In 2012 the Dallas Stars missed out on the playoffs for the fourth straight year. After being eliminated in the final game of the season in 2011 by the lowly Minnesota Wild, the Stars were spared some of that heartache by missing the cutoff by six points in 2012. The Stars were 17th in Fenwick Close, and when you finish in the middle of the pack in possession the chances of your season ending early increase.
Despite missing the playoffs for the fourth straight year, the Stars weren’t a disaster under first year head coach Glen Gulutzan. They have their issues going forward, but the club has a solid developing core of young players that should carry the team back into contention at some point in the near future.
This offseason was the first in several years where the Stars organization had some money to spend and with that infusion of wealth they set their sights on three key areas: special teams, depth, and possession.
Get This Man Some Vitamin B Complex
Joe Nieuwendyk had few options for shaking up a stagnant franchise prior to the 2012 season. With no money and the loss of Brad Richards the young GM’s hands were tied. The Stars were also unhappy with the less confrontational Marc Crawford that showed up to camp two years earlier.
Enter Glen Gulutzan, former head coach of the Texas Stars. Gulutzan had an up and down debut season behind the bench. An aspect of his style that drew early criticism was the way he handled his young players. He showed a surprising lack of faith in them early on despite the fact that he was promoted from the Stars AHL affiliate in Austin where he developed a working relationship with them (namely Tomas Vincour and Philip Larsen). He also showed a stubbornness that kept Jamie Benn on the second powerplay unit. As evidenced by the picture above, he really could have used some Vitamin B Complex.
The situation was less than ideal, particularly for a rookie head coach, but it wasn’t all bad. His midseason handling of Mike Ribeiro showed that he is willing to try new, seemingly out-of-left-field tactics when his current tactics aren’t cutting it. Gulutzan goes into 2013 behind the bench of a reborn organization with a year of experience that he can draw from.
Dallas AARP Membership Doubles
The Stars additions of Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr seem strange at first glance, and they took their fair share of criticism. The trade of Mike Ribeiro for Cody Eakin and continued commentary of GM Joe Nieuwendyk signalled that the Stars were focused on moving forward with their youth playing key roles. Signing 40 year old Whitney initially cast some doubt on that plan. The further signing of Jagr opened the plan to more criticism.
Signing 40 year olds to big money deals is a risky strategy. Teemu Selanne excluded, 40 year olds are on the wrong end of the development curve. Older players are more prone to the physical rigors of an 82 game NHL season. Players eventually breakdown. Either Whitney or Jagr (or both) could breakdown in 2013 thus leaving the Stars in the same position they were in prior to the ink drying on the deals. Yet the main point of consternation arising from the signings were the immediate images that came to mind of Mike Modano wearing a Red Wings jersey.
Modano leaving was a traumatic experience for the Stars fanbase, and the inevitable parallels were drawn when the Stars signed two 40 year olds to fill a role fans felt Modano could fill two years ago. The Stars roster construction is much different now than it was when they let Modano walk though. Unlike Modano, Jagr and Whitney currently both fill needs. In the final month of the season both Adam Burish and Steve Ott were skating in the top six. Adding proven top six scoring wingers like Jagr and Whitney should protect the Stars from something similar happening in 2013.
They could have filled those holes internally in training camp. Being a team in transition, the idea that they should give more opportunity to younger players made some sense in theory. In practice, however, the Stars betting wholly on youngsters and incumbents would have been shooting themselves in the foot before the first puck dropped. Handing top six roles to unproven prospects by choice can be a recipe for disaster. The Stars most obvious potential top six option, Reilly Smith, got his late season audition. In a limited sample, Smith proved he was completely unprepared for the NHL. Click here for visual evidence of his defensive “prowess”.
The additions of Jagr and Whitney put the Stars in position to protect their youth a bit going forward. They also shouldn’t be forced to depend on a subpar third line. Defensively the trio of Vernon Fiddler, Radek Dvorak, and Eric Nystrom were adequate. They were forced into the role of a checking line due to the Stars lack of depth though, and it wasn’t a fit. The trio had a very difficult time counter attacking against more offensively gifted competition. They generated the fewest shots collectively out of the Stars four lines, and got stuck in their own end too often. The Stars newfound depth will push Nystrom and Fiddler further down the lineup into more appropriate roles thus giving them more opportunities to succeed.
Similar motivations were behind the Stars essentially swapping Mike Ribeiro for Derek Roy. Ribeiro was a below average possession player last season in sheltered minutes playing with the Stars top wingers. No one is going to accuse Derek Roy of being a shutdown defensive player, but he has proven the ability to produce without being sheltered as evidenced by his 44 points in 80 games with the Sabres matching him against the top competition of the opposition on a nightly basis. By being able to handle more difficult minutes he allows the Stars to be more flexible in how they deploy Jamie Benn. Roy and Ray Whitney both bring similar dependability to a Stars top six that desperately needed it.
Not So Special Teams
The Stars special teams as a whole weren’t good, although the penalty killing settled in at the middle of the pack. The powerplay was the main problem, finishing the season 1/10th of a point behind the Phoenix Coyotes for last in the league. The Stars, for whatever reason, were unable to generate much in the way of shots with the extra man. They generated only 39.8 S/60 on the powerplay which again was dead last behind the Coyotes. The last team before the Stars to generate so few shots on the powerplay was the 2007/2008 Edmonton Oilers.
Jamie Benn led the Stars in S/60 on the powerplay, but his 39.5 isn’t among the better totals in the league. The top players in the league are generally in the 50’s. The past two years the Stars generated 47.5 and 60 S/60 with Benn on the ice. Mike Ribeiro, normally a proficient powerplayer, was last among Stars regular skaters in S/60. Something in the Stars powerplay tactics really supressed their shot totals. They will need to figure out what that is to take another step forward. The additions of good powerplay players like Whitney, Jagr, and Derek Roy should inject plenty of new blood into the unit, especially since all three would have been the Stars top average shot generator with the extra man last year.
Unfortunately for the Stars these powerplay changes won’t be able to make a difference if they are unable to get on the job more often. Only four teams were on the powerplay less often than the Stars. Part of the problem is that the Stars themselves were often in the penalty box. Only five teams were shorthanded more often. The Stars special teams time differential of -42 minutes was dead last in the league by almost a full seven minutes, and the worst since the 2008/09 Flyers hit -54:27.
They have taken some moves to address this issue. Stars pest Steve Ott was dealt to Buffalo. Penalty machine Brenden Morrow is going to be taking a smaller role next season. Yet the biggest dent in the deficit will come from letting Souray walk. Souray took 23 penalties last season while drawing only four. That’s to be expected to some degree while playing in a defensive role, but putting the Stars behind the eight ball an extra 19 times is excessive.
Luckily for Stars fans, the club isn’t only setting up a convalescent home for aging stars. The Dallas organization has some capable youth on the horizon including Philip Larsen, Tomas Vincour, and Brenden Dillon. All three are expected to be on the NHL roster this coming season. Larsen grew significantly during the 2012 season. As the season progressed he got more and more comfortable with the physical game which allowed him to be a much more consistent defensive contributor. Vincour, despite still being raw offensively, was among the Stars top possession players. Ryan Garbutt, a 26 year old rookie , was very impressive in his debut. He showed potential as a physical depth forechecker.
Dallas’ AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, will have some legitimate potential NHL talent for the first time in their existence. Prospects Reilly Smith, Austin Smith, Scott Glennie, Jack Campbell, Jamie Oleksiak, and Alex Chiasson should all be on the roster. Big blueliner Patrik Nemeth should see ice time as well. This group lacks superstar-level ceiling, but they make up for it by having high enough floors to suggest they should all be NHL caliber players down the line.
The group likely isn’t going to be together in Austin for long. Glennie is probably already a legitimate bottom six option. The Stars really like his game, and it’s easy to see why. He has developed into a very good forechecker who plays with a good amount of energy. Relly Smith might not be in Austin long either. The Stars thought highly enough of Reilly Smith to sign him to an entry level contract at the end of last season, so they are probably thinking he can make the roster soon as well. Alex Chiasson might be the best of the forward group though. He was physically dominant in the NCAA tournament last year, and in the Stars recent rookie development camp he put his offensive skills on display.
I Want Me Some Glory Hole
When Jerry Jones uttered this wonderful phrase at his annual State of the Cowboys press conference he was speaking confusing sentiments that could be applied to both the Dallas Cowboys and Stars. The words aren’t as important as the ideas he was trying to convey. The Cowboys, like the Stars, long for the glory days when they were respected. Both franchises appear to be on the right track.
The Stars went item by item down their offseason agenda checking off one need after another. They improved their depth. addressed their powerplay, decreased their tendency to take penalties, and did so without sacrificing any significant future assets. They likely haven’t made themselves into a top team yet, but some of the subtle changes they’ve undergone should put them back in the playoffs as early as 2013.
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