Halfway through free agency, the Dallas Stars have had one of the most proactive offseason’s of any team. The Stars have acquired veteran forwards and a defenseman in Derek Roy, Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney, and Aaron Rome.
Taking into account these transactions, and considering the talent, chemistry, and youth the Stars have, the word “optimism” would be an understatement for next season. Although, on paper, the Stars still don’t look to be an elite team of the Western Conference, you would have to ink them in as a favorite to clinch a playoff spot next season, particularly in the 4th-6th seed range. This Stars team (on paper, once again) has to be the most promising roster to take the ice in at least four seasons in Dallas. Fans should be applauding the moves by the front office and the new ownership.
In order to win in the NHL, the franchise and ownership must be willing to take some amount of risk with their resources, and we see this with this offseason’s transactions. There are only two negative points to raise about this offseason thus far for the Stars. First, the age of Whitney and Jagr is questionable, as there is a solid chance one or both of these players does not reach the level of production they had last season; nevertheless, management signed Jagr to only a one-year contract and Whitney to a two-year deal, so the risk is somewhat controlled. Second, the trade of Mike Ribeiro does raise eyebrows. On first thought, the trade of Mike Ribeiro to the Washington Capitals seems incredulous; however, the Stars received promising young center Cody Eakin and a second-round draft pick. Management must have felt that Ribeiro no longer fit into the equation. Perhaps the lack of speed in the other new acquisitions made management believe they needed to replace one aging veteran forward with a younger talent. Eakin certainly has lots of upside, as he is only 21 years old and could produce in the 20-goal range during the next season or two. Ribeiro had a quality tenure in Dallas, but the Stars decided to move him. I have a feeling Ribeiro will have stellar numbers next season in Washington, and Eakin could prove to be a steal for the Stars–let’s wait and see how this trade turns out for both sides.
Considering these positives and negatives, the Stars should receive an “A-” at this point in the offseason. This grade could change, but fans should commend the direction that management is taking the franchise. The Stars should have an acceptable amount of depth (something that has eluded the team in recent years), as well as a quality amount of talent up front, on defense, and in net.
With the players signed thus far, here is my depth chart for the Dallas Stars in the upcoming 2012-2013 season:
- Offensive Lines:
- Loui Eriksson – Derek Roy – Michael Ryder
- Ray Whitney – Jamie Benn – Jaromir Jagr
- Brenden Morrow – Cody Eakin – Eric Nystrom
- Tom Wandell – Vernon Fiddler – Radek Dvorak
These lines could be adjusted slightly; for instance, Benn and Roy could swap the top-two spots at center. In addition, one might want the speed and skill of Eriksson paired with Jagr’s intelligence and craftiness. However, Eriksson should be on the top line, and Ryder, with 35 goals last season, has earned that as well–at least to start the season. The main consideration to take into account with the sudden influx of veteran forwards is the separation of experience and speed. It would be simple to place Benn and Eriksson together, but it appears to make more sense to mix youth and experience in the top-two lines. Having Whitney paired with Roy and Ryder/Jagr would be a line chock-full of experience, but it would also risk being sluggish. Separating Benn and Eriksson with the “elders” of the top six would be a solution to balance speed and experience appropriately. Benn has mostly played as a left wing throughout his career, but he has been thrust into the center position at times for the Stars. Unless the organization acquires another top center before the season begins, the Stars’ lack of depth at center will probably necessitate Benn becoming a regular in the middle of the ice. In the 2012 World Championships, Benn took the ice as a center for Team Canada in some games and did well in the faceoff circle.
Also, reserves Tom Wandell, Toby Petersen, and Tomas Vincour could see some playing time on the third or fourth lines. Finally, note Eakin’s role as the third-line center. The Stars still have a legitimate need for a reliable third-line center. Eakin may be able to fill this role, but the Stars probably shouldn’t chance this if the organization is banking on a playoff appearance. Winning the Pacific Division will come down to what team has the most depth.
- Defensive Pairings:
- Alex Goligoski – Trevor Daley
- Stephane Robidas – Aaron Rome
- Mark Fistric – Philip Larsen
Goligoski is in a contract year, so he should be expected to up his productivity this season. Aaron Rome was a nice addition, and he should cement the second defensive pairing with his physical, gritty, and reliable play. Philip Larsen proved himself to be a rising talent in the NHL. Last season, Larsen recorded a +11 +/- rating on a defensive unit that was plagued with poor +/- numbers. In fact, Larsen was tied for the best +/- for a defensemen on the team last year with Sheldon Souray. If he continues to be reliable and productive, he has a chance to get some minutes on the second pairing. Surprisingly, defense looks to be one of the stronger points for a Stars team that has suffered from unsound defensive-zone play in the recent past. Jordie Benn, Jamie Benn’s older brother, and Maxime Fortunus could serve as reserve defensemen for the roster.
Of course, goaltending will once again be the Stars strong-point, as Kari Lehtonen and Richard Bachman continue to prove themselves to be one of the best goalie tandems in the NHL. Throughout his tenure in Dallas, Lehtonen has been the most reliable player on the entire roster, and there isn’t a reason why this should change in the 2012-2013 year.
Considering the makeup of the roster and front office, fans should be anticipating a promising year from the Dallas Stars.
Tim lives in Dallas, TX, and serves as a Dallas Stars correspondent for the Sunbelt Hockey Journal. He has professional sportswriting and editing experience in print and online media.