Late Wednesday afternoon after media sessions in Frisco the Dallas Stars departed for (the not so distant burgh of) Fort Worth, where camp begins today for the 2013-2014 season.
Camp is open and free to the public, though parking rates according to the city will still apply, evidently.
It's a camp that is full of intrigue as the Stars' new owner debuts a new logo, new jerseys, a new division, a new head coach, a new general manager, a new top-line center, a new highest paid defenseman, and a new just about everything else one can think of.
On-ice sessions start later this morning, lasting through the weekend and culminating in their first preseason game at home on Sunday, September 15th.
Group A: On-ice - 9 a.m.-10:45 a.m.
Group B & C: Scrimmage - 11:45
Player Groups are as follows via the Dallas Stars;
|GROUP A||GROUP B||GROUP C|
Here it seems we are on semi-familiar ground where the personnel is concerned, though one assumes the coaching differences will be a significant player in determining what is hopefully better shots against totals.
Sergei Gonchar was added in a trade with the Ottawa Senators and quickly signed a two-year, $10 million contract. The 39 year-old tallied 27 points in 45 games last season, which pro-rates to about 50 in an 82 game campaign. However, he's played 82 games just twice in his long career and in recent seasons has been sidelined with various maladies, including two possible concussions and various ankle, knee, and shoulder issues.
He'll help on the power play. He'll help with the transition game. He was a positive possession player last year with Ottawa and saw pretty average competition at best.
Beyond that it's up to the usual cast of characters to lessen Kari Lehtonen's work load in Stephane Robidas, Brenden Dillon, Trevor Daley, Alex Goligoski, Aaron Rome and Jordie Benn.
On the outside looking in are Jamie Oleksiak and Kevin Connauton, both of whom will attempt to become the number eight defensemen the Stars are rumored to be willing to carry when the season opens. Keep an eye on Cameron Gaunce as well.
We know who. We don't know how, or where.
That's about as far as I feel comfortable going as of Thursday morning. Anyone who is certain they know more that is either Lindy Ruff or his mustache comb, with whom I can only assume he discusses these things in the mornings.
Rich Peverley, Erik Cole, Cody Eakin, Vern Fiddler, Antoine Roussel, Alex Chiasson, Valeri Nichushkin, and Shawn Horcoff make up the remaining shoe-ins as part of the 13 or 14 man rotation. How they fit together is what Ruff and his staff must figure out in the next 21 days.
Prospects that have a chance at working their way into the picture are probably Lane MacDermid, Chris Mueller, Scott Glennie, and Colton Sceviour.
Kari Lehtonen begins the first year of his new deal and is appropriately the highest paid Dallas Stars now at an average cap hit of $5.9 million for the next five years. He'll be expected to be worth every penny and usually is in the fall. It's when March comes that he'll really need to prove it this go around.
Behind him it seems Dan Ellis is in the driver's seat for the backup job, but don't tell that to Christopher Nilstorp and Jack Campbell, each of whom will be aiming to impress this preseason.
Kari Lehtonen traditionally likes a heavy preseason work load, so it remains to be seen how much exposure the others will get, but with 21 periods of exhibition play there should be time enough.
Who is the second line center?
so much will depend on the answer. They may already know, but given the choices between Shawn Horcoff, Cody Eakin, Vern Fiddler and Rich Peverley, we're not so sure we see one. Stars fans have been spoiled by a second-line center capable of 65 points every year in Mike Ribeiro. The reality is that that number is probably in line for a bit of a fall.
Then again, the lucky recipient of the position will have the Wizard on his left.
Peverley's faceoff ability may be needed with the two youngsters on the first trio, but he'd be capable of filling in. The assumption from the national media seems to be Shawn Horcoff, who might be more of a checking line center at this point in his career, but a change of scenery can do wonders sometimes.
Chances are that however it shakes out, it will change a few times. If the so called "second line" can't threaten with regularity, however, would Jamie Benn be moved back to center to give them a more potent one-two punch? Let's hope we don't have find out.
Who plays with Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin?
That's largely incumbent on how the previous discussion works itself out. If Peverley's needed on the second line to play the pivot it limits the options to Erik Cole and inexperienced rookies in Nichushkin and Chiasson, who might not be ready for it right off the bat.
This is something we'll be watching with great interest this weekend.
Will Valeri Nichushkin make the opening night roster?
"Surely you're joking, Brad."
Perhaps it is a silly question, but for people who live in a town that's seen Rick Carlisle, Ron Washington and the entire Dallas Cowboys organization have problems integrating youth with regularity into their starting lineups, it doesn't seem like an outlandish possibility that the coaching staff may want the young Russian to earn his ice time rather than just writing a blank check and handing it to him.
Alex Chiasson scored 6 in 7 games last season, so he's going to be a monster, right?
Let's not get too far ahead of ourselves here, either. His little run was electric last season, but most of the people we've spoken with expect him to fall back to earth a little bit while going through the ups and downs of an actual rookie season.
That being said, if he can be responsible in his own end he'll get the opportunity to use his big frame to get to the hard areas of the ice and have a decent season, possibly playing his way up into the top-six when injuries hit or as the season wears on.
What will the team's identity be?
For nearly a decade, whether they were a high scoring team or a low scoring one, the Dallas Stars had a goals against average that was well, well below league average. That was their calling card. In the last five years they've lacked one entirely.
Lindy Ruff is known for changing his recipe to fit the groceries his general manager brings home, but looking at the Stars roster it's hard to see the clear way forward here. The defense was only slightly altered and a Nashville-like approach seems unlikely, but the forward core is young and full of question marks, so a puck possession style game doesn't seem like a slam dunk either.
The team does possess a measure of speed, however. Between Seguin, Cole, Whitney, Nichushkin Peverley, Eakin, and Roussel there are some definite wheels there. If the Chiassons and Nichushkins are as adept at aiding overall puck possession as everyone hopes they were, the Stars could attempt a more offensively motivated game plan.
Like everything else, we just have to wait and see what the coaching staff has in mind. Besides, every coach has said that things have to start on the back end.
Is this it for Stephane Robidas?
"Robi" enters the final year of his deal and will be 37 years of age at its expiry. There's no telling if they'll offer him another year or two to stay, but this does mark the potential beginning of the end of his legacy as a Star. He's had to be Mr. everything to a defense that's always been short a body or three, and he's done it well. Make sure you take the chance to appreciate him just in case it turns out to be his last campaign in a Stars uniform.
Will the Stars make the playoffs?
National publications say no. Most of them have the Edmonton Oilers going as the fifth team from the Pacific in the tournament, with only the Hawks, Blues and Wild going from the Central.
It's up to the Stars most important off-season acquisition, Lindy Ruff, to make sure that isn't the case.
What say you?