Thank you so much to Taylor and Erin of Defending Big D for answering my silly questions, and for still allowing us to publish this after the little How to Hate fiasco/website hit parade we had a week or so ago.
1. If you had to come up with a team motto/mantra for your club, what would it be?
Taylor: Keep Calm and Kari On has to be the winner here. As Kari Lehtonen goes so do the Dallas Stars these past few seasons. With an improved (on paper) offense, and the addition of some better defensive forwards (Rich Peverley for example) coupled with Sergei Gonchar on the backend, I hope Lehtonen isn't called on to have to stand on his head night after night. A stabilized backup goaltender position might give Lehtonen some more rest to be fresh for the playoffs. Lehtonen is the key to getting there, though.
Erin: I'm going to steal from the Stars marketing department and go with "A New Star is Rising." To paraphrase Bob Cole, everything has happened to this team over the past few seasons. Compared to the start of the 2011 season, the Stars have a new owner, new coach, new jerseys and 16 new players for the NHL roster. The organization is fond of saying this is their first real offseason under new owner Tom Gagalrdi, who took over early in the 2011-12 season - last summer was quite busy with the additions of Jaromir Jagr and Ray Whitney, but the lockout was looming. They have totally remade this team over the past 22 months, and now it's time to see if it's finally taking a step forward instead of being stuck in neutral.
2. Who do you consider your most potent forwards?
Taylor: Jamie Benn is hands down the most proven explosive offensive threat on the Stars roster right now. Tyler Seguin could be a gamechanger, depending on his transition to Center, and he's lights out in shootouts, so that's nice (you know, if you ever get to that...) Ray Whitney didn't get his "Wizard" moniker by being a pylon, and the chemistry between him and Alex Chiasson could make the rookie a nice scoring threat consistently. And if half of what we hear about Valeri Nichushkin is correct, the Stars should be set at the forward position this season.
Erin: Of the players I've seen with the Stars, Benn and Whitney are the obvious choices. Benn is a big, rangy power forward who has been playing out of his natural position for the past two seasons. He's got a very accurate shot and the confidence to take on players 1-on-1. If he can develop chemistry with Seguin, he has the potential to be a 30-40 goal scorer. Whitney is a brilliant passer and playmaker, and he plays very well with net-hungry big men like Chiasson. I'd put him in a group with Sergei Zubov and Mike Ribeiro as the best pure passers I've seen on the Stars. Like Taylor mentioned, Nichushkin comes with a lot of hype as a dangerous forward as well, but I'll admit I've seen very little of him outside of highlight reels.
3. Which player, if you could magically make him disappear, would you vaporize? Why?
Taylor: Sean Avery. Next question.
Erin: Avery is obviously the winner in the historical category, though I gritted my teeth through Claude Lemieux as well. There are some guys who have become Stars fan scapegoats over the past few years - Alex Goligoski being chief among them - but none who really draws unified wrath.
4. How do you feel about your team's coaching staff? What would you consider your head coach's trademark?
Taylor: Well, basically we have an all new coaching staff, so I guess I'm cautiously optimistic about how things are going to go this year. It will be interesting to see how Lindy Ruff works with the young guys on the roster, but I think some of those guys are going to make it tough not to play them. One thing I will say is we probably have THE best goalie coach in the league in Mike Valley. If Lehtonen gets help in front of him, he could easily be in the discussion for the Vezina.
Erin: Ruff was a somewhat controversial choice among Stars fans because of his emotional reaction after the loss to Dallas in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals. But after two years with a promising but very raw guy in Glen Gulutzan, I'm very happy to see a guy with NHL experience behind the bench again. Ruff's trademark in Buffalo has been his adaptability in style - when they were small and fast, he played to those strengths. When they were big and tough, he played to those strengths. It will be very interesting to see how he adapts to some of the inexperience on defense on this roster and tries to mask some of the recent problem areas.
5. Goaltending controversies: would you say your team has one? If not, could you make one up really quickly? St. Louis media looooves them some goalie controversy.
Taylor: No. Kari Lehtonen is the man in net, the Stars' #1. Further down the depth chart, there is some intrigue at the AHL level to see if the Stars' #1 draft pick a few seasons ago, Jack Campbell, can step up and take over as the man in net for the Texas Stars from Cristopher Nilstorp. He's struggled to establish himself as the true #1, and doing that this year will be an important milestone in Campbell becoming the future #1 Dallas netminder.
Erin: The rumor is the Stars looked at bringing in a guy like Tim Thomas this offseason to generate a little controversy and push Lehtonen to be even better than he has been recently, but that didn't happen when they signed Dan Ellis. So that leaves the biggest goaltending controversy being how they use Lehtonen. He usually misses around 10 games a year with a groin-related injury, though his fitness level is much, much higher now than when he played in Atlanta. Some believe that he has been overplayed by the Stars too much early in the year because their backups often struggled, and this led to him fading down the stretch. We'll see if Ruff uses him more sparingly than the previous coaching staff.
6. What are some things you think your team does well? Needs to improve upon? Would you say that the team would agree with you?
Taylor: With such drastic turnover of the roster this offseason, it's hard to say. I would think that our offense should be better this season, based on the additions the team made through trades and free agent signings. The penalty kill was legit last season, and I think the Stars will be pretty good in that regard again this season. Power play would be the biggest area for improvement, I think. But that may be better now with the likes of Seguin, Benn, Whitney, and Horcov. Only time will tell...
Erin: The biggest issue for the past couple seasons has been a real lack of identity. Last year, with up to three rookie defensemen in a given game, they struggled to keep the puck out of the net. The year before, they struggled to score. The year before that, they were decidedly average in both categories. So I think the biggest key for this team under Ruff will be finding exactly what it is they want to do well, the thing that sets them apart. Given that the defense still has some construction issues, even with the addition of Sergei Gonchar, I hope that will be finding an offensive game to hitch their wagons to. Based on the roster construction, that's looks like the plan if the new pieces come together they hope.