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Monday, October 2, 2006
Dallas Stars season preview

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STARTING LINE

By Scott Burnside, ESPN.com

People often talk about how quickly teams can re-tool in the new NHL. Well, the Dallas Stars are about to prove how quickly you can fall off the map. Not that this will come as any surprise to anyone who watched the Stars fumble and bumble their way to a five-game, first-round loss to the seventh-seeded Colorado Avalanche last April. The Stars then spent the offseason adding more questions to the lineup, while answering none of the ones that remained from last season.

Offense: The Stars were a very respectable 10th (tied with Nashville) in goals scored last season, but that total seems destined to drop off precipitously with the departure of Jason Arnott, who was second in team scoring with 76 points, one behind captain Mike Modano. Arnott's in Nashville hoping to win a Cup and Eric Lindros essentially takes his place simply hoping to stay healthy in Big D. That's not a good trade off. The Stars also brought in Patrik Stefan from Atlanta, but he's no better than a third-line pivot. So, all of a sudden, Dallas has questionable depth down the middle, especially if aging Modano cannot at least replicate last year's numbers. Jere Lehtinen had a career year with a team-best 33 goals, but can't realistically be expected to reproduce those numbers. Unless Jussi Jokinen proves he can put up points in a format other than the shootout, the Stars will tumble on the offensive side of the game.

Defense: Sergei Zubov was full measure for his Norris Trophy nomination last season and Philippe Boucher is an underrated defenseman on both sides of the puck. But again, the Stars seemed to have taken a step back by adding Jaroslav Modry, who never quite got the new game in Atlanta last season where was often whistled for obstruction fouls. He brings some offensive tools, but not enough to offset the drawbacks in his own zone. Darryl Sydor will be expected to step back into a top-four role he once occupied in an earlier go-round with the Stars, but that might be asking too much of the battle-weary 34-year-old. Trevor Daley, 22, is the one lone youngster along the blue line.

Goaltending: Marty Turco is fast becoming the Texas version of Manny Legace. Turco struggled at the beginning of last season, but righted the ship and finished with 41 wins, third best in the league. But he was only ordinary in the first-round loss to the Avs and is now 1-3 in playoff series for a team that fancies itself a Cup contender. Still, GM Doug Armstrong rolled the dice that Turco can put that out of his head and signed him to a long-term deal this summer. As for backup help, the Stars better hope Turco comes to play with a clear head as the goaltending cupboard is pretty bare with untested Mike Smith as the backup for the moment.

Coaching: We love Dave Tippett. Smart, tough, innovative. But, like the rest of his team, Tippett now will have to show that he can not only deliver during the regular season, but that he can also get his squad to find that next gear that all champions seem to find. His immediate challenge will be in getting his boys to put last spring's debacle behind. Things definitely will get ugly in Big D if the Stars falter out of the gate.

WHERE THEY'LL FINISH
10th Things are about to get ugly in Big D. The Dallas Stars will fall to fourth in the Pacific Division and 10th in the Western Conference.

BUZZ FACTOR
Stock Down
Stock down. The team's recent habit of rolling over in the playoffs hasn't helped their standing in the Dallas sporting community. If the team falters this year, season tickets will take another hit.



FANTASY AND THE FUTURE
TRISTAN COCKCROFT'S FANTASY SPIN
THE HOCKEY NEWS' TOP PROSPECTS
Who cares if Marty Turco can't lead this team to postseason glory? He's a top-three fantasy goalie, primarily because he's as talented as anyone during the regular season. Beyond him, though, some of this team's core is aging, though veterans Mike Modano and Sergei Zubov are still every bit capable of being solid fantasy picks. Eric Lindros is one of the most injury prone players in the game, but Jussi Jokinen and Antti Miettinen are sleepers. The Hockey News' Top 5 Prospects for the Stars:
1. Matt Niskanen, 19, D, M. Duluth (WCHA)
Statline: 38 GP, 1 G, 13 A, 40 PIM
2. Loui Eriksson, 21, RW, Iowa (AHL)
Statline: 78 GP, 31 G, 29 A, 27 PIM
3. Johan Fransson, 21, D, Lulea
Statline: 50 GP, 3 G, 5 A, 74 PIM
4. Niklas Grossman, 21, D, Iowa (AHL)
Statline: 61 GP, 2 G, 3 A, 49 PIM
5. Vojtech Polak, 21, LW, Iowa (AHL)
Statline: 60 GP, 12 G, 22 A, 41 PIM
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Dallas Stars
When We Last Saw Them ...
Record 53-23-6 (112 points)
Division Finished first in Pacific
Conference Finished second in West
Playoffs Lost 4-1 to Colorado in first round/td>

Who To Watch Now ...
Center: Eric Lindros
The Big E started well in Toronto last season, but ended up playing only 33 games. He'll need to stick around a lot longer to make an impact in Dallas.
Winger: Loui Eriksson
He'll start the season in the AHL, but he may be the team's most talented offensive prospect.
Defense: Darryl Sydor
During the 2003-04 season, Sydor's acquisition by the Tampa Bay Lightning from Dallas proved to be the tipping point as the Bolts won their first Stanley Cup. Now he's back in Dallas trying to keep the Stars in the contender club.
Goalie: Marty Turco
Given that the team has no goaltending depth (Mike Smith won the backup job), Turco will have to be a workhorse while trying to keep his playoff demons at bay.

Key Moves
There was no adequate replacement for the departure of Jason Arnott unless the Stars get extremely lucky with Eric Lindros. They will also miss the goaltending depth provided by Johan Hedberg and the offensive potential of Niko Kapanen. Jaroslav Modry is no substitute for the departed Willie Mitchell.

SportsNation
Rating the Stars
The Dallas Stars finished second in the Western Conference and had the best record in the NHL last season, but what is the team's outlook this time around? Who will lead the Stars in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench?
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