than they did last season. But will their improvements be enough to propel the team into the playoffs in a condensed 48-game season? With a shorter season, luck and health both play much bigger roles than they do in an 82-game season.
Read on to find out my four keys for Dallas to make the playoffs in 2013.
4. Turning back the clock
Dallas needs big seasons from three veteran forwards if they have any hopes of making a postseason push. Captain Brenden Morrow is as healthy has he has been in quite some time, thanks to the extra time to rest and train during the lockout. Morrow’s effectiveness on the ice has diminished in recent years due to injury.
On whether he feels 100%:
Well, the problem is that until you go out there, you don’t know. I think I’m at a good place, and I think the extra time to work on things like spin class and Pilates has to help, but you have to get out there and play. You asked me before about the "reversal" (a move where Morrow launches himself backward into a checker while he’s protecting the puck along the boards) and whether or not that caused the neck problems, and I honestly don’t think it has. When I do that move, I’m bracing for the hit or delivering the hit, and I don’t feel pain.
It’s when I’m not looking or I’m twisted around, and I don’t expect to get hit…that’s when I feel the pain. So, the big question is when I do get one of those hits, do I just shake it off and it’s no problem or does it really hurt and I have to deal with the problem again.
He isn’t going to be a 30-goal guy on the top line again, but if he can chip in with solid two-way play and some physicality, the Stars will be happy.
Their two biggest free agent signings last summer for Dallas, Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, are a combined 1043 years old (not actually, but both will be turning 41 during the 2013 season). Dallas isn’t expecting Jagr to score 50 goals or for Whitney to lead the offense, but both will be relied upon to produce. From what they showed last season, both are still capable of doing that in a top six capacity. Whitney was arguably Phoenix’s most dangerous forward on the power play last season, and Jagr didn’t look out of place on the top line in Philadelphia with Claude Giroux and Scott Hartnell.
Dallas will need both to produce like top six forwards to share some of the offensive load.
3. The depth from Austin
Dallas fans are all too aware of the late-season collapses that the team has endured in each of the last three seasons. One reason for the end-of-season declines has been a lack of depth. As injuries hit, players are forced to move up the lineup. And if there are not enough talented players in the system to call up, there will be a few leaks that get sprung. The Stars hope that they won’t have any depth issues this year, as they do boast a pretty deep collection of young players. There are no superstars in the system right now, but tDallas does have different types of players who should be able to step in and contribute without costing the team.
And it sounds like the entire Texas Stars roster is going to be at the Dallas training camp, which will give the coaches a good look at their depth options. Defenseman Brenden Dillon has played well this season in Austin, and Jamie Oleksiak’s play has been very solid, too. Dillon will probably have the inside track at a roster spot, as his game is a bit more polished defensively. He also spent some time skating with Trevor Daley on a pairing last summer during informal skates in what could be a preview of the second pairing.
Up front, Cody Eakin is a lock for the team, and Tomas Vincour would have been too if he were healthy. Matt Fraser may get a look as well, as he has played great for the past six weeks or so. Colton Sceviour is a dark horse for a roster spot, too. He is also a great example of a role player capable of stepping in to a grinding/energy role if need be.
2. Derek Roy’s health
There may not be another player in the NHL who benefitted more from the lockout than Derek Roy. Roy hasn’t been himself for a few years now due to a torn quadriceps muscle (in 2010-11), and the fact that he played most of last season through shoulder pain (which he had fixed in a 2012 surgery). Roy wasn’t able to play with his usual speed and tenacity (arguably his two best attributes on the ice) last season, and his lack of production reflected that.
Roy’s style of play represents a nice yin to Jamie Benn’s yang – Benn is a powerful center who can dominate with both his skill and physicality, while Roy is a crafty playmaker who can play at both ends of the ice and draw a lot of penalties. If Roy is back to 100%, he should be able to anchor an effective second scoring unit.
1. Kari Lehtonen
As I alluded to at the beginning, a shortened season introduces a lot more luck and chance into the playoff equation. It also makes goaltending even more important. The Pacific Division is stacked with great goaltending, and Lehtonen has quietly developed into a top 10 goaltender in the league over the past few years. His play didn’t decline noticeably last season, but he did struggle a bit once the team in front of him started to slide. Even really good goaltenders can’t cover up every blemish on a roster. That being said, Lehtonen was able to mask some of the issues on the Stars last season, and he should do the same for them in 2013.
Dallas is still a team in transition – they would ideally like to add a top-four defenseman, a top-six winger, and another center. However, they know their window to win hasn’t really started to open yet. Making the playoffs in 2013 would simply be a bonus in terms of their long term building plan. But making the playoffs is of utmost importance coming out of the lockout in a city that demands a winner from its sports teams.
If some or all of the above four issues come together in 2013, the Stars could be back in the playoffs after three straight seasons of disappointment.
If you missed some of my other posts during the lockout, here are the relevant ones: