Last season, the Dallas Stars finished with the worst record in the NHLís Pacific Division (37-31-14), and failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive year. Not much (if any) improvement is expected as the subsequent offseason saw more subtractions than additions in Dallas. Gone are long-time Stars in Mike Modano (Detroit) and Marty Turco (Chicago), and while their contributions were declining in recent years, itís hard to envision the Stars being a better team this year without them.
Brad Richards (C): Richards racked up 40 points (13 G, 27 A) with the man advantage, helping pad his overall totals to 91 points (24 G, 67 A). He was moved back to the point on the first power-play unit, a transition he had lobbied for, and obviously took to, quite well. Plus, his ice time increased as the season wore on, thanks largely to spotty play from Mike Ribeiro. While Richards remains a liability in his own end, he should continue to be one of the better options down the middle.
Loui Eriksson (LW): Eriksson backed up his 36-goal breakout season with another nice campaign (29 G, 42 A). He was curiously ineffective (and absent altogether most nights) on the Dallas power play, but nonetheless, remains a lock to skate on Dallasí top line alongside Brad Richards in the upcoming season. Even a modest improvement in his power-play output (6 G, 6 A last year) should vault Eriksson into the 85-90 point strata.
Brenden Morrow (LW): In his recovery from an ACL tear last year, Morrow looked every bit like a player coming back from major knee surgery, failing to display the speed and finish in front of the net that he had shown the past several seasons. Morrow was a non-factor at even strength (11G, 16A) on the season, and struggled to rekindle the chemistry with center Mike Ribeiro. His 69 penalty minutes were only good for fifth on the team, and he's no longer the pugilist with Steve Ott and Krys Barch as lineup regulars. Despite his recent slide in value, there's 70-point potential given what we saw from his last two healthy seasons before the latest campaign.
Mike Ribeiro (C): A freak throat injury limited Ribeiro to 66 games, resulting in just 34 assists on the season - his lowest total since 2002-03. On a positive note, he opened last season with the team lead in scoring for three straight seasons before potting 19 goals - including eight on the power play - in 2009-10. The Ribeiro/Morrow duo should enjoy a nice bounce-back season, though theyíve slid well behind Richards/Eriksson/Neal as Dallasí primary scoring line.
ON THE RISE
Jamie Benn (LW): Benn was asked to move from a wing on one of Dallasí scoring lines to centering the third line early in the season, and remained surprisingly effective (22 G, 19 A) despite being a 20-year old rookie. Looking ahead to 2010-11, itís hard to envision a huge step forward for Benn, as heíll start the year as Dallasí No. 3 center and wonít see huge ice time as a result. Still, the Stars have been getting good production from their youngsters in recent years and Benn should continue that trend.
James Neal (LW): Nealís second season (27 G, 28 A) was a nice step up from his rookie campaign. His shoot-first mentality fits well when Brad Richards is dishing the puck, though it does tend to limit his assists. Like linemate Loui Eriksson, thereís room to improve as Neal stuck just a pair of goals on the power play. He doesnít dish the puck enough to crack the 80-point plateau, but thereís a 30 G/30 A season waiting for him if he can stay healthy.
TWO TO AVOID
Fabian Brunnstrom (RW): The Stars were the winning bidders for Brunnstromís services after he turned in a quality season with Farjestads BK Karlstad of the Swedish Elite League in 2007-08. He continued to shine one year later -- his debut season with the Stars -- by registering 17 goals in 55 games. However, Brunnstrom fell flat in 2009-10, sinking just two goals and chipping in nine assists while struggling at times with a shoulder injury. He often vanished after being hit in the corner a time or two, and could certainly afford to be more involved in the Dallas offense. Consider safer alternatives for fantasy hockey purposes.
Matt Niskanen (D): Niskanen had a second straight disappointing season (3 G, 12 A, minus-15) after a promising rookie campaign back in 2007-08. The absence of Sergei Zubov the past two seasons seems to have impacted Niskanen the most, as there's virtually no confidence left in the youngster. A change of scenery may be required because he was just as invisible most nights under new coach Marc Crawford, as he was in Dave Tippet's system the year before.