Friday, March 19, 2010

Five Things to Start the Optomism for 2011

First off, I do not condone abandoning the ship of your team until there is no possible way for them to get into the playoffs, and I will continue to watch games, highlights, and read about the Stars until the end of the season. Having said that, over the years my childhood allegiance to Dallas has waned in favor of a more holistic fan hood of the game of hockey and the NHL itself, so the Stars missing the playoffs, while frustrating, will not sink my hockey spirit, especially as we get to the playoffs, the greatest time of the year.

Looking forward though I think that there is reason to be optimistic in Stars land and here are 5 reasons why:

1 - New Ownership: The Stars have stuck to their internal budget for two seasons with the mounting financial issues of owner Tom Hicks, which has clearly affected the on-ice product. Bob Sturm had a nice piece a while back comparing the Stars spending on defense with the rest of the league, and found there is a pretty big gap between the spending on Dallas' blue line with what some of the top teams in the league are spending. I understand that dollars do not equal talent or success, but as a believer in the efficiencies of markets, it is not a bad metric. With a hope of new owners by the beginning of next season, Dallas may have the ability to lure in a top Defensemen, who can help bolster the back end confidence, as well as provide some more leadership for the Stars young guns.

2 - The Young Forwards: Specifically, Jamie Benn, James Neal, Mark Fistric, Nick Grossman and Tom Wandell. Jamie Benn is having a terrific year, especially considering that he was asked to switch to the center position (a new place for him) mid season. Playing center, especially at the NHL level is very difficult, but Benn has done a great job of playing a simple game, being defensively responsible, while also being physical and aggressive towards the net. His ability to adapt and create have been exciting to watch, plus this kid has some serious one on one ability unlike anything I have seen in Dallas, with the exception of Mike Ribiero. As he grows as a player, and with it he increases is comfort and confidence, his combination of smarts, size and ability with the puck will make him a standout, and a huge component of a winning Dallas club.

James Neal has also had a nice year, starting at near point a game pace, which has cooled off, but there was certainly no sophomore slump after his terrific rookie season, and I don't think there is a better puck pursuit artist on this roster. I am excited to see what he can do with Richards and Eriksson going into next year, hopefully continuing their success from this year. Tom Wandell was also really starting to look good before he went down with a knee injury, and hopefully that setback will not stunt his development going forward. He looks like he will be the next Selke candidate on this roster.

3 - The Young D: The two young defensemen have played very well this year, and Fistric specifically has managed to be the only significantly positive plus/minus player on the roster (+17), with Grossman being the only other plus defensemen (+1). With Robidas, Skrastins and Daley, plus these two, I think the acquisition of one really solid puck moving defensemen could turn around the unit. Unfortunately, I think the Stars need to part ways with Matt Niskanen (draft day trade possibly) because he seems to take two steps back with every step forward, and I don't see a development in confidence that I would expect in his third full year.

4 - New guard in net: We don't know for certain if Marty Turco is done in Dallas, but it doesn't look good for him. Unfortunately he could not keep up the momentum that he got rolling prior to the Olympics, and the poor play in the games following the break probably will be a large part of why Dallas will miss the playoffs, as well as signal his end here. With that though brings new blood, and I am excited about Kari Lehtonen. I wrote a few days ago that he needed a big showing against the Sharks and needed to get a lot of action down the stretch. Well, he delivered the goods against San Jose and played a strong game against Philly last night, despite the loss. He really is a big guy and takes up a lot of the net, which i think will eliminate some of the soft goal issues that Marty has had the last two seasons, which are crippling morale wise. Also, Kari is not going to play the puck nearly as much as Turco has, and while I was on the fence about this at first, because Marty did make some fabulous plays with the puck, I think that letting the defense handle the forecheck, without having to anticipate Marty's play will simplify their job and help make a cleaner exit from the zone, even though they will probably have to take more hits as a result.

5 - Brenden Morrow: Morrow has had a below average year for his standards. I think the Olympics really got him going and its because he is a passion player. When he is depended on, he brings his game and leads his team, and that is when he is best. The team's up and down performance, ownership issues, goal tending and other personnel issues, have made it hard for the captain to engage at the level he is capable. Couple that with this being his first year back from a major knee injury and I think that this was just a personal rebuilding year for the captain. Furthermore, Morrow's best partner on the team, Mike Ribeiro missed significant time with a throat injury and the two are just now getting back onto the same pageI am excited to see what Brenden has in store for us next year, knowing that he is healthy, and that his team's issues have been addressed and they are ready to follow him back to the top of the western conference.

Enjoy the weekend.

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