It is 10:20pm and I am beating my head against the kitchen table trying to figure out what exactly I should write about, and then it dawns on me…outside of my college days or some work-related report, I have never considered myself a writer in any sense of the word. Even with this, my first piece for the Texas Triangle Trio, I do not really think I would still consider myself a writer. To be 100% honest, I periodically give my wife a hard time with the number of blogs that she is connected to. I never thought I would get involved with a blog, let alone actually writing for one. However, when I was presented with the idea of discussing my favorite sport, ice hockey, and my favorite team, the Dallas Stars, I couldn’t say no.
With all of that being said, I think it would be best to start by introducing myself. I am actually a native Texan, born in downtown Fort Worth and grew up in the mid-cities. Aside from three years in Oklahoma (Edmond to be exact), four years in Saint Louis for my undergraduate degree (GO BILLIKENS!), and two years up in the mountains of Arizona (Prescott…and it is pronounced pre-skit, NOT pre-scott…you will be put to shame very quickly), I have spent my entire life in the blast furnace that is Texas. But I know what y’all are probably thinking…how in the world did a native Texan get involved in ice hockey?!? Well…my parents are both from New York and my dad has been playing since he was a kid…I was on roller skates at a young age and actually got on ice skates around 7 or 8. It was in the summer of my 10th birthday that the Minnesota North Stars packed up and headed south to the Big D to officially become the Dallas Stars. Amazingly, the Dallas Stars were actually supposed to be the Los Angeles Stars. However, around the same time, Disney was pushing a little movie that many of us might remember (The Mighty Ducks) and this project is what drove Disney to work with the NHL to help create the original Anaheim Mighty Ducks a few years later. Up to this point, I was actually a New York Rangers fan (my father introduced that team to the family), but to finally have a home team to root for made hockey that much more real. Just don’t tell my Uncle Gary as he is a HUGE New York Islanders fan, and actually took me to my first NHL game at the Nassau Coliseum against the Philadelphia Flyers. I still have the Glenn Healy-signed mini goalie stick to prove it, but enough about me.
The 2015/2016 Dallas Stars ended the regular season as Central Division Champs and top team in the Western Conference with a 2nd best 109 points, behind the President’s Trophy winning Washington Capitals (whom the Stars beat twice, but I digress). The Stars marched into the Playoffs with an 8-2 record in their final 10 games of the season, but they were in limbo with regards to top line center and other half to the Jamie Benn dynamic duo, Tyler Seguin, following a nearly devastating freak accident in which he had his achilles cut in an errant play on the last shift against the Tampa Bay Lighting on March 17th. He tried to come back early in the playoffs but a calf injury ultimately ended his season. After a few shaky games against the Minnesota Wild, the Stars finished the first round in 6 games and then crashed into division rival Saint Louis Blues. After an extremely hard fought series, the Stars ultimately fell to the Blues in a lop sided 6-1 loss at home. While gut wrenching to watch the boys raise their sticks in tribute to the fans one last time, General Manager Jim Nill and the rest of the organization was not about to let the momentum falter.
Just like any team in the NHL, a tight salary cap would force the Stars’ hand and we saw a number of players test the open market, but at the same time, we saw the addition and re-signing of a number of players. The top signing of the off season would definitely go to the Captain, Jamie Benn. The heart and soul of the Dallas Stars signed an 8-year extension worth $76 Million ($9.5M/year average). In truth, since Dallas selected Jamie 129th overall in the 2007 Entry Draft, he has consistently shown his grit, determination and true leadership on and off the ice. The on-ice team and organization as a whole would probably not be where they are
today without him. The most notable off-season addition would definitely go to defenseman Dan Hamhuis. The 33-year-old veteran entered the league as the 12th overall pick in the first round of the 2001 Entry Draft by the Nashville Predators. After 12 years in the league with Nashville and the Vancouver Canucks (6 years each), the 6’1”, 210 lb. veteran from Smithers, British Columbia has solidified himself as a reliable stay-at-home defenseman that will match up quite nicely with the offensive-minded defenseman, John Klingberg, on the top pairing.
With all of the noise from the off-season, the biggest question on the minds of many Stars fans revolves around the strong, but oft-shaky (especially in the Postseason) goaltending duo of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi. When Antti Niemi was acquired from the San Jose Sharks during the 2014 off season, the Stars presented the goaltending duo as a 1A and 1B type of situation with Kari and Antti sharing time between the pipes. Due to the fact that the Stars are paying both goalies a combined $10.4 Million/year average thru the 2018 season (Kari: 5 Year, $29.5M / Antti: 3 Year, $13.5M), this idea made sense…on paper. While the Stars finished the 2015/2016 season with the #1 scoring offense in the league, Kari and Antti’s combined work finished the regular season at 19th out of 30 teams in Goals Against. With the 11th and 19th highest paid goalies in the league, it is rather easy to say that the Stars did not get exactly what they paid for…especially when it matters most, the Playoffs. As the playoffs approached, neither goalie seemed to want the top spot as the “go-to” goalie. Both goalie’s stats dropped, while each suffering ugly losses in the second round against the Blues. During the off season, there was a lot of talk that Jim Nill would work his magic with another Blockbuster trade that we have become accustomed to the last few years that would have brought monster (6’7” tall) goalie Ben Bishop from the Tampa Bay Lighting, but alas it was not to be. There is still talk that Jim Nill and Lightning GM, Steve Yzerman (that’s pronounced I-ZR-MAN for those playing the home edition) could work something out before the start of the season, but with the money still to be paid for Lehtonen’s and Niemi’s services, I honestly do not see this happening. (Tidbit, Ben Bishop played one season with the Texas Tornado, based out of North Richland Hills).
With everything on the table, I believe this team has a very good chance to make some serious noise in not only the Central Division, but also the league. They have not diminished much in the offensive category, but they have added a great addition in Dan Hamhuis. Assuming the Stars can stay, for the most part, healthy, this season will truly be a lot of fun to watch. The Stars will open the regular season up at home against the Anaheim Ducks on Thursday, October 13th at 7:30pm and I plan on parking myself on the couch with my favorite Stars fans, my wife Adrienne and our sons Jacob (6) and Andrew (2). Let’s bring the Cup home Stars! Remember…