Stars return from lockout with new look

Stars return from lockout with new look

Published Jan. 8, 2013 10:04 a.m. ET

You may remember this little hockey organization in our fair city called the Dallas Stars. They were once a team that held a special place in your heart, many years ago. But now, due to labor idiocy and mediocre results, they are just an organization that you used to know.

Well, they are open for business in January 2013.

The league barely figured out the solution to its labor problems before the final gun (hint: according to most reports, the details in the new CBA are not that far from the details of the proposals back in the 1st week in December. Or said another way, we wasted roughly five more weeks because personalities got all hot and bothered in the negotiating room when calm heads could have found this solution three weeks before Christmas). Regardless, as of Jan. 19, we believe the puck will drop in rinks all over North America in a frantic race to the finish line of a truncated season where anything goes.

The Stars went through a drastic overhaul last summer that will continue into this summer. It is indeed a team in a major transition phase that will take plenty of time to be seen completely through. But, they appear to be doing it the right way - mostly on the back of home grown talent that is being acquired, developed, and then will eventually serve as the backbone of the entire operation.

This requires patience, something their fans are tired of being asked for, as the organization tried several other routes for quite a while and had diminishing success through the last decade. This, of course, tests the resolve of a fan base that did not grow up with hockey in their DNA, and it was juxtaposed against a decade with the other American Airlines Center tenant, the Dallas Mavericks, having their most glorious decade ever.

The franchise in shorts ran a sell-out streak to the upper limits of the record books, while the franchise in skates spent the last few years wondering what it would take to get a half-dozen sellouts in the same season.

It has been said plenty of times that Dallas is a "winner's town", but more than anything, they just want to know that you are trying to win. Tom Hicks, for all of his positive qualities that led to the glory years of the late 1990s, had lost his resolve - and maybe his resources - right about the time he was trying to get Alex Rodriguez out of town from his baseball organization. From the last NHL lockout that canceled an entire season until last December when the keys were handed over, the Stars forced their fans into NHL purgatory and a "Wait, this likely can't get worse" period that lasted too many years.

Enter Tom Gaglardi, a man who does have a magnetic personality and the benefit of the doubt (he is not Tom Hicks), who we know a bit about, but to this point it has just been vague concepts and ideas. Now, we can see what he is all about. Is he looking for a profitable business or does he have the insatiable thirst to own a team that someday win a Stanley Cup? We honestly are only speculating to this point, but now, we can finally start to find out.

And honestly, so much really boils down to what Gaglardi wants to see happen. If he is tired of the Stars being mid-tier, then he can start to put things in motion to change that as soon as possible.

It starts with getting a contract done for Jamie Benn that locks up his future in Dallas through his prime. Benn has lifted his level of play to a point where there is no longer nervousness about his quality and his ability to realize his potential, and now it is time to pay him premium dollars to be a premium player in Dallas. Once his name is on the line, then the Stars may proceed with his likeness on billboards and the fans investing in his jersey. Until that contract is done, many of us remain on pins and needles.

From there, we build this depth chart up. You are going to hear plenty about Jaromir Jagr in Dallas from many of the talking heads, but I would like to offer up the words of caution that indicate that he is a complimentary piece at this portion of his career. And, more than likely, he is only here until May. So, while I am interested to see what he has in his bag (remember the Eric Lindros era in Dallas? No?), I am not going to invest mentally in him being much more than a rent-a-legend. It is nice to see him play here, but don't confuse him with a guy that will be here when this team is at its destination.

This summer has a list of big and important names to deal with, as well, with Michael Ryder (35 goals!), Derek Roy, Brenden Morrow, Jagr, Eric Nystrom, and Mark Fistric all hitting free agency. So, that cap room we were talking about? If you give Benn his big deal, Roy his big deal (roughly Mike Ribeiro's contract), and extend Ryder.... Well, you don't have that much cap room.

And that is where the youth will come in handy. With a quiver full of young talent unlike anything I can remember in a long, long time, the Stars have a chance to make some real strides in the next few seasons by bringing up kids who are not just capable of playing in the league, but capable of being exceptional in the NHL. These are rare qualities by the standards of most Stars kids over the last 15 years. We think the track record of Benn, Loui Eriksson, and James Neal is how it always was, but that is certainly not the case. But, it is how teams in this sport can win in a cap world. Young and hungry kids making a difference on small salaries combined with your well compensated horses that you are riding night after night.

There are going to be some real strengths to this team that we have not seen in a while. For instance, after having one of the historically worst power plays in the modern era, they should be much improved with Roy, Ray Whitney, and Jagr added to Benn, Eriksson, Ryder and Alex Goligoski. If that doesn't get them to the middle of the league at least, there will be some disappointed people in the front office. They should have no problem getting Benn his ice time now that Ribeiro has been dealt to the Capitals.

Meanwhile, we have a weakness or two that are a concern to people like me who seek things to be concerned about; does this team have the quality in its' defensive corps to be successful? In other words, when it comes to locking down a lead or clearing the zone that is under attack, do I have a defensive defenseman who scares the opponent? I surely don't think so, and although Sheldon Souray was not able to perform the entire season at the level we might have wished last season, he showed glimpses of what was missing here and I hated to see him go. They still need the alpha-male heading up the group, and I still think that piece is going to have to be developed (Jamie Oleksiak?) or acquired. And they are very tough to acquire.

Also, where is this team's sandpaper, abrasiveness, and intimidation? When you lose Steve Steve Ott, Souray, and Adam Burish in one summer, you hopefully will forgive me for wondering if the Stars are about to put one of the friendlier teams on the ice that we have seen in a long, long time. I fear that sort of team, because opponents often like to take liberties with teams that cannot or do not defend themselves. If my toughest guys are Stephane Robidas or Brenden Morrow at their ages and sizes, then we may have some issues.

The Stars had a radical summer and like I said, we are looking at a project that is still being assembled. Only at the end of the summer will I have firm grasp on what they are seeing in their vision, but the games likely start in 10 days. So, we must go with what we got for now.

But, hockey is back and so are the Stars. If it is enough to capitalize on the downturn of the Mavericks remains to be seen. But, we will start to see what it means - including if they still have fans - very soon.

Excellent news for me.

Game on.