For most hockey fans, the 113-day NHL lockout has seriously jaded their opinions of whether or not the NHL can recover from the overall lost support from consumers. With owners and players coming to a tentative agreement for a 10-year CBA yesterday, owners will be saddled with the task of getting fans back into seats and the players have to remind them why they loved the game in the first place. For me, I haven’t forgotten, but a lot of other sports fans have. I'm just happy to my favorite sport back.
For the Dallas Stars, a team in serious transition after missing the playoffs for the fourth consecutive season, reclaiming the hockey allure in Dallas will be a struggle to say the least.
The Stars have a new owner in Tom Gaglardi that will hopefully, for the franchise’s sake, pump some money into one of the league’s most recently financially strapped teams.
Outside of the Minnesota Wild, who stole the spotlight with its signings of top-prized, free-agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter, the Stars made several moves to retool their team, while letting go of some fan favorites in the process.
The Stars traded center Steve “The Pepper Pot” Ott and defenseman Adam Pardy to Buffalo in exchange for Derek Roy, who with the lockout has most likely fully recovered from a shoulder injury. Mike Ribeiro was dealt to the Washington Capitals for young center Cody Eakin and a second-round draft pick.
Many fans will miss Ott’s tenacious and at several times annoying style, but Ott was more of a winger converted to center anyways and the Stars wanted more depth at the center position. Ribeiro was often times selfish with the puck and kept Jamie Benn from fully developing into the top-line center he is capable of. The Stars also let go of Adam Burish, Radek Dvorak and Sheldon Souray.
With the addition of two 40-year old resurgent forwards in Hall-of-Fame right-winger Jaromir Jagr, who played with the Philadelphia Flyers last year, and left-winger Ray Whitney, who spent the past two seasons with the Phoenix Coyotes, the Stars will look to bridge the gap between experience and youth.
The Texas Stars currently sit second in the South Division (19-11-3-2) with 43 points; two behind the Charlotte Checkers for the top spot in both the division and Western Conference. Many of Dallas’ young system players such as Eakin, Reilly Smith, Tomas Vincour, Matt Fraser, and Francis Wathier will compete for forward roster spots while Jordie Benn, Brenden Dillon, Maxime Fortunus will compete for defensive roster spots.
Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan, who went 42-35-5 in his first year, also coached several of the Stars’ younger players in his time as coach of the Stars’ AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars. Gulutzan should have some influence with those players as they are most likely playing a similar system for the Texas Stars.
At one of the Stars’ final games of last season, I asked Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk how he felt about his younger players and he expressed jubilance over how much talent his team had waiting in the wings.
Gulutzan thinks there are roster spots available for those younger players and he hopes that the Stars can put together a short training camp to make personnel decisions.
“Since I started this organization, this is probably the first year that there are legitimate spots here to be had,” Gulutzan said. “We will probably bring in, I would think, two or three defenseman to battle for a spot that is sitting here for somebody and two or three forwards. There could be one or two spots for forwards here so I think the guys in Austin, the way they play if you’ve seen their record, they realize there are openings in the big club. That’s great. It creates competition and going to create competition within our guys here.”
As of now, the official start to the season and training camps has not been set, but Gulutzan said his staff is prepared for a seven-day camp.
“We don’t know much, so we are just planning on a seven-day training camp,” Gulutzan said. “We think that’s what it’s going to come down to, so we are working on that right now. I think the challenges for us are to decide what the camp is going to look at and what personnel we are going to bring in. We just need to decide who we are going to bring up and what size camp we are going to have.”
For NHL coaches, they have the uncomfortable position of being in between the two sides negotiating, but Gulutzan said he made the most of his time off by following other local teams.
“As a coach, you are stuck right in the middle so you really have no comment,” Gulutzan said. “You want things to go well for both sides really. You want them to make a good deal for both sides and as a coach, that’s all you can hope for.”
“I have become a big Cowboy fan in the last three months, that’s for sure. With them, the Mavs and the Rangers, I have been following them closely.”
With the Stars top two players, Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson, both heading overseas to keep in hockey shape, Gulutzan doesn’t think the players who played elsewhere will have problems getting back up to speed.
“I’m glad Loui was playing in Switzerland, but I think they will be at a few different levels in timing and everything,” Gulutzan said. “We are going to do the best we can at camp to kind of simulate as much game play as we can. These guys are pros and it might be one game maybe, but they will get in it right away. It doesn’t take long.”
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