Kari Lehtonen had a marvelous 2012. Can he be just as good in 2013? The team's playoff hopes depend on it.
If the Dallas Stars signed Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Ray Whitney five years ago, they would have got more headlines than Kim Kardashian and Kanye West.
But in 2013, the three veterans are more depth signings than front-liners, used primarily to bolster an offensive attack that has promise, but needed something more in 2012. Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn made major strides last season, but aren’t the “stars” they will ultimately become. Can the Stars’ recently acquired trio help provide the perfect blend of youth and polish and get this promising team into the playoffs?
Last Year: The team had a respectable 42 wins last season, but was six points shy of a playoff spot. What were they missing? Offense. With the loss of Brad Richards to the Rangers via free agency, the team lacked the potent playmaker they needed on the top line. Although guys like Steve Ott and Eric Nystrom worked their tails off every game and still chipped in offensively, the Stars were too average defensively and on special teams to differentiate themselves from the other teams vying for a playoff spot. It didn’t help that team captain and one of the hardest working players in the league, Brenden Morrow, missed 25 games due to injury. Luckily, they don’t need much more offense. They have an excellent goaltender in Kari Lehtonen, who shocked his harshest critics with an absolutely sick .922 save percentage in 2012. If Dallas made the playoffs, Lehtonen would have garnered a few votes for the Vezina.
Question Marks: Can Morrow return to his hard-bodied, clutch goal-scoring self again? Is Lehtonen a one-hit wonder? Can Roy bounce back from a weak 2012? How much do Jagr and Whitney have left? If Jagr, Whitney and Roy can contribute 35-40 points each, while Benn and Eriksson take the lead, the Stars will be an amazing team to watch. The Los Angeles Kings won a Stanley Cup last year because they had an entire bench that could hit, score and fight hard for 60 minutes, every night. That’s the type of team the Stars have, on paper, this season.
Wishful Thinking: Michael Ryder will not be able to reproduce the magic that led to a 35-goal, 62-point season last year. With the additions of Roy, Jagr and Whitney, Ryder expects to get much less time on the powerplay, returning him to the secondary scoring role he had while on the Bruins. Although he’ll be good for 10-15 goals and 35 points, fans would be foolish to ask for more.
Prediction: The Stars will have a host of competition in the Western Conference, but if they are close to a playoff spot come the trade deadline, expect General Manager Joe Nieuwendyk to make another big move and bolster the team even further. With Roy, Jagr and Whitney on the roster, every team will be looking to get the three proven vets for their own playoff runs.
But who knows, the Stars may get something useful out of the three older studs and make this season a memorable one.