Just over two years ago, the team that resides in the American Airlines Center looked quite a bit different than it does today. The Dallas Stars missed the playoffs that year (2012-13), despite a late surge after dumping talent at the trade deadline. Missing the playoffs sparked the firing of Joe Nieuwendyk, the general manager of the Stars at the time. Jim Nill was brought on to be the general manager in Dallas and he has done some very great work in just over two years. Let’s take a look back at the many changes that have been made in Dallas in the past two years.
The End of the 2012-13 Season
As I mentioned above, the end of the 2012-13 season marked the firing of Nieuwendyk and the hiring of Nill. It also marked several other “off-the-ice” changes. Glen Gulutzen was fired as head coach of the Stars and replaced by Lindy Ruff. The Dallas jerseys were replaced by beautiful victory green jerseys. The main logo was changed. It was clear that Stars owner Tom Gaglardi wasn’t going to be wasting any time, as he wanted his on-ice product to deliver and his off-ice product to shine. The rebrand was in full-effect and the roster was turning over quickly as well. Let’s look a little closer.
The lineup below is roughly the lineup that the Stars were working with at the end of the 2012-13 season:
Ray Whitney – Jamie Benn – Loui Eriksson
Reilly Smith – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Eric Nystrom – Vernon Fiddler – Erik Cole
Lane MacDermid – Tom Wandell – Antoine Roussel
Trevor Daley – Stephane Robidas
Brenden Dillon – Alex Goligoski
Aaron Rome – Philip Larsen
Oof. That team did make some trades during the season, including shipping off Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow at the trade deadline. They also swapped Michael Ryder for Erik Cole during the season. But that was what the Stars were working with during the lockout-shortened season. Despite that, they finished just seven points out of a playoff spot after a good late-season charge. Stars owner Gaglardi would then clean house and begin the transformation.
The Beginning of the 2013-14 Season
Less than six months after the disappointing end to the 2012-13 season, victory green would make its regular-season debut and the Stars would have a totally different look. That is both in terms of ensemble and personnel. The opening night lines looked like this (changes from the previous lines are in italics):
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Erik Cole
Ray Whitney – Cody Eakin – Alex Chiasson
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Val Nichushkin
Antoine Roussel – Chris Mueller – Ryan Garbutt
Brenden Dillon – Stephane Robidas
Alex Goligoski – Sergei Gonchar
Trevor Daley – Jordie Benn
Nill did some quick work in terms of the overall roster depth. The big addition was trading Loui Eriksson, Rielly Smith and two prospects for Tyler Seguin, allowing both Jamie Benn and Seguin to return to their natural positions. Alex Chiasson joined the team late in 2012-13 and was able to make the opening night roster in a top-six role. Defenseman Philip Larsen was traded to the Edmonton Oilers for Horcoff to bolster the depth in center should anyone get injured. Not shown here is Rich Peverley, another player involved in the Seguin trade. Peverley spent a good chunk of the season on the right side of Benn and Seguin and played well in the role.
Nichushkin was the first pick for the Stars in the 2013 draft and had a solid rookie season with 14 goals and 34 points.
Gonchar and Ellis are probably the two biggest mistakes Nill has made, although neither one of the moves ended up being incredibly costly. They played poorly for much of the season and did not often impact the lineup in a positive way.
The Stars surprised the NHL by earning the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference and took the top-seeded Anaheim Ducks to six exciting games before being eliminated in overtime by Nick Bonino. Nill went into the next offseason searching for experience to get them over that edge.
The Beginning of the 2014-15 Season
Although suffering a brutal end to the season in overtime, the Stars making the playoffs in 2014 was an over-achievement. That being said, the future looked bright and it was time to take charge in Dallas. Nill wanted to add more depth and experience to a youthful lineup that was losing veteran players such as Stephane Robidas (who was traded at the deadline during the 2013-14 season) and Ray Whitney. The opening night lineup for 2014-15 looked like this (once again, new players in italics):
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Val Nichushkin
Patrick Eaves – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Ryan Garbutt
Shawn Horcoff – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
Brenden Dillon – Jordie Benn
Patrik Nemeth – Kevin Connauton
Once again, we notice some major roster turnover. The entire second line of Eaves, Spezza and Hemsky were offseason additions. Colton Sceviour and Patrik Nemeth joined the Stars mostly full-time in the middle of the 2013-14 season and managed to make the club out of training camp.
This team underachieved by a lot of standards and the backup position was once again a problem. Lindback was not able to return to his Nashville form and cost the Stars a lot of games. Lehtonen had his worst season in Dallas and despite another late-season surge, the Stars failed to qualify for the playoffs.
Nill isn’t messing around. After failing to make the postseason in 2014-15, he put the pressure on by once again winning the offseason. Here are my projected lines for the home-opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins just over a month from now:
Jamie Benn – Tyler Seguin – Patrick Sharp
Val Nichushkin – Jason Spezza – Ales Hemsky
Antoine Roussel – Cody Eakin – Patrick Eaves
Curtis McKenzie – Vernon Fiddler – Colton Sceviour
Alex Goligoski – John Klingberg
Johnny Oduya – Jason Demers
Patrik Nemeth – Jordie Benn
It has truly been an incredible two years. Nill will attempt to solve the backup woes by appointing a proven-starter to the position (whether it ends up being Lehtonen or Niemi, we will soon find out). Demers, Klingberg and McKenzie all joined the roster midway through the previous season. Demers and Klingberg are both locks to crack the opening lineup while McKenzie will have to fight for his spot. The depth in the defensive area is one of the more noticeable transformations from just two years ago.
As for Sharp and Oduya, if you can’t beat them, take their players (that’s how the saying goes right?). Both will bring steady skill and Stanley Cup experience to a young lineup. This group is widely expected to not only make the playoffs, but threaten for the Central Division crown, as well.
Just six players remain from the team that ended the 2012-13 season a little over two years ago. Six. Whether this new team makes the postseason or not, you can really take a step back and appreciate the fact the Nill doesn’t sit around and accept whatever fate the season has in store for him. Each offseason, the Stars have gotten better and better. It will be interesting to see if these recent changes get the Stars back in the postseason come April 2016.
Jordan has been covering the Stars for The Hockey Writers since February 2015. He is originally from Iowa City, Iowa. You can follow Jordan on twitter @jordan_dix