Dallas Stars: Defense

Stars coach Glen Gulutzan continues to have to make tough choices with his seven healthy defensemen. Tonight against Phoenix, Mark Fistric will be the defenseman who sits out as a healthy scratch.

“We think the six playing tonight have played well. Fisty has played very, very well but sometimes it is better to keep one guy a little bit disengaged here rather than throw all the others off,” Gulutzan said. “We’re going to see what transpires partner-wise and go for a couple games. What Fisty gives us is a tremendous penalty killer and a heavy physical presence and in those games where we were running into teams like that, we need to have him in the lineup. The other defensemen know that.”

Kari Lehtonen is in goal tonight. Game time is 9:00 p.m. and Fox Sports Southwest is the carrier.

Stars outlook: Defensemen

September, 6, 2011
The Dallas Stars defense has been considered a weak link by many over the last couple of years, but GM Joe Nieuwendyk conducted a significant overhaul of the blue line by bringing in three new defenseman over the last six-and-a-half months.

His first move was the acquisition of Alex Goligoski from Pittsburgh for left wing James Neal and defenseman Matt Niskanen prior to last season’s trade deadline. Goligoski gave the Stars a skilled, puck moving defenseman and he didn’t disappoint. In 23 games with the Stars last season he registered 15 points (five goals, 10 assists) while averaging 26:04 of ice time.

“I think that’s been a focus for us is to improve our defense. Going back to the Goligoski trade, I think that was a very important trade for us,” said Nieuwendyk. “He’s going to take – if he didn’t already have a prominent role – he’s certainly going to take one this year. But now we’ve added some size.”

That size came via free agency. One addition was veteran Sheldon Souray (6-4, 233 pounds), who played in the AHL last season and has been plagued by injuries the last couple seasons. Some might see it as a risky move, but Nieuwendyk doesn’t

“Souray to me is not a gamble. I think we are getting a real motivated player,” Nieuwendyk said. “He’s an NHL player and plays with that edge that I like and I think that maybe we’ve lacked a little bit on our backend. He’s not fun to play against.

“On the other side, if he can develop some chemistry with (Mike) Ribeiro or Goligoski on that power play, we’ll have a weapon back there that we haven’t had for a few years either.”

The other addition was Adam Pardy (6-2, 220 pounds). He was slowed by injury last season, but the Stars think there is a lot of upside to the former Calgary Flame.

“Adam Pardy is a guy a lot people won’t know a lot about. I know even before my time in Dallas, even with the organizations I had been with, there was a lot of talk about keeping an eye on this kid because he was an up and comer,” Nieuwendyk said. “We think his mobility and his size are going to be a big asset for us.”

One of the goals this season is for the Stars defense to play a harder, more physical game and Nieuwendyk said some of the offseason moves will pave the way guys Nicklas Grossman and Mark Fistric to do just that.

“I think with the addition of two more big bodies back there with Souray and Pardy and the additions of big bodies up front with Eric Godard and Jake Dowell, and Krys Barch, we’ve toughened up our team at both ends,” said Nieuwendyk. “And I think that’s going to allow guys like Fistric and Grossman to really play physical and feel comfortable doing it.”

With Goligoski, Stephane Robidas and Trevor Daley the Stars also have a strong group of mobile, puck moving defensemen. Robidas has been a rock on the Dallas blue line over the years. Although Daley will be 28 at the start of the season and playing in his seventh full NHL season, Nieuwendyk said there is still some untapped potential.

“He just has too many good tools to not be able to do more. I think this is going to be a big year for him,”
Nieuwendyk said. “Our defense is shaping up sort of the way I would like to see it in today’s NHL. You look at Chicago’s success and Detroit’s success over the years and you have defenseman that can move the puck and handle the puck and make plays. We’re getting that way with Goligoski and Robidas and Trevor is an important part of that. I think he is going to take a big step this year.”

With the changes in personnel – like at the forward position – there will be some work to be done on how the pieces fit together. Stars head coach Glen Gulutzan said training camp and the preseason will be a time to try some different pairings.

“I know that Robi and Souray have played together in Montreal. Robi and Gross have played good together here. Who is a great complement for Goose and Dales as both are skating, puck moving guys?” Gulutzan said. “I think that will be mixed and matched a little bit too because you just don’t know what clicks. I’m sure the defensemen won’t know. The defensemen losing their partners won’t know exactly. With (Jeff) Woywitka not here with Dales, I am sure Dales is ready to try something new.”

Gulutzan also expects a competitive camp with the Stars having seven NHL defenseman under one-way contracts.

“Who is the clear cut seventh? I don’t think we have one, which is great for depth,” Gulutzan said. “There’s going to be some inner competition there for guys to elevate their games.”

Pushing for NHL time

Gulutzan said the Stars believe they have some good depth below those top seven defensemen. Veteran Brad Lukowich has 658 NHL games under his belt. Highly regarded prospect Philip Larsen has seen NHL duty each of the last two seasons. AHL veteran Maxime Fortunus played eight games for Dallas in 2009-10. And Brenden Dillon, a free agent signing out of Seattle of the WHL, was impressive with Texas of the AHL last season and is another highly regarded prospect.

“There are those four guy and outside of Lukowich, who is going to anchor that ship down in Austin, those three guys – Fortunus, Dillon and Larsen – are coming in to make a statement to stay here,” said Gulutzan. “We feel in our organization we have pretty good depth.”

Mark Fistric ready to get back in lineup

March, 22, 2011
FRISCO -- After sitting out the last five games as a healthy scratch, injuries to the Dallas Stars defense bring an opportunity for Mark Fistric to get back into the lineup.

“Obviously you never want to see a teammate go down with an injury, but at the same time it’s my job to come in and give the team minutes that are needed. How much that may be, who knows? For me, I have to be ready,” said Fistric. “It really hasn’t been that long, only a few games since I’ve played. I’m just going to treat it like we’ve had a little bit of time off in between games and pick up where I’ve left off.”

The Stars are likely to be without Nicklas Grossman and Karlis Skrastins for Wednesday’s game against the Anaheim Ducks. Both were injured in Saturday’s game against Philadelphia. Grossman has a lower body injury, believed to be a knee. He underwent medical tests Monday and the Stars should reveal more about his status Tuesday. Skrastins was cut by a skate on his thigh and is day-to-day.

When Fistric went out the lineup, which coincided with Grossman returning from a hip injury that sideline him for 11 games, the Stars were happy with his play. Somebody had to sit, and that ended up being Fistric.

“We’ve talked to him over the last number of days to keep him upbeat,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “Mark played extremely well before Nick came back. We thought on that road trip he was one of our better defensemen. It was a tough decision to sit him out.”

Fistric, who led the Stars with a plus-27 rating last season, has had his ups and down this season. He played in 16 of the team’s first 19 games before going out with a groin/hip injury that kept him out of the lineup for ten games, which included a brief conditioning stint in the AHL. He played in 32 of the next 38 games, but has been a healthy scratch the last five games.

“You try not to get frustrated,” Fistric said of being scratched. “It’s just part of the process to get where I want to be. Right now I am on the odd-man out and I have to take the onus on myself to use time in practices and game days to put effort into little things that don’t get attended to when you are playing a lot of games. I get to shoot more pucks, get to skate a little bit more and work on things you don’t get work on when you are playing.”

And now that he will be playing, the Stars believe Fistric will get the job done.

“We have lots of confidence in Mark,” said Crawford. “He’ll come in and do a great job.”

Stars to call up Lukowich

The Stars will also turn to veteran defenseman Brad Lukowich to help cover the injuries on defense. The Stars put the 34-year-old Lukowich on re-entry waivers Monday and he is expected to clear and join the team for practice on Tuesday.

“At a time like this you value the experiences that he’s had,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “Everybody that has talked to me about Brad Lukowich has always talked about how positive a guy he is, how energetic a guy he is, how communicative he is. I noticed that on the ice. I know when we did a lot of our teaching in training camp, we used Brad a lot. He was one of the best at vocalizing out on the ice.”

Lukowich, signed as a free agent over the summer, has spent the season with the Texas Stars of the AHL, where he has 27 points (4 goals, 23 assists) in 67 games this season.

Lukowich played with both Texas and the Vancouver Canucks last season. He has 653 games of NHL experiences and played on two Stanley Cup championship teams (Dallas, 1999 and Tampa Bay, 2004).

“He's been through these battles before and we felt right now that's the best possible guy that we could have to come in to play in a situation where it is intense, where it is for the stakes that these are for,” said Crawford. “We're pleased that we've got a guy like that to call upon.”

Eriksson practices

Stars forward Loui Eriksson, who has missed two games after getting hit in the head by San Jose defenseman Douglas Murray, took part in the team’s optional practice on Monday. It was the first time he’s practiced with his teammates since the hit.

“I felt good today and it was a good practice. I am going to practice again tomorrow and we'll see how it feels," Eriksson said after Monday’s skate. "We'll see Wednesday if I can play or not.”

Stars coach Marc Crawford said the team will exercise patience with Eriksson, who will go through a full practice on Tuesday.

"He got to go through all the right steps first. We'll see how he is [Tuesday]," Crawford said. "It's a day by day with Loui. If he can play that's great and if he can't we've got to deal with it.”

Quotable: Crawford on the defense

December, 22, 2010
Dallas Stars coach Marc Crawford was a guest on ESPN 103.3's The Coop & Nate show this afternoon. He was asked about the improved play of the team's seven defensemen this season.

Here's what Crawford had to say:
“It’s a couple of things. One, we added a real good associate coach in Willie Desjardins. Willie’s come in and added a lot of focus to our team in all the systems area, but particularly in how we play in the defensive zone. He’s really complemented our other coaches, Stu Barnes and Charlie Huddy. Charlie is primarily responsible for the defensemen and he is really like a big brother to those guys. He was a great defenseman in his own right when he played with all those great Edmonton Oilers teams.

“I think our defensive core as they stand right now; they are among the cheaper defenses in the National Hockey League. They really take offense when people underestimate them. They are led by Stephane Robidas. He’s been a great leader back there for those guys. They hate it when anybody questions their abilities and they are doing the right thing about it, they are going out and playing quality hockey. They are taking care of their own end first and lately they’ve done a terrific job of supplementing our attack by keeping plays alive. Last night we had five points from our defensemen, including a big goal from Karlis Skrastins who doesn’t score very often.”

Matt Niskanen determined to bounce back

September, 1, 2010
Dallas Stars defenseman Matt Niskanen readily admits his performance last season was disappointing. And he’s taken it as a wakeup call and said it was gut check time.

Last season the 23-year-old saw his point production drop to 15 points, he had a team-worst minus-15 rating and he ended up being a healthy scratch six times.

That followed a rookie season in 2007-08 when he registered 26 points and finished second on the team with a plus-22 rating, and a 2008-09 campaign when he led all Dallas defensemen in scoring with 35 points.

“I was pretty happy with my first two years. I certainly had some spots where I wasn’t that good. But last year, as a whole, I was pretty disappointed with my own play and where the team went as well,” Niskanen said. “It was kind of gut check time for me this summer and coming into camp this year I’ve got to re-establish myself as a better defenseman within the group and in the league.”

Niskanen, a restricted free agent who is still waiting to work out a contract with the Stars, arrived back in the Dallas area this week and is skating with some of his teammates at the Stars’ practice facility in Frisco.

With the Stars missing the playoffs for the second straight season it was a long summer for Niskanen, and he took advantage of it. It’s the first time he’s had an extended offseason since he became an NHL player. He had a short offseason after his rookie year because the Stars went on a deep playoff run. The Stars missed the playoffs in 2008-09, but Niskanen’s season continued well into May because he went to Switzerland and played for Team USA at the World Championship.

There was no extended play for Niskanen this spring and that meant some extra time to workout under the guidance of Stars strength and conditioning coach J.J. McQueen.

“This was a good opportunity for me to get a full summer of work in the gym and focus on some things that I needed to work on,” Niskanen said. “I worked closely with J.J. and had a full summer, a full commitment in the gym. I think that should be a help.”

And what was the goal of that extra time in the gym?

“I wanted to add lean muscle and be in better shape,” Niskanen said. “I worked closely with J.J. and things went well. I am hoping I can translate that into gains on the ice.”

That’s what the Stars are hoping. Coach Marc Crawford said earlier this summer that getting Niskanen back on track is a priority.

“We’ve really put a plan in place for Matt so that he will make the improvements that will allow him to be a little bit more assertive, allow him to be a little bit more aggressive in his game,” said Crawford. “We know he’s got tremendous skill and we’ve seen his abilities. He’s shown the Stars and our fans how good he can be, but you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep making improvements and he’s given himself the opportunity to have a real bounce back campaign for us.”

Niskanen said he wants that bounce back campaign to start as soon as the Stars hit the ice for training camp in Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island later this month.

“It’s been an all summer focus for me and when camp comes I want to hit the ground running and play well right from the start,” Niskanen said. “The last couple seasons I’ve started myself in a hole. My play wasn’t quite up to par. I want to start going well right from day one of training camp.”

Dallas Stars outlook: Defense

August, 15, 2010
Right now it appears the Dallas Stars will head into next season with the same group of defensemen as last season. So, where will the improvement come for a team that ranked 23rd in goals against last season?

“First and foremost, I think it’s in the belief in our structure,” said Stars coach Marc Crawford. “And I do think an improvement in the goaltending position is definitely necessary.”

Crawford pointed out that the Stars saw what an improvement in goaltending could do for the defense late last season. The Stars went 8-5-1 over their final 14 games and allowed just 2.5 goals game per game as Kari Lehtonen and Marty Turco combined for a .924 save percentage.

Lehtonen saw the bulk of play during that late season stretch and he’ll carry the load this season now that Turco has departed free agency. The Stars are counting on Lehtonen, who was acquired at last season’s trade deadline and then signed to a three-year, $10.65 million extension, to boost the netminding position this season.

“That will help our defensive play because there is so much more confidence in your defensive play when your backstop back there is playing such an important role,” said Crawford.

The Stars are counting on improvement in their young defensemen as well. At the top of the list is Matt Niskanen, who is coming off a subpar season. Niskanen is getting some extra attention from strength and conditioning coach J.J. McQueen this summer and assistant coach Charlie Huddy is keeping in touch with him as well. The goal is to help the 23-year-old become more “assertive and more aggressive” in his game.

“We know he’s got tremendous skill and we’ve seen his abilities,” said Crawford. “He’s shown the Stars and our fans how good he can be, but you can’t rest on your laurels. You have to keep making improvements and he’s given himself the opportunity to have a real bounce back campaign for us.”

The Stars also expect Nicklas Grossman to continue to improve. The 25-year-old was fourth among Dallas defensemen in ice time at 19:11 per game.

“He played in a top four situation consistently last year,” said Crawford. “He’s gone through the bumps and learning curve of playing a position that maybe he wasn’t quite ready for the last couple years, but he’s definitely grown into it.”

Mark Fistric, 24, had a breakthrough season and the hope is he’ll take another step forward. Fistric led the team with a plus-27 rating and was a plus or even in 61 of the 67 games he played.

“We’re excited about the year he had,” said Crawford. “We’re excited that he’s showing that personality right now that he’s not satisfied, he wants more and he wants to take the next step. I love the aggressiveness with which he played at the end of the season.”

The thought going into last season was that Trevor Daley would thrive in the up tempo system Crawford and GM Joe Nieuwendyk were installing with the Stars. There wasn’t much change in Daley’s offensive production from past seasons, but Crawford and Nieuwendyk both said they saw glimpses of what the Stars were hoping to see from the 26-year-old.

“I thought Daley gave us two terrific months at the end of the season,” Nieuwendyk said in his post-season news conference.

“When he jumped into the play last year and he played with his great speed and skating ability, he showed that he was going to be a terrific asset for us,” Crawford said. “We want to continue to encourage Trevor to take another step and keep taking another step in his involvement in the club. I think he is one guy who will take a more prominent role in the leadership of the team.”

The Stars have two veterans returning on defense in Stephane Robidas and Karlis Skrastins.

“They are two professional guys who play the game passionately,” said Crawford. “I’ve got no worries about them. “

Robidas is coming off another superb season. He set career highs in goals (10), assists (31), points (41) and ranked fourth among NHL defensemen with 7 power play goals. He ranked fourth in the league in hits (269) and seventh in blocked shots (177).

“We probably ask Stephane Robidas to do too much. We really do,” Nieuwendyk said at the end of last season. “He’s a quality guy and a quality person. He gives you everything he’s got each and every night.”

Skrastins, a reliable defensive defenseman, had a solid 2009-10 season for the Stars. He was third among Dallas defensemen and tied for 15th in the league with 156 blocked shots.

Jeff Woywitka, who played 36 games last season, appears to be the 7th on the depth chart heading into training camp and Crawford thinks there could be some competition when camp opens in Prince Edward Island next month.

“I think as you get towards the end of the lineup there are always people that are going to be pushing, and that’s good,” he said.

Among those who will get a look is Severin Blindenbacher, the Swiss defenseman who played in the Swedish Elite League last season. The Stars signed him to a one-year, two-way contract on the first day of free agency.

“He’s a world class player. He’s played in two Olympics, played on a great Swiss national team,” said Crawford. “He’s got a chance.”

Crawford said Maxime Fortunus, who played eight games with Dallas last season, is another player who could push for a spot. Philip Larsen, who got into two games at the end of the season, is the Stars’ top defensive prospect. He’s likely to start in the AHL, but he’s not far away from being NHL ready. And there’s veteran and Stanley Cup winner Brad Lukowich, who signed a two-way contract with the Stars.

“We go eleven guys deep,” Crawford said. “It will make for interesting competition.”

Stars still shopping Ribeiro; ready to pick

June, 25, 2010
LOS ANGELES -- The Stars continue to shop Mike Ribeiro, but there is nothing imminent at this point. Does that mean they won't trade him? No. But I get the sense the Stars aren't simply going to deal Ribeiro just to deal him.

They also don't have to trade him today. Only the first round is today. Any trade involving picks for Ribeiro would be second-day picks, so they could conceivably have discussions tonight and make a deal at some point tomorrow. But if I were betting on it, I'd bet that Ribeiro remains a Star for now. But we'll see.

The Stars have the No. 11 pick. And they have some defensemen on their board that they like. So it just depends on who goes in front of them.

Just saw general manager Joe Nieuwendyk, who said he's talked to some teams and will continue to do so. Most of the Stars front office is here. They have a table near the front of the draft room and you can tell they are genuinely excited to see how this draft unfolds.

I'll be blogging all night, so keep checking in here.

Player review: Jeff Woywitka, Philip Larsen

April, 30, 2010
We'll look at two defenseman today as we complete our player reviews of those on the blue line.

[+] EnlargeJeff Woywitka
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesJeff Woywitka showed flashes of solid play in limited appearances for the Stars last season.
Today's players: Jeff Woywitka and Philip Larsen

Woywitka, one of the Stars' bigger defenseman at 6-foot-3, 224 pounds, played in 36 games for the Stars in 2009-10. He was on the roster the entire year, but was a healthy scratch on many nights. He had three assists and was a minus-6 with 11 penalty minutes.

But Woywitka, 26, showed some flashes of very solid play. He's a former first-round pick (Philadelphia in 2001, 27th overall), but has bounced back-and-forth between the NHL and AHL since 2005-06. He averaged 14:06 of ice time when he was in the lineup and was not a guy that played much on special teams.

It will be interesting to see what happens with Woywitka. He did give the Stars some depth at defense, but the most games he's ever played in the NHL are 65 in 2008-09 with St. Louis. He hadn't played more than 34 before that.

Philip Larsen, a fifth round pick of the Stars in 2008, is a player the organization is very excited about. The 20-year-old made his NHL debut, playing in the final two games of the season. He got his first NHL point and averaged 12:27 of ice time. Larsen (5-11, 185 pounds) is a good skater who moves pucks well and isn't afraid to jump into the play in the offensive zone.

Larsen, from Denmark, played in the Swedish Elite League the last two seasons for Vastra Frolunda,
Larsen, a native of Esbjerg, Denmark, has played in the Swedish Elite League the past two seasons, under the tutelage of former Stars player and assistant coach Ulf Dahlen, who is now the head coach with Vastra Frolunda. Following his participation in Stars’ training camp last September, the smooth-skating Larsen went back to Frolunda and recorded one goal and 10 points in 42 games.

Larsen shows plenty of promise. And even at his young age, look for him to make a contribution to this team sooner rather than later. He appears to have a keen understanding of the game and good vision on the ice combined with the skill to make things happen.

Player review: Matt Niskanen

April, 29, 2010
Yet another player preview for you. You can check out the others on the Stars' blog.

Today's player: Matt Niskanen

Niskanen, 23, was the Stars' first-round pick (28th overall) in 2005 and was considered a player with good upside. This was the season -- his third in the NHL -- that the Stars' front office and coaching staff expected to see more of that potential.

[+] EnlargeNiskanen
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireMatt Niskanen struggled to find consistency, getting 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 74 games for the Stars with a minus-15 rating.
Niskanen led all defeseman in points last season and made strides. But in 2009-10, Niskanen struggled to find consistency. He had 15 points (3 goals, 12 assists) in 74 games for the Stars with a minus-15 rating.

His ice time decreased by nearly five minutes, dropping to just over 15 minutes per game. And his confidence seemed to decrease with it. At times, he appeared to be unsure of when to go after pucks and where to go with the play. He had turnover issues and was shoved off the puck too often.

Can Niskanen rebound in 2010-11? To do that, he has to regain confidence. A hard-working summer to build strength might help that. And I'm sure Niskanen will do just that. Could he be traded? Sure, if the right deal comes along. But I can't think his value is particularly high. The Stars might be better off seeing what he can do to start next season.

What do you think the Stars will do with Niskanen? What do you expect from him next season?

Player review: Trevor Daley

April, 28, 2010
Our skate through the Stars' defense continues today as we look at specific players and give you a brief overview of how they did this past season.

[+] EnlargeTrevor Daley
Christopher Pasatieri/US PresswireDefenseman Trevor Daley has the potential to be a 30-point player for the Stars next season.
Today's player: Trevor Daley

Daley, 26, played his fifth full season with the Stars. He had 22 points, 16 of them assists, with plus-3 rating and 25 penalty minutes. He averaged 22:11 of ice time in 77 games.

The 22 points were second-most among Stars' defensemen (Stephane Robidas was first) and his plus-3 was second to Mark Fistric (who was an impressive plus-27).

Daley's numbers are actually very typical for him. He had 24 points in 2007-08 and 25 in 2008-09, playing in at least 75 games both seasons. That was an improvement over his first two years in the league. His average ice time increased a little this season, putting him second-most behind Robidas. He played on both special teams, though more on the penalty kill.

Daley is a very good skater who can join the rush and help make things happen on offense. He's the type of player that should excel in Marc Crawford's style. Daley's play was inconsistent at times in 2009-10, much like the rest of the Stars' defense. But Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said he felt like Daley played better near the end of the season.

The Stars would like to see even more from Daley next season as he gets more used to Crawford's system. Can he be a 30-point player? I would say yes. What did you think of Daley's play this past season?

Player review: Karlis Skrastins

April, 27, 2010
We are taking a few weeks to quickly review each Stars player as the club embarks on the offseason.

Today's player: Karlis Skrastins

Skrastins was signed by the Stars prior to the past season on a two-year deal to be a solid, stay-at-home defender. He gives the Stars a veteran presence in what is overall a young defensive corps.

[+] EnlargeSkrastins
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireKarlis Skrastins isn't afraid to have pucks go bouncing off various parts of his body. He had 156 blocked shots, which was tied for 15th in the NHL.
Skrastins started the season well, showing an immediate penchant for blocking shots. But his play did appear to taper off as the season went along. Part of that may have been the Olympics. Even though Latvia's stay wasn't a long one, Skrastins was the captain and that probably weighed on his mind for much of the season and may have led to some mental fatigue.

But Skrastins certainly has the ability to be an important contributor to this squad. He's going to jump from $1.1 million to $1.65 million in salary, so the club is hoping for a more consistent effort. If he can play a full season like he did the first few months of the last one, he'll be a huge help for this team.

Skrastins seems to have an understanding of where the shooting lanes are at any given time. He slides right into them and isn't afraid to have pucks go bouncing off various parts of his body. Skrastins had 156 blocked shots, which was tied for 15th in the NHL.

He's not a player that will pinch in and join the rush very often, but he does have good gap control and takes care of his part of the ice. He should make an impact on the defense next season.

Player review: Mark Fistric

April, 26, 2010
We continue to skate on the blue line for our player reviews. You can check out the others on the Stars blog.

Today's player: Mark Fistric

Fistric was probably the most improved player on the blue line in 2009-10. Fistric, who turns 24 in June, split time between Dallas and the minors in 2007-08 (37 games in NHL) and 2008-09 (36 games in the NHL). So the 2009-10 season was about finding out if Fistric could play at a consistent level in the NHL for a more extended period of time.

[+] EnlargeMark Fistric
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesStars defenseman Mark Fistric finished the season with a plus-27, which ranked 10th in the NHL.
He proved that he could, improving as the season went along. His most impressive stat was a plus-27, head and shoulders above anyone else on the team. That mark was good enough for 10th in the NHL. Fistric wasn't exactly a scoring defenseman, collecting one goals and nine assists in 67 games. A knee injury (and subsequent surgery around the Olympic break) hampered Fistric some near the end of the season.

But he did show that he could play with just about anyone (he could even play forward, if needed) and as his play improved and his confidence grew, so did his ice time. Fistric ended up averaging 14:55 of ice time per game.

Fistric wasn't used much on the special teams, getting some time on the penalty kill when certain players weren't in the lineup. But he played with a variety of partners at times and was a steadying influence. He seemed to find a better idea of when to join the rush and how to try to get back to clean up some mistakes.

Fistric, like any young player, had some breakdowns. But, as his plus/minus shows, good things tended to happen when he was on the ice.

What's the next step for Fistric? Well, if he continues to improve at the rate he did this season, he could become an integral part of the club's defensive group going forward.

Player review: Nicklas Grossman

April, 23, 2010
We continue with our player reviews, which started with goalies and have worked their way out to the blue line. You can look at the other reviews on the Stars blog.

[+] EnlargeNicklas Grossman
Glenn James/NHLI/Getty ImagesNicklas Grossman is not a scoring defenseman, but is a solid blue line player that can handle some of the top opposing players.
Today's player: Nicklas Grossman

Grossman, 25, played on the top pair with Stephane Robidas for most of the season, using his size -- 6-foot-4, 226 pounds -- to make that duo a difficult one to play against. Grossman got duty against some of the best players on the opposing team and held his own. He finished with seven assists and a minus-7 rating. Grossman averaged 19:11 of ice time. A back injury prevented him from hitting over the 20-minute mark as he played in 71 of the club's 82 games.

Grossman got some time on the penalty kill, averaging 2:07 of shorthanded time per game. He's also a guy that isn't afraid to get into a scrap or two if necessary.

Grossman made steady improvement, figuring out better gap control and how to use his size to his advantage. The Stars expect him to continue to develop in those (and more) areas. He's not going to be a scoring defenseman. The Stars just want him to be a solid blue line player that can handle some of the top opposing players.

Grossman played in 81 games in the 2008-09 season, with 12 points and a minus-8 rating. He made his NHL debut with the Stars briefly (eight games) during the 2006-07 season. He played in 62 games in 2007-08, his first full season in the NHL.

BTW, John Trancina wrote a good article on Grossman and his game for the Stars website earlier this year.

Player review: Stephane Robidas

April, 22, 2010
A reminder that you can view the rest of our 2009-10 player reviews on the Stars blog.

Today's player: Stephane Robidas

Robidas, 33, earned his spot as the No. 1 defenseman on the Stars this past season. At at 5-11 (that may be generous), 193 pounds, Robidas doesn't exactly intimidate with his size. But he definitely makes up for it with his toughness. Robidas isn't afraid to deliver a hard check or go into the not-so-pleasant areas of the rink to attempt to grab the puck.

[+] EnlargeRobidas
Jason O. Watson/US PresswireStephane Robidas played in all 82 of the Stars' games and had 41 points, including 31 assists. He was minus-10 and averaged a team-high 24:29 of ice time.
Robidas was paired mostly with Nicklas Grossman this season, forming a solid blueline duo. He played in all 82 of the Stars' games and had 41 points, including 31 assists. He was minus-10 and averaged a team-high 24:29 of ice time.

Robidas has earned the trust and confidence of his teammates thanks to his hard play and consistency. Not only do they know he'll be on the ice every night, but they trust that he'll do so with limited mistakes.

Robidas also helps the team on special teams, averaging equal ice time on the penalty kill and at the point on the power play. Seven of Robidas' 10 goals came on the power play.

In the dressing room, Robidas provides an important leadership role. He's an alternate captain and will speak his mind when necessary. He's one of a handful of players that general manager Joe Nieuwendyk hopes will take an even larger responsibility in the room with the veteran presence of Marty Turco gone and possibly Mike Modano too.

Robidas received a contract extension this season because Nieuwendyk considers him one of the building blocks of his team in terms of his attitude, work ethic and on-ice ability. He should be fun to watch in the coming years.

Nieuwendyk talks about Stars defense

March, 12, 2010
Stars general manager Joe Nieuwendyk stressed that playing better defense was based on the entire team doing its part.

"Obviously, we have some issues defensively, no question," Nieuwendyk said. "To me, defense is a five-man system. Whether it’s a lack of trust between forwards and defense, everybody has to be on the same page and at times we don’t get on the same page. I would obviously like to see us be a better defensive team and that’s something we’re going to work on."

Nieuwendyk said his club needs to have better gap control. But also said hte forwards have to be in good defensive position and stop and start well to help out the defensemen.

We'll see if things get any better tonight against Los Angeles.