The Dallas Stars have been the most understated, underrated and undervalued franchise in recent history. Playing below the radar with a defensive style allowing little in the way of crowd-pleasing offensive sorties, the Stars nevertheless have recorded the second best winning percentage (.642) since the lockout of 2004. In that time span, they have never finished worse than sixth in goals or shots against, an indication that they rarely get outplayed.,
Head Coach Dave Tippett, who has the best winning percentage among active coaches (.632), rode the club to a strong post-season finish after they sputtered during the early and late stages of the regular season in 2007-2008. The Stars’ strong showing that carried them into a six game showdown with eventual Cup Champion Detroit in the Conference Finals last Spring seems to have landed him in good stead – his job no longer seems in jeopardy, an annual talk show tidbit for north Texas hockey fans and radio call in shows..
His outstanding work has also landed the Stars as one of the co-favorites to seriously contend for the Stanley Cup next Spring, a lofty expectation for a franchise that looked on the brink of possibly undergoing an overhaul with the early-season firing of general manager Doug Armstrong last November. Dallas was a .500 team at the time, very dependent on a handful of aging stars. The franchise was taking a gamble by being the only team in the league to split the general manager’s seat between two men, Les Jackson and Brett Hull.
But give Owner Tom Hicks credit for having the patience await their development, both in that role, and as co-dependents. The talented tandem acquired five star forward Brad Richards at last year’s trade deadline, and they enabled Mike Ribeiro to transition from journeyman to bona fide star. They also had the patience to await the emergence of a young blue line corps featuring Matt Niskanen, Trevor Daley, Niklas Grossman, and Stephane Robidas (plus an infrequently healthy Philippe Boucher helped the team survive and even prosper during a long stretch without power play QB Sergei Zubov last year.
They also went deep into the postseason, where goalie finally exorcised his demons and took the Stars to within two wins of the Stanley Cup Finals. They achieved this on the heels of an unspectacular but workmanlike 45-30-7 (97 point) third place finish in the Pacific Division. Ranked 5th in the 45-30-7, 97 points, third place Pacific Division, fifth place Western Conference.
Playoff qualifiers for the 10th time in 11 seasons, the Stars shed the label of perennial first-round loser by first knocking off fourth-seeded division rival and defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim, then ran up a 3-0 lead on Pacific champ San Jose before eliminating the Sharks in six. Dallas reached the conference finals for the first time 2000 but lost in six games to eventual champ Detroit.
Western Conference and a playoff participant for the 10th time in 11 seasons, the Stars shed the label of perennial first-round loser by upending 4th seeded Anaheim – the defending Stanley Cup Champ — in 6 games, then won the first three games from the Sharks before eliminating the conference champs in six games.
With excitement over the team at a fever pitch during the off-season, the Stars raised some eyebrows and expectations for the 2008-2009 campaign by luring 23-year old Fabian Brunnstrom, the 23-year old Swedish star-in-waiting whom some felt would be wearing Red Wings’ colors. It will be interesting to watch Brunnstrom develop his skills after scoring 73 points in 41 games in lower level competition in Sweden before tallying 37 points in 54 games after he was moved upward. The Stars pledge patience with Brunnstrom, who will start on the team’s 2nd or 3rd lines before having the opportunity to advance.
Dallas also signed free agent forward Sean Avery, a professional pest who also has offensive skills. Sean should fit in nicely with the edgy agitator likes of captain Brenden Morrow and Steve Ott. They allowed wingers Antti Miettinen and Niklas Hagman to depart via free agency, which indicates a shift toward quicker, faster-paced offensive scheme.
The forward corps features Ribeiro, Richards and the ageless Mike Modano. Dallas’ wingers must contribute mightily for this team to score consistently, particularly veteran Jere Lehtinen (who was injured for most of last season) and the emerging, talented Loui Eriksson. Richards, in particular, struggled to fit in late last season but seemed to find his niche in the post-season. He is a major cog in the Stars’ attack, particularly in consideration of Modano’s late-career abilities.
Goalie Turco should continue to provide outstanding netminding, with 24-year old Tobias Stephan ready to spell him. Turco should carry the lion’s share of the workload since his former apprentice, Mike Smith, was used as trade bait to lure Richards to Big D.
If all goes according to plan, the Stars will leap frog over San Jose and Anaheim to return to the top of the pacific Division and alongside the Red Wings at the ahead of the Western Conference class in 2008-2009.