No team has had more change this summer than the Dallas Stars. After fading down the stretch, once again, new team owner Tom Gaglardi decided to shake things up. Gone is Joe Nieuwendyk as general manager and in is Jim Nill. Gone is Glen Gulutzan from behind the bench and in is Lindy Ruff. Gone are Loui Eriksson, Eric Nystrom, Philip Larsen, Matt Fraser, and Tom Wandell and in are Tyler Seguin, Shawn Horcoff, Rich Peverley, Sergei Gonchar, Dan Ellis, Chris Mueller. Gone are the black uniforms and in are the new green uniforms, which I don't care for because they look like those horrible green Blackhawks jerseys.
Brad Gardner, from Defending Big D, was kind enough to chat with me about the upcoming hockey season in Texas.
New GM, new coach, new uniforms. How excited are Stars fans for the start of the new season?
New GM, coach, uniforms, colors, logos, division - Not to mention lots of roster turnover and Tom Gaglardi's first real full season of ownership. It might be one of the most complete "restarts" for an existing franchise anyone's ever heard of. To say Stars fans are excited is a bit of understatement.
Jim Nill wasted no time putting his stamp on this team. Do you think Lindy Ruff is the right fit for Dallas?
The team was in playoff position beyond March 1st in each of the last three seasons and faded every time. Much of that has fallen at the feet of the coaching staff, and Glen Gulutzan in particular. In 2011-2012 he and his assistants had between them a single (ONE) year of NHL coaching experience of any kind. Now with Ruff and his staff they have so much more. I don't know if that makes Ruff the RIGHT fit, but heading into the season it feels like a better one.
The Stars pulled off the surprise trade of the summer by getting Tyler Seguin from the Bruins. Are you happy with the price it cost to get him and are you concerned about the stories of his off the ice habits? Do you think he will have an easy transition to the center position?
Having seen him several times already I have little concerns about his ability to play center. He carries the puck in. He shoots it. Jamie Benn carries the puck. He shoots. It's a dynamic, interchangeable look that could be hard to defend some nights. Off the ice he and Benn are often seen together as well, even living in the same building according to one report I heard. I think we're seeing two young men realizing that together they can lead a franchise, and the sloppiness of youth is being left behind. At least we hope it is. It's a long season.
As far as the cost goes - I'd feel better if Rich Peverley, sidelined after a procedure to correct an irregular heartbeat, was a known quantity in this mix right now. That seems like underrated value in the deal that doesn't get talked about much. Loui Eriksson is really and truly great, but the Stars have Jamie Benn and Ray Whitney on the left now and the center they needed. It was using a surplus of what they had to get something they desperately needed.
The Stars have some good young talent in the system like Cody Eakin, Brenden Dillon, Alex Chiasson and Jamie Oleksiak. Out of this group, who makes the biggest impact?
Brenden Dillon, off the cuff, because he'll be playing difficult defensive minutes along side Stephane Robidas, in all likelihood. Cody Eakin has a shot to become the team's number-two center after what (would have been) a pro-rated 40-45 point rookie season last year. Alex Chiasson might be the most interesting case. He's seen a lot of run in the preseason and scored six goals in seven games last year. If he can contribute meaningfully on the score-sheet the Stars will have some nice balance.
Jamie Benn had a big summer with a big new contract and a C added to his sweater. Will he be able to live up to the expectations that come with both?
Benn makes an even five million this year, so I don't think there will be much trouble justifying that. He had 63 points in his last full season and that was at the center position. He could eclipse 30 goals for the first time this year moving back to the wing. The captaincy layer adds the real pressure, but with Ray Whitney, Sergei Gonchar, Shawn Horcoff and Stephane Robidas in the room as well leadership should be in no short supply. His challenge will be keeping his frustrations in check, which he's worn on his sleeve in seasons past.
Kari Lethonen has been a stud when he is on the ice but has had some injury issues in the past. Does the season rely on his health or can Dan Ellis do the job if called upon?
It's a rare team that wouldn't say the season relies on the health of their starting netminder. Kari Lehtonen missed about 10 days halfway through the 2013 season and it was enough for Richard Bachman and Cristopher Nilstorp to send the train off the rails, trading losses until his return. They hope to have solved that with Ellis, to whom they had been speaking throughout the pre-free agency period. They wanted him and they got him. Whether or not he can improve upon what the platoon backups did last season remains to be seen. Young Jack Campbell in the AHL will be watching the situation with great interest.
Does the move to the new Central Division help or hurt the Stars chances for a postseason run?
It certainly evens the playing field where miles traveled are concerned in a lot of cases. It limits the 9:30 starts in L.A. and San Jose, and the subsequent overnight stays and practice days lost, sure, but on the whole the western conference will send it's usual suspects, will they not? Behind the Kings, Hawks, Canucks, Sharks, and Blues the Stars will battle the Ducks, Predators, Oilers and Wild, etc, just like any other year. Detroit's departure gives everyone a little bit better look. Where the move really helps is with the fanbase, who can now enjoy the team at much more reasonable hours of the day.
Thanks again to Brad for answering my questions and helping out with our preview. The Blackhawks will play their newest rival five times this season. The Hawks will travel to Big D on November 9th & 29th and again on December 10th. Rush Street door guys should be on the lookout for Tyler Seguin on December 3rd and March 25th.