October 1, 2013

Dallas Stars prepare to put off-season makeover to the test

The Stars head into the season with new faces in the front office and on the ice.

It’s been 14 years since the Dallas Stars brought the Stanley Cup to North Texas.

It’s been five seasons since the Stars last made the playoffs.

It was about time someone hit the reset button. And that’s exactly what Stars owner Tom Gaglardi did.

During the off-season, Gaglardi brought in former Detroit Red Wings assistant GM Jim Nill, one of the league’s top general managing prospects. Nill’s first major act as GM was to hire former Buffalo Sabres coach Lindy Ruff.

He then set to to remake the team. Scan down the Stars roster and only two players remain from the Stars’ last playoff appearance in 2008, which turned out to be a run to the Western Conference finals.

“In the end, you have to start winning,” Nill said. “I think we’ve built a team here that’s going to be fun to watch. We’ve got some real good young, star players that are exciting to watch, and we’ve surrounded them with some great veterans.”

Entering the season, the Stars have a new logo, new uniforms and new faces, much like they did when the organization moved south from Minnesota in the early 1990s.

So, it’s time again to reintroduce the Dallas Stars:

Off-season moves

A blockbuster trade came July 4, bringing budding star Tyler Seguin and Bruins teammate Rich Peverley to Dallas for Stars fan favorite Loui Eriksson. The deal allows the face of the franchise, Jamie Benn, to move from center back to his natural position at left wing, while Seguin takes over in the middle. Ruff has worked Erik Cole at right wing to form a top line. Nill brought in veteran center Shawn Horcoff from the Oilers and defenseman Sergei Gonchar from the Senators.

Russian invasion

Selecting Valeri Nichushkin as the organization’s first pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, 10th overall, was risky. He is a top talent, but getting a Russian native away from his home country has a history of being a challenge. However, everything has fallen into place, and the 6-foot-4 forward looks capable of an immediate impact. Fellow Russian Gonchar has taken Nichushkin under his wing. He has experience as a mentor, working with Evgeni Malkin when both were in Pittsburgh. “That’s why I’m trying to explain to him how things work here and what’s going on on the ice,” Gonchar said. “He’s a guy that’s really wanting to learn quick and make sure he’s on the same page as everybody right away.”

‘Compete’ mentality

Ruff asks for aggressive play, a hard-nosed forecheck and crashing defensemen in the offensive zone as a part of the overall team philosophy. With a young, speedy team, the “compete” philosophy has a chance to bring an effective, fast-paced, high-energy brand of hockey to Dallas. But it also has its risks, which can be exacerbated by young players.

One-hit wonders?

Rookies Alex Chiasson, Cody Eakin, Ryan Garbutt and Antoine Roussel helped the team exceed expectations after the trade deadline last season. In seven games, Chiasson had six goals and an assist. He’ll most likely be joined on the second line by Eakin, who wowed Ruff with his performance in training camp. “He likes having the puck, and he’s tough on the wall,” Ruff said. “I know he’s on the smaller side, but he comes out and competes on every shift.”

A new number rising

The Stars announced they would retire Mike Modano’s No. 9 this season on March 8 when the Minnesota Wild comes to town. Modano is the franchise leader in games, goals, assists, points, short-handed goals, game-winning goals and power-play goals. He is the greatest American-born scorer (561 goals) to play in the NHL. Mo’s No. 9 will join No. 7 (Neal Broten), No. 8 (Bill Goldsworthy) and No. 19 (Bill Masterton) in the rafters of American Airlines Center.

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