Stars face challenge replacing Richards

The Stars missed the playoffs by just two points, falling short of the final spot in the West on the last day of the season. That was an improvement on their last two seasons, but not enough to save coach Marc Crawford’s job.

So in comes Glen Gulutzan behind the bench to try to get Dallas back in the postseason for the first time since 2008. But he’ll have to do it without last year’s leading scorer, as Brad Richards bolted Big D for the big bucks of the Big Apple, signing a nine-year, $60 million deal with the Rangers.

2010-11 record: 42-29-11, 95 points (5th Pacific Division; 9th Western Conference; did not qualify for playoffs)

Key additions: F Michael Ryder (free agent); F Radek Dvorak (free agent); D Adam Pardy (free agent); F Vernon Fiddler (free agent); F Jake Dowell (free agent); F Eric Godard (free agent); D Sheldon Souray (free agent)

Key losses: F Brad Richards (signed with NY Rangers); F Jamie Langenbrunner (signed with St. Louis); D Jeff Woywitka (signed with Montreal); F Jason Williams (signed with Pittsburgh); F Brian Sutherby (free agent); D Karlis Skrastins (free agent)

Burning question: How will the Stars replace Richards?

Dallas doesn’t have anyone who can replace what the offense lost with Richards’ departure. He led the Stars last year with 28-49-77 totals in 72 games. Mike Ribiero wasn’t far behind at 19-52-71, but now he’ll be facing the opposition’s top checking forwards and shutdown defensemen as the club’s No. 1 center. He’ll have to prove he can fight through more checks while still maintaining that level of production. The Stars will also need continued improvement from center Jamie Benn (22-34-56) and will hope that agitator Steve Ott can get back to his 2009-10 form — when he scored 22 goals — after he managed just 12 last year.

2011-12 outlook: The Stars’ centers will benefit from a solid corps of wingers. Loui Eriksson (27-46-73) is one of the most underrated players in the league, while Brenden Morrow (33-23-56) supplies a healthy dose of scoring along with his leadership and physical play. Newcomer Ryder (18-23-41 in regular season, 8-9-17 in playoffs) gives Dallas another weapon on the wing.

The Stars are hoping Sheldon Souray can add some offense from the blue line after being relegated to the AHL last year. The three-time All-Star scored 23 goals as recently as 2008-09. Preventing goals will fall to goalie Kari Lehtonen, who was 34-24-11 with a 2.55 GAA and a .914 save percentage last year.

Did you know? The Bruins and Stars don’t meet often, but they’ve produced some memorable clashes in recent years. The last two meetings in Boston have been particularly combative, with the clubs combining for 146 penalty minutes, seven misconducts and three fights in a 5-1 Bruins win on Nov. 1, 2008, and another 89 PIMs, four fights (three in the first four seconds) and a major penalty to Daniel Paille that drew a four-game suspension in their only meeting last year. By comparison, the last matchup in Dallas produced just four minor penalties in a 3-0 Boston win on Oct. 16, 2009.

Maybe the animosity in Boston traces all the way back to the Stars’ days in Minnesota, when John Wensink challenged the entire North Stars bench, but got no takers. No one turned down fights when the clubs met again on Feb. 26, 1981, as Boston and Minnesota combined for an NHL record 406 penalty minutes that night.