Five major differences in the Stars as the team gets ready to open the lockout-shortened season.
By STEVE HUNTFS Southwest
There's no doubt among Stars fans that the last four seasons have been pretty tough to watch since that's how long it's been since the club has participated in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But now that the lockout is close to officially ending and the puck is about to drop on a truncated 48-game season, as is the case with the start of each new season, hope springs eternal not just for Stars fans but for their fellow supporters around the league. And considering owner Tom Gaglardi and GM Joe Nieuwendyk were quite active last off-season, adding the likes of Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney, this year's on-ice product should definitely be fun to watch. But there will be some pretty major differences between this year's team and last. Here's a look at five such differences.
1. A New and Improved Power Play
Rock bottom is a funny and often subjective term, but anyone who has watched Stars hockey for any period of time can agree on one thing, that the performance of last year's club on the power play was about as bad as it's been since the club moved to Big D back in 1993. Converting at a rate of 13.5 percent, not only was the Dallas PP the worst in the entire NHL last season, but that also ranks as the worst power play percentage in franchise history.
So, even before the additions of Jagr, Roy and Whitney, all of whom figure to see fairly significant ice time with the man advantage, the simple law of averages tells one that there's no way the Dallas PP can be anywhere near as bad as it was last year. And in a truncated season where every goal, whether it comes shorthanded, on the power play or at even strength, and point for that matter means even more than before, upgrading the PP's production even just a small amount could be enough to vault the Stars back into the playoffs, ending the club's four-year postseason dry spell.
2. Hopefully Better Starts
Besides a woefully ineffective power play, one of the other big stories to come out of last season was that more often than not, it seemed like the Stars didn't hit the ice ready to play. There were countless examples a year ago where the team started slowly, gave up an early goal or two and then had to play catch up the rest of the game. To Dallas' credit, one thing last year's roster was not short on was grit and resiliency and there were very few games that they didn't climb back into after trailing early.
However, starting better in just a few of those games likely would have let to a few more points on the Stars' ledger and that might have made a big enough difference for them to get back to the playoffs. But with Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan now having a year under his belt and the addition of ex-Atlanta Thrashers head coach Curt Fraser to the Dallas staff as an assistant this off-season, hopefully those slow starts by the Stars of last year will now officially be a thing of the past and we can now begin discussing how well this club starts games. And in a shortened season where every game takes on even more importance, expect to see the Dallas coaches emphasizing how crucial it is to hit the ice ready to play for each and every game often during training camp, which will also be quite short.
3. No More Steve Ott or Mike Ribeiro
If you ask fans from around the league who is one guy that they absolutely can't stand and now-former Star Steve Ott's name is near the top of the list. "Otter" was an absolute fan favorite here in Big D, a guy who was drafted by the organization, made his debut with the Stars and quickly endeared himself to the local fans not just for an ability to drop the gloves at a moment's notice, but to chirp, get under the opponent's skin by any means necessary and occasionally score a goal or chip in with an assist.
Well, Ott is now with Buffalo, having been traded there last summer and while it will be a bit weird initially not to see No. 29 on the ice or in the room for the Stars, seeing Dallas have Roy come the other way in that deal is definitely a good thing. Mike Ribeiro was another longtime Star who is now playing elsewhere this season. Ribs had incredible skills, especially when it came to his stick handling and doing amazing things with the puck and as scintillating as he was to watch at times, he was equally frustrating for Stars fans to watch. And last year he might have punched his ticket out of town by playing shifts longer than he was supposed to, which often came to the detriment of his team. He's now in Washington and we all wish him well. One unfortunate byproduct of the season being shortened is that Stars fans will now have to wait until next season at the earliest to get a glimpse of Ott and Ribeiro with their new clubs.
4. A New Face behind the Bench in Curt Fraser
Whether it's his obvious love for the game, enthusiasm or general glass half-full demeanor, there really is a lot to like about Glen Gulutzan, who almost had the Stars in the playoffs in his very first year behind an NHL bench. But even with the admirable job Gully and his staff did last season, there was one glaring weakness on the Dallas bench and that was a general lack of coaching experience in the league.
Of course, not only was last year Gulutzan's first year behind an NHL bench, but it was also the maiden voyage for assistant Paul Jerrard, who came to town with Gully from Cedar Park. Willie Desjardins, who left this summer to coach the AHL's Texas Stars, was a holdover from the Marc Crawford era in Dallas but he had only one year of NHL coaching experience, leaving goaltending coach Mike Valley, who is set to enter his fourth season with the Stars, as the most experienced man on the bench. But with the hiring of Fraser this summer, who has a wealth of experience behind an NHL bench, that lack of collective experience among Gulutzan and his staff will most likely be minimized as they can all learn a great deal from an experienced coach like Fraser, who most recently coached Detroit's top minor league affiliate, the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, a position he held since 2008.
5. No More Rookie Mistakes for Glen Gulutzan
When the Stars hired Gulutzan as the club's new head coach prior to last season, few knew much about the Saskatchewan native other than the fact that he had spent the previous few seasons coaching the Stars' top minor league affiliate down in Cedar Park. Of course, the first year of the Gulutzan era in Dallas was full of its ups, like the season-long six-game winning streak in March as well as several downs, including seeing the Stars drop their final five games of the regular season to miss the playoffs for a fourth year in a row.
And along the way, Gulutzan learned some invaluable lessons he can take forward, not just into year two of what we all hope will be a long and productive tenure behind the Dallas bench but into the future years of his coaching career. Toward the end of last season, he admitted he had learned countless lessons in year one of his NHL coaching career and those lessons should pay big dividends in year two and beyond. One thing he specifically mentioned was that his team needs to be better at doing the little things than anyone else in the league, a simple mantra that he feels is crucial to the Stars being more successful this season and possibly ending their current playoff drought. But another great thing about Gully is that even though he has been coaching hockey for some time, he is smart enough to realize that he doesn't know everything. He specifically mentioned adding Fraser to his staff as an addition that will not only help his team as well as his assistants, but one that will also help him become an even better head coach. And in a game where wins, losses and sometimes a playoff spot can be decided by the smallest of margins, having a coach who is a sponge, absorbing all he can about how to improve not only his team but himself as a coach is always a great trait to have and one that will eventually ensure success on all fronts.