Thursday, September 13, 2012
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Looking Past the Lockout
This is presuming, of course, that we're not still talking about the lockout in 2016.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we finally gave in to our secret desires and learned to love. This week, rather than list all the reasons we fans have to suffer through yet another lockout (#3: Giving millions more to the owners of badly-managed teams will instantly solve all their problems forever! Rainbowsunicornssunshinepumpingoutmypooper!), we're going to focus on what happens after Gary "Why Am I Hitting Myself?" Bettman and his cabal of overachievers wise up and cancel their dastardly plans.
Namely: What are the most/least exciting things to look forward to for the 2012-13 Dallas Stars?
Here is a brief but thorough list, compiled using mountains of statistical evidence. Warning: don't attempt this level of analysis at home. You'll only end up confused and aroused and giving $4.5 million/year contracts to the half-eaten breadsticks under the fridge.
Three Things That Might Rock for the 2012-13 Dallas Stars
#3: The Rise of Jamie Benn - A lot has been said about Benn, but is anybody other than stats-obsessed puckheads listening? Jamie Benn is really, really, good. In exceptionally tough minutes with linemates better suited for the third and fourth string (or, in some cases, as a regular health scratch), Benn outperformed most other team's highly-marketed glory boys with their tissue-soft competition and Art Ross wingers. Benn is basically like that second-string tight end who delivers devastating blocks to protect his quarterback, but also somehow manages to be right up there with the top wide receivers in the league in catches, yards and touchdowns. Barring injury and with actual point producers on his wings, and with a share of the top line/top powerplay unit time he gave up to fluff up Mike Ribeiro's fading numbers, this should be a breakout year for Benn in a way that Stars fans have never seen in Dallas. Minnesota got Modano's best offensive years: finally, the city of Dallas has a homegrown offensive phenom coming to just when his team needs him the most.
#2: Gulutzan's Sophomore Year - The Stars have been spoiled by a succession of great coaches: Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippet, Marc Craw--er, Ken Hitchcock, Dave Tippet, etc etc. Gulutzan took a team most thought would be in the Western Conference basement and had them in the driver's seat for a divisional title up until the final week of the season. That's a stellar record for a first-year coach just learning the ropes. Gulutzan has known success at every level he's coached, and it's easy to see why: he keeps the lines of communication open with his players, makes smart roster decisions and moves his lineups around to get the most out of their abilities. His in-game adjustments could probably use some work, along with some other details, but Gulutzan's creating a different culture in the Stars' locker room, and despite what E! would have you believe, culture takes a long time, hard work and sacrifice to develop. The young coach's second year should hopefully be better than his first.
#1: A Much-Needed Change of Leadership - Gone are Mike Ribeiro, Steve Ott, Adam Burish and Sheldon Souray. Brenden Morrow is now a fourth-liner. While all those guys are/were excellent players, the on-ice results of third period efforts in critical games could no longer be ignored. While one more year of Morrow's captaincy is probably a given, this is obviously the year when Benn, Trevor Daley and Loui Eriksson expand their roles in the lockerroom and take charge of this team. Will it work? Who knows? But you'll never know if you have an effective leader in your group until you hand them real responsibility and let them run with it. Mistakes will be made, but with the right young leader, mistakes now turn into success when it matters.
Three Things That Might Suck for the 2012-13 Dallas Stars
#3: A Shortened Season - Get it done, ya jags.
#2: No Ott - Cody Eakin might be the perfect pivot on the third line. He might have blinding speed, sound defensive awareness and exhibit that deft scoring touch he had in the minors. But for a while at least, despite anything that Eakin accomplishes on the ice, that third line will feel a little... empty. Steve Ott brought much, much more to the Stars than 35-50 points and a bunch of penalties. Comparing him to the league's other "pests" does him a tremendous disservice, as does pigeonholing him as an effective third line center, a great penalty killer, a speedy breakaway threat, a great interview, or as one of the league's best faceoff men. Sabres fans may think they know what they got in Ott, but they don't: give him 20-30 games in Buffalo, and watch the Ott jerseys start flying off the shelf. Ott was the one guy (or one of two guys when Morrow wasn't injured) who tried his best even when the rest of the team visibly quit around him. He's a natural leader and future coach-in-the-making who hopefully comes back to Dallas in two years when his current contract is up. In the meantime though, players like Ott are hard to replace.
#1: The Aging Mercenaries - Signing Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr to short contracts was a great move by GM Joe Nieuwendyk --filling glaring holes in the top six in the short term until the Stars' sizable group of AHL talent is ready to make the leap to the bigs-- but putting two 40 year-olds on your top line is generally a recipe for one thing: injuries. Dallas might be one of the few teams that truly benefits from a shortened season: Jagr and Whitney's bodies holding up over 82 games would be nothing short of a miracle. Derek Roy comes back in November: again, an excellent reason for Stars fans to discretely wish for a 60-game season.
That's it for this week's Cupcheck. Tune in next week when we sit down with Brian Burke and ask him how he plans on overtaking the Sacramento Kings for the coveted #121 spot in ESPN's franchise rankings. The accuracy of his haymakers may surprise you.