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2011-12 Dallas Stars Preview

The loss of Brad Richards was bad enough for the Dallas Stars, but the fact that the club did little at all to replace its top offensive weapon is even worse.

This summer, Richards signed a nine-year, $60 million deal with the New York Rangers, ending a run of three-plus years with the Stars. The playmaking centerman averaged more than a point-per-game (227 points in 220 games) during his stint in Dallas and his departure leaves a big hole in the middle that will likely have to be filled by Dallas' best remaining offensive player, Mike Ribeiro.

Although the Stars missed the postseason by just two points in 2010-11, the club is just barely above the NHL's salary cap floor, a good sign that Dallas is in rebuilding mode.

Of course, the low-budget strategy Dallas is currently employing could change if the Stars are ever able to finalize a deal to sell the club. They recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, which sounds gloomy, but is actually an important step towards getting the team a new owner. Until then, general manager Joe Nieuwendyk seems to have his hands tied and will have to come up with creative ways to make his team better,

One change Nieuwendyk did make is bringing in rookie head coach Glen Gulutzan to replace the fired Marc Crawford. Gulutzan previously coached Dallas' AHL affiliate, the Texas Stars, and took them to the Calder Cup finals in 2010.

The Stars are obviously an organization in flux and that's normally not a good thing. Still, there is hope that the team can rally around it's uncertain future in a way that the Phoenix Coyotes and Nashville Predators have been able to in recent years.

FORWARDS - Dallas had the league's 17th-best offense in the NHL last year and with the departure of Richards things are only expected to get worse.

The Stars have the makings of a strong first line if Ribeiro is paired with last year's leading goal-scorer, Brenden Morrow, as is expected. Ribeiro's former teammate in Montreal, Michael Ryder, signed a two-year deal with the Stars this summer and is expected to take the right wing spot on the top unit.

Ribeiro played in all 82 games last year and posted 71 points on 19 goals and 52 assists. Over his five years in Big D, the 31-year-old has averaged 21 goals and nearly 69 points per season.

Morrow is the emotional leader of the Stars and has been the franchise's captain since the 2006-07 campaign. The hard-checking winger had the highest goal total of his career last year, notching 33 goals and 56 points in 82 games.

Ryder played last season with the world champion Boston Bruins and although his 18 goals and 23 assists during the regular season were somewhat disappointing, he made up for it in the postseason. The 31-year-old exploded for eight goals and 17 points in 25 playoff games and also had a plus-eight rating for the postseason.

Jamie Benn appears to be the likely choice as the team's second-line center. The 22-year-old Benn was just a fifth-round selection by Dallas in 2007, but is coming off an impressive season. Despite missing 12 games to injury, Benn managed to record 56 points (22 goals, 34 assists), surpassing his point total over 82 games as a rookie.

Benn is key to Dallas' success this year, as a step forward in his progress could really ease the loss of Richards. Of course, on the other hand, a step backwards could magnify the Stars' offensive problems.

Loui Eriksson will have to get used to playing with Benn after previously skating on Dallas' top line with Richards and the also-departed James Neal, who was dealt to Pittsburgh during the 2010-11 season. Eriksson was third on the team in goals (27) and second in points (73) last season. However, his goal total has dropped every year since he set a career-high with 36 markers in 2008-09.

Steve Ott could play the left wing opposite Eriksson, but the 29-year-old is coming off a down year. Ott notched 12 goals and 32 points in 82 games last season, marking his lowest goal and point totals since 2007-08.

Things go downhill from there as newcomers Vernon Fiddler and Radek Dvorak are expected to make up two-thirds of line No. 3. Fiddler had six goals and 16 assists in 71 games with Phoenix last season and Dvorak had seven goals and 22 points in 66 combined games with Florida and Atlanta. Fiddler was given a three-year deal worth a total of $5.4 million, while Dvorak agreed to a one- year, $1.5 million contract.

Jake Dowell was also brought in for one year and $800,000 after registering six goals and 15 assists in 79 games for Chicago in 2011-12.

The rest of the forward spots are expected to go to returning guys like Toby Petersen, Adam Burish and Krys Barch. Burish had the best 2011-12 out of that crew, recording eight goals and six assists over 63 contests.

DEFENSE - Trading away Neal to Pittsburgh last season had to be a difficult choice for Nieuwendyk because, as was noted above, the Stars do not have a wealth of talent up front.

Still, the trade did land the Stars a promising defenseman in Alex Goligoski, who turned heads with his impressive 23-game stretch with Dallas last year. Goligoski had nine goals and 31 points in 60 games with the Pens and added 15 more points (5g, 10a) in his month and a half with the Stars.

All told, the 26-year-old Goligoski has registered 105 points (28g, 77a) over his first 200 NHL games. Dallas hopes Goligoski, who will be a restricted free agent after this season, can help offset some of the offensive deficiencies up front.

Veteran blueliner Stephane Robidas was paired with Goligoski during his brief stint in Dallas and the duo will likely form the club's top pairing this season. Robidas, 34, led Dallas defensemen with 30 points (5g, 25a) in 81 games last year.

Another bright spot at the back end for Dallas is Trevor Daley, who led the Stars' blue line with eight goals in 2010-11. Daley, 27, and Niklas Grossman, 26, give Dallas the makings of a solid second pairing. Grossman has just 36 points (3g, 33a) in 281 games at the NHL level, but the Swede is a stay-at- home type and has excellent size at 6-foot-4, 201 pounds.

Dallas also took a flier on Sheldon Souray, the highly-talented enigma who is coming off a disastrous four years in Edmonton. Souray was signed to a five- year, $27 million deal by the Oilers in the summer of 2007, but wound up being bought out of the final year of that deal this summer.

Souray's problems in Edmonton stemmed from his inability to stay healthy, but Dallas is hoping he still can fire the heavy shot from the point that helped make him a two-time 20-goal-scorer. After all, it was just three years ago that he played in 81 games for the Oilers and scored 23 times.

Dallas is expected to use Mark Fistric and free agent signee Adam Pardy to eat up the rest of the minutes.

GOALTENDING - Kari Lehtonen may never live up to the expectations that came when Atlanta selected him with the second overall pick of the 2002 draft, but in 2010-11, the Finn at least proved he can be an everyday NHL goalie.

The Stars didn't give up much to land Lehtonen from the Thrashers in February of 2010 and he more than covered the cost with his 2010-11 campaign. Lehtonen, who will turn 28 in November, turned in a solid season, going 34-24-11 with a 2.55 goals-against average over 69 games.

Still, Lehtonen's save percentage (.914) was the 24th-best in the league and the Stars are hoping he can improve along with the blossoming defensive corps.

Lehtonen's backup will be Andrew Raycroft, who is in the final season of a two-year deal with Dallas. Raycroft appeared in 19 games (14 starts) in 2010-11 and was 8-5-0 with a 2.83 GAA and .910 save percentage.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - The Stars play in a difficult division and last year were the only Pacific team to not qualify for the Western Conference playoffs. They may have come within two points of making the postseason tournament in 2010-11, but it's hard to see Dallas coming that close to playoff qualification this year. Expect the Stars to lose about 20 points from the 95 they posted last year in what should be a rough year for Texas hockey.