The Stars signed Ray Whitney to a two year $9 million contract with a partial NMC today. It's a move that I personally love. He may be 40-years-old but he's still one of the most consistent scorers in the game (seven straight seasons of 55+ points, the last two with a offensively challenged Phoenix Coyotes team) and provides that great scoring depth to the Stars.
He's a big boost to the power-play, still plays big minutes and provides a mentor to a team that is chock full of young wingers. He's gotta be an invaluable source of information for Reilly Smith this season. There's grumbles from fans about his contract but how much does it really hurt the Stars? Dallas has more than enough cap space to accomodate his contract and it's only for two seasons. The team isn't going to spend all $30 million available in cap space in that span will they?
He'll be fine on whichever line he plays on, whether he's being centered by Benn or by Cody Eakin.
He's a stop-gap until all the youngsters are ready to go and really, I look forward to cheering for Whitney when the season starts.
Well, that was a fun filled first round yesterday wasn't it? There were some crazy moves and a wild run on defensemen that led to some massive drops that worked out perfectly for the Stars. They started out the draft by making a big trade, sending away Mike Ribeiro to the Washington Capitals for their second round pick (#54) and 21-year-old center Cody Eakin. It’s a great move for the Stars as they get rid of an aging Ribeiro, who only has one year left on his contract worth $5 million. He struggled in his role as the number one center for Dallas. He couldn’t win face-offs, played poorly on defense and struggled against opposing top lines. It’s not as big of a loss as Stars fans would think. He had no future for the team and the Stars got a nice prospect in return.
Eakin was one of the Capitals top prospects. He’s a really fast player (really really fast) with a solid two-way game. He’s more talented on the offensive side of the ice and looks like he’ll be a solid second-line center at best. Dallas might hope he makes the team this upcoming season but he might need a year of seasoning before coming to the NHL. He’ll be a second or third line center by then for the Stars.
The run on defensemen in the first ten picks dropped some great offensive talents to the Stars and they ended up with Radek Faksa, one of the best centers available in this draft. It really couldn’t have worked out better for Dallas because they had three centers to choose from and they just took the best available. Faksa has a future on this team as either the number one or number two center, depending on what the organization does with Jamie Benn. Stars fans should be ecstatic with the pick.
The draft is coming up soon so here's another mock to look at, with a particular emphasis on what the Stars could be looking at by the time pick number 13 rolls around.
1) Edmonton Oilers
Nail Yakupov – RW, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Ht/Wt: 5’11”/~190 lbs
Edmonton desperately needs defense but Yakupov is far and away the best player in this draft. As much as Edmonton would like to take Ryan Murray, it would just be too large of a loss in value. It would be a shock if this doesn’t happen. The Oilers young explosive offense gets even more dangerous (and fun to watch) and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins should be doing backflips (but carefully).
If they want to shake things up, they can trade down two or three spots for defensive help and then pick either Murray if he’s still there or the best offensive player still available.
2) Columbus Blue Jackets
Filip Forsberg – Winger, Leksands (Sweden)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/~190 lbs
I feel like this pick hinges on how ready Columbus is to move Rick Nash. The game’s hottest trade commodity for the past three seasons is still up for grabs if any team is willing to pony up. If Columbus really truly believes they can keep Nash on the team and happy, Ryan Murray is the pick. That doesn’t look like the case though as it looks increasingly likely that he’s moved this summer so offense is the choice.
They have a few players to choose from and I have Forsberg going here. Alex Galchenyuk and Mikhail Grigorenko are slightly better prospects, but they have more question marks on them. Forsberg is relatively safe, the best European skater in this year’s draft and his skills are nearly as good.
3) Montreal Canadiens
Alex Galchenyuk – Center, Sarnia Sting (OHL)
Ht/Wt: 6’1”/~185 lbs
There are some big question marks on Galchenyuk as he’s returning from a torn ACL this past season and played only two games. A healthy season might have seen him battling his teammate Yakupov for that top pick though and he could be the best center in this draft (it’s either him or Grigorenko). He should be ready by the time the season starts and he’s young so that explosive skating should still be there. The Habs need offense and a center badly.
4) New York Islanders
Ryan Murray – Defenseman, Everett Silvertips (WHL)
Ht/Wt: 6’0”/~190 lbs
The best defenseman in the draft should be nice grab here for the Islanders. The goaltender situation is a rotating wheel of disaster and the defense does them no favors. They have a nice offensive core set in NYI so picking Murray here starts to build their blue liners. He should be their day one top pair starter.
5) Toronto Maple Leafs
Mikhail Grigorenko – Center, Quebec Remparts (QMJHL)
Ht/Wt: 6’2”/~200 lbs
Grigorenko would be a steal for the Leafs here. There are questions all over the place about the young Russian, but his skill is evident. If he had a good playoff run, he would’ve been talked about as a possible number one pick but his effort has been severely questioned. Grigorenko becomes the Leafs best center and should make an immediate impact.
It would be hilarious though if they made this pick and Grigorenko decided to go play in Russia.
It was another tough year for Stephane Robidas this season. The veteran Stars defenseman fought through his usual myriad of injuries and crushing hits to prove once again that he's the toughest S.O.B on this team. Unfortunately, his age really showed this season and it's glaringly apparent that he's just not cut out for a role as a first pair defensemen for this team anymore.
Robidas was getting beaten or lost more often this season than any other that I can remember. He was just out of place for so many opposing scoring chances and would just flat out lose his man in coverage so often. He's just too slow now to keep up with the faster players in the league and he became a turnstile out there. A first pairing of Robidas and Trevor Daley or Sheldon Souray may have been the best this team could offer as the best pair of defensemen, but that only led to fans wanting a lot more. His poor defensive play was only compounded by some of his worst offensive numbers in his career.
I'm not sure what happened this season, but Robidas just didn't have it offensively this season. He had 17 assists (worst since '07-'08), 22 points (worst since '06-'07) and managed only 75 shots on goal (worst since '02-'03). It's the first time in the past five years that he didn't reach at least 100 shots on goal and the lowest total since his first season as a Dallas Star (the '02-'03 year). He just wasn't looking dangerous enough out there and wasn't creating the chances that he might have done in years past.
This is probably more the coaches fault than his, but for some inconceivable reason Robidas was on the first power play unit and working as one of the pointmen (which makes it all the more baffling how he didn't get more shots on net). He was a huge contributor (or non-contributor) to a historically bad power-play and he only registered nine points on the man-advantage despite working on the first unit. It's something that absolutely cannot happen next season.
His best month came probably in February. He was engaged in the offense (he had 24 shots, his most of any month) and managed five points, which is still low but it was his second highest total of the year. Aside from his offensive struggles, Robidas did have some of his usual good points. He willingly threw his body out there night-in and night-out to try and help out the team. He was third on the team in hits (second among defensemen) with 191 and he was second on the team in blocked shots, just five behind Daley's team leading 115. He played the second-most minutes out of anyone on the team, again just behind Daley and he led the team in shorthanded time on ice. He was a major part of a penalty kill that was great for most of the season.
Robidas just didn't have the year he wanted though and it's not going to be getting any better. He's signed onto this team for two more seasons at $3.3 million per year and will be 38 by the time his contract is over. Despite his decline, he still might be a first pair defenseman for this team next year, but I feel like the Stars should just cut their losses and let him go. He's not going to be a part of the future of this team and he's taking up a good chunk of salary cap room that can be used elsewhere. For this year though, Robidas gets a C from me that's really close to a C-. The Stars have to have better than him next season.
The Goose was not let loose this year. Alex Goligoski came into this season with high expectations as the team's number one offensive defensmen and one of the key pointmen on the power play. He had a slow start to the season, getting only four points in October and never really got a foothold in his game. He really only had one good month the entire year, and that was only 10 points in February.
His slow start in October was followed by a broken hand in November that kept him out for an entire month. The Stars had a tough time without their puck moving defenseman and went 4-7-1 in that stretch of games. Any chance he had of working through his struggles was derailed by that and Goose had to work himself back into game shape when he returned. He saw his production pick up once the calender turned to 2012 and for a while there in January and February, he was one of the top scoring defensemen in the entire league. It's a sign of what Goose can do when he's playing at his best and it was during that time the Stars rewarded him with a shiny new four year contract worth $18.4 million. The contract puts him among the top 25 defensemen, even if his numbers might not match others in the group. I don't know what happened to him after that, but he only got four points in the final 18 games of the season.
His individual numbers this year were decidedly mediocre. His career highs in goals and shots are with one team. He had 14 goals and 162 shots playing with the Penguins and Stars last season and Dallas was hoping for a improvement on his numbers. In just 23 games with Dallas last season he had 15 points, getting half the production of this season while playing just a third as many games.
His struggles were a big reason why the Stars power play was historically bad. He, along with Mike Ribeiro, were supposed to be the pointmen for the team and there's no other way to say it; they both failed miserably at that. It was threat level zero out there as the Stars would just pass the puck around. Goligoski only had seven power play assists on the year, which might be the worst he's ever done considering how much he played (He led the team in power play ice time, total and per game).
Despite all his troubles this year though, the Stars are undoubtedly a better team when he is on the ice and he is easily the most valuable defensemen. His ability to move the puck and skate helped to keep pressure off of Kari Lehtonen and he was a pretty reliable defender for most of the year. There were games here and there where he got burned multiple times, but that really happens to all defensmen. It's just worrisome how his offense failed to materialize this season.
Goligoski was a valuable piece to the team, but didn't do well individually so he gets a B- from me this year. He really needs to get together with the staff this offseason and figure something out on the power play.
Ah Loui Eriksson, the Stars' swiss army knife. Eriksson did his usual bit of everything this year and put up his third straight 70 point season. Loui was the Stars most consistent and probably best player throughout the season. He, Michael Ryder and Vernon Fiddler were the only players for Dallas to play all 82 games, but it was Eriksson that put in the most work. He led all the Stars forwards in total ice time this year with 1,620:28, 140 more minutes than Mike Ribero. He had 200 more minutes than Ryder and and nearly 500 more than Fiddler.
Eriksson was a focal point of the team in every aspect of the game (which he pretty much is every year). He had the second most penalty-kill minutes (17 minutes behind Fiddler) and the second most power play minutes (two behind Ryder) while still playing first line for most of the season. He and Benn were by far the best two-way players on the team and were respectively second and first on the team in takeaways this year. You could have made a case that Loui deserved nominations for both the Lady Byng and the Selke trophies as well as a spot in the All-Star game, but he plays in Dallas and the East Coast has no clue who Loui is. Heck, he was voted most underrated player in the league and he still remains underrated. It really is amazing what Loui does, playing some of the most minutes on the team for the past four years and only missing a grand total of three games.
Wherever he went, players around him produced. Jamie Benn, Ribeiro and Ryder all had their best stretches of the season when they were on the same line with Loui. His defensive work was also mighty impressive when you consider he had to drag Ribeiro's carcass around for the second half of the season. Going up against top lines night in and night out, he still managed to lead the team in +/- (even if it is a mostly useless stat, it's still impressive).
He finished the season two assists and three points away from career highs. If Benn and Ribs had been healthy the entire season, Loui would have easily passed those two marks. Unfortunately, he spent about a week and half playing with offensively challenged players like Tom Wandell (a nice late line player, but no way a top playmaker).
There were only a few things that went poorly for Loui this season. He struggled badly against the San Jose Sharks, tallying just one assist in six games against the division rival (the worst in his career against the Sharks). It's the only team that he faced multiple times and failed to produce against. He had 18 points against the rest of the division. He also, along with the rest of the team, had massive problems on the power play in getting points. After a stellar 25 point season with the man advantage last year, he only managed to get 12 points on the power play this season (second on the team behind Ribeiro's 15 points). 12 points is consistent with his career numbers though (he has 12 points on the power play in three of the last four seasons now), so maybe it wasn't too bad.
Loui also had a poor end to the season. In the last nine games of the year, he only had three assists. The Stars unsurprisingly lost seven of those nine games as a result and just missed out on the playoffs. That was the worst stretch of games that he had the entire year and it came at the worst possible time. When Eriksson struggles, the team loses and it was no different this year. I can't help but feel that he might have just run out of gas after the long year.
Despite all that though, he was still obviously one of the best players on the team and easily gets an A from me this season. Only Jamie Benn and Kari Lehtonen had equal or better years in my opinion.
Michael Ryder was easily one of the biggest surprises of the season for the Dallas Stars. Coming from a deep Stanley Cup winning roster with the Boston Bruins, Ryder was a bit of an unknown when he was signed on as a free agent. As a 14-15 minute per game player with Boston, Ryder was a decidely average player and put up some of the worst numbers of his career. His impact on the team was uncertain coming into the season but the 32-year-old proved to be one of the best signings for any team this season and had one of the best years of his career.
Ryder was one of only three players on the team (Loui Eriksson and Vernon Fiddler are the other two) to play all 82 games this season. He used that health to tally a career high 35 goals, 27 assists while playing the most minutes of his career as a top line player. His 35 goals were the most for any Stars player since the 1999-2000 season when Mike Modano scored 36 goals. He's also only the third player since the Stars moved to Dallas to reach the 35 goal plateau. Modano hit that mark four times in Dallas while Joe Nieuwendyk reached it once so Ryder has already become one of the most proficient goal scorers in team history.
No free agent this year had more goals than Ryder and he more than made up for the absence of Brad Richards (which I'm sure no one thought he would do before the year started). Richards had only 66 points as the top line center and premier player for the New York Rangers which is a huge disappointment considering that he played in all 82 games for the first time in five years.
Ryder was brought to the team to do pretty much one thing, score goals. He did that throughout the year except for the beginning of the year and for a blip in January when Jamie Benn and Mike Ribeiro were out with injuries and he was being centered by Tom Wandell. Near the end of the season when it really mattered, Ryder scored nine goals and had six assists in both February and March as the Stars made a push for the playoffs that ultimately fell short.
About the only place where he struggled was on the power play, but that was a problem for the whole team. He worked on the first unit PP and led the team with seven power play goals which is a very sad number to lead a team with. Hopefully things get better next season when he's working with Benn (fingers crossed). He wasn't all that adept defensively and could get lost at times, but that's not what he was brought here to do.
Ryder finished this season as the team leader in goals (tied for 11th most in the league), shots and power play goals and was second on the team in +/-. He finished fourth in points just behind Ribeiro, Benn and Eriksson. He also led all Stars forwards in power play ice time (219:02 on the season).
Overall, Ryder was one of the best Stars this season and an absolute coup in free agency for GM Joe. He's signed on for one more season for $3.5 millon and that looks like a bargin right now. Ryder gets a solid A from me this season and I look forward to watching him next year. The Stars need to find another like him this offseason.
Before the season began, one of the most talked about points in the offseason was how Jamie Benn had moved to center. There really wasn't any doubt that he could excel in that playmaker role but just how good was he? There can be only one word to describe how Jamie Benn played this season, incredible. He was without a doubt the Stars most dynamic player on the ice and would have had a much better season numbers-wise if he had had any help from his linemates and not suffered a freak injury.
Benn finished the season tied for second on the team in points with Mike Ribeiro with 63. He set career highs in goals (26), assists (37), points (63), +/- (+15), shots on goal (203), penalty minutes (55). You name it and Jamie Benn set a career high in it. The move to center put him in a position where he could control the game. He had some of the most spectacular goals for the Stars this season, including an incredible five-on-one manhandling of the Columbus Blue Jackets defense (not that they have one) early in October. If you don't remember that goal, Benn stole the puck from two Blue Jackets along the boards just outside the blue line, raced in and deked two more defenders before faking out the goalie and roofing it past him.
That's basically what Benn would do all season. He started out the year working with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder but when it seemed apparent that Mike Ribeiro couldn't do anything on the top line, those two moved up with him. Benn was then stuck with guys like Steve Ott, Brenden Morrow, Tomas Vincour and Adam Burish for most of the latter half of the season. Burish and Vincour didn't reach higher than six goals on the season and Morrow and Ott both had 11. That meant that Benn was doing pretty much everything on his own and you can certainly bet that he was the man that the defense keyed on.
Despite that, Benn continued to produce numbers. He had double digit scoring for the first three months of the season and was well on his way to doing it again in January when he suffered the first of two freak injuries during the season. After a game against the Colorado Avalanche, Benn was forced to undergo an emergency appendectomy and subsequently missed the final five games of January. He then suffered his second freak injury in February in a game against Calgary. He crashed into the boards with a Flames player and unfortunately had the back of leg caught along the opponents skates, cutting his leg open. He would miss six more games during that month.
Despite those injuries, he still nearly reached double digit points in those months (eight points each) and in March, when it mattered most, he had his best goal scoring month of the season. He probably realized that he couldn't count on his linemmates to score and took on all the trouble himself and put in eight goals in March. He also had the most game-winning goals for the season for Dallas (seven game-winning goals).
There is literally nothing wrong with the way Benn played this season. He was aggressive on the offensive end, worked hard along the boards for pucks and passed a bunch to his non-goal-scoring teammates (which isn't his fault) and he was an aggressive hard-working defender. There's no doubt that he's the Stars number one center and premier player on the team. A full healthy season would have seen him getting close to 80 points on the season.
Next year, Benn needs to paired with some scorers. Put Michael Ryder next to him or give Reilly Smith a chance to prove that he can score at this level. As good as Benn is, even he needs some help every now and then to take some of the pressure off of him.
There is also no reason, absolutely none, why Benn is not or should not be working the first unit power play. He was criminally underused this past season on the man-advantage and it's no surprise that the Stars power play was one of the worst ever in the history of the NHL. Benn only had two PP goals on the season and eight PP assists.
Benn was the clear offensive MVP for the Stars this season and is the face of the franchise. He's still just 22-years-old and has already reached the perennial All-Star level. He had a lot of responsibility to take on coming into this season and he easily carried all of it. He deserves nothing less than a A+ for his play this season.
Ah the enigmatic Mike Ribeiro. Has there been a player more frustrating than Ribs in the past five years? He seems to float in -and-out of games and it really looks like he's playing his own game out there, separate from his teammates.
Last season, Ribeiro had one of the best seasons of his career while working second line duties. With the departure of Brad Richards, Ribeiro was promoted to first line duties this season and really had a disappointing season despite working with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder for much of the year. He had some injury problems midway through the season and missed eight games. As a result of his injuries, his numbers were down in pretty much every single category despite getting more minutes (though it was just five more seconds per game this year). He had one less goal, seven less assists and and overall eight less points this year.
It was deeper than just numbers though. Ribeiro's 63 points this year was tied for second most on the team but it was an empty 63 points. In some of the biggest games of the season, Ribeiro was just a wandering soul on ice. In the last four games of the season (the biggest games of the year), Ribeiro got just one measly assist and I firmly believe that his turnover in a game against the Calgary Flames totally changed the season.
For those that don't remember, the Stars had a 2-1 lead midway through the second period in that game and had control of the run of play. Ribeiro was working defensive duties and had the puck along the boards. Jarome Iginla started to make his way towards Ribs for a forecheck and Ribeiro just flat out panicked. He lost his mind and fired the puck directly in front of goal where a wide open Flames forward (Blake Comeau) was waiting. Comeau scored the goal and the Flames would ride that momentum to three more second period goals to take over that game.
With the season over and the offseason starting for the Stars, it's time for a player reviews! Yay~. Rather than pick and choose who I go with each day, I'll just go through the roster alphabetically. Aside from the goaltenders, I'll only be reviewing players that played at least 20 games with the team this season so most of the call-ups won't be getting reviews. First up on the list is Richard Bachman.
Bachman played better than anyone could have possibly hoped for this season. When Kari Lehtonen went down with his groin injury, this team was the terrible position of having to rely on Andrew Raycroft to be the starting goaltender. No need to say just how poorly that went (He lost eight of the ten games he played in last season). Bachman's first game this season was on Dec. 8 when he replaced Raycroft in 5-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks. Raycroft allowed all five goals in two periods and Bachman came in and stopped all 11 shots that he faced. From that moment on, it was clear that Bachman would not go back down to the AHL while the season was still going on.
His first game was a fantastic 2-1 shutout of the LA Kings in which he stopped 26 shots. He would go on to win games at Vancouver, Chicago and the New York Rangers while also counting a home win against the Nashville Predators among his eight victories this season. Just looking at his numbers this season (8-5-1, 2.77 GAA, .910 save %) doesn't tell the story on how well Bachman did this year. As any Stars fan would know, this defense was putrid for much, if not all, of the year. Opposing forwards would always be left wide open in the slot and turnovers would always (always!) happen right in front of the goalie.
Bachman's not the biggest goalie but he has great movement in the crease. He made a bunch of saves this season that were practically Lehtonen-like in their quality. He wasn't someone that gave a lot of rebounds (which is a huge difference from Raycroft) and had a pretty solid glove. His positioning was excellent and he really bailed out this team when it looked like things were falling apart in December.
He does have a little bit of trouble though with the high shots because of his stature. There were a good amount of goals that fluttered in over his shoulder even as he was trying to shrug off the shots and a good screen will really throw him off. There's really nothing he can do against those high shots except react quicker and count on his defensemen to clear out the forwards (which there was too little of this season).
All-in-all though, Bachman had a solid season and gets a B+ from me. There's really not too much you could ask for from his first season in the NHL and he'll only get better as he continues to learn the game. He's firmly entrenched in the backup role for next season for this team and I have no problem giving him some more games in order to rest Lehtonen a bit more.
Bachman is a restricted free agent going into this offseason though, so Dallas will have to re-sign him. I don't think that there's any question that they will do so and we'll see more of Bachman next season in a Stars uniform.