Here we are, fellow D/FW sports fans. The Cowboys have made their annual early exit, college football is over, and the Rangers’ hot stove is still warm (after having some issues preheating). Someone might compliment Shawn Marion’s shooting form before you find a local college basketball game on TV worth watching. The Mavericks are stuck in limbo, somewhere between re-tooling and rebuilding…either way they’re nothing but repulsive to watch on most nights. But don’t worry; as the sun seemingly sets on D/FW sports, there is a twinkle of hope. The Stars are coming back.
Wait – don’t go for your browser’s back button quite yet. There are a few things to like about the Stars, and a few storylines that could make this abbreviated season an interesting one to watch.
First, you know they’re 100 percent committed to rebuilding. Rebuilding has some negative connotations, but D/FW sports fans have to be relieved that the strategy of “keeping the powder dry” hasn’t made its way over to the Stars’ portion of the AAC. Tom Hicks is out, new ownership is in. Gone are Steve Ott, Mike Ribeiro, Sheldon Souray, and Adam Burish. In their place is an interesting combination of youth and veteran leadership new to the team.
40 year-olds Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney will be key pieces of that veteran leadership. The legendary Jagr will be a great presence on the ice and in the locker room. Whitney is already making his mark, as GM Joe Nieuwendyk noted, “He’s already grabbed hold of this locker room a little.”
In a short 48 game season, it’s likely we’ll see a lot of sloppiness and a lot of penalties. Last year, the Stars were the NHL’s worst in taking advantage of power play opportunities, scoring on only 13.5% of their opportunities. Stars coach Glen Gulutzan will surely make power play scoring a priority in 2013. On that front, Ray Whitney could pair quite nicely with the addition of center Derek Roy. Roy is undersized for an NHL center, but sees his teammates very well, which could pay dividends for the Stars on the power play.
Compounding the power play problem last year was the fact that the Stars spent too much time killing penalties. When the Stars got rid of Ott, Souray, Burish and Ribeiro they helped solve the problem. This group of players were four of the top five offenders on the team. However, when the Stars shed that recklessness, did they lose some toughness as well? While it’s unwise to call any hockey player a pushover, after glancing at the roster, it wouldn’t be a stretch to say this will be a less physical team. It’ll be interesting to see how the roster shakeup affects this dynamic of the team.
Another storyline to watch: how do the Stars utilize their budding star, Jaime Benn? Will he stay on the same line as last year with Eriksson and Ryder? Could he play on a line with Ray Whitney and Jagr, or will be be paired with Derek Roy? Actually, I might be getting ahead of myself – the Stars haven’t signed Benn to a new contract, and there’s a chance that the season begins without a deal having been completed. Benn and his agent seemingly hold a good deal of leverage, considering the Stars will want their young face-of-the-franchise on the ice as quickly as possible in this shortened season.
Off the ice, there are some interesting happenings as well. Mike Modano is back in Dallas, having taken an undefined role in the organization. He holds a lot of cachet in this town, so I’d guess he’ll be used mostly for marketing and promotional purposes. Also returning is Marty Turco, presumably in a similar role – to help get butts in seats. Considering that the Stars aren’t hiding the fact that they’re rebuilding, management might get creative with ticket pricing and specials. Stars owner Tom Gaglardi mentioned on 1310 The Ticket that the Stars are working on a plan for free upper-deck tickets for fans 12 and under.
Well, there you have it; the best case I can put together for watching the Dallas Stars this season. Now is a good time to get in on the ground floor and support a team whose owner knows he’s not the GM. A team whose GM, like another local team’s GM, graduated from Cornell and believes in the value of building a team from within. A team that is not seemingly in denial about its current state and is trying to responsibly build for the future. This is a team you can get behind, and a team you should consider supporting.