2013-14 Dallas Stars Preview

After experiencing a ton of success in the franchise's early years in Dallas, mediocrity has settled into the Stars organization.

Beginning with the 1996-97 season, the Stars won seven Pacific Division titles in a span of nine years, with the high point of that era coming with the franchise's one and only Stanley Cup title in the spring of '99.

Sadly, it's been over five years since Dallas has competed in the postseason and the club finished last in the Pacific in three of the past four seasons.

Things could be different this season, however, as the Stars join the seven- team Central Division as part of the NHL's realignment plan for the upcoming season. Although Dallas is unlikely to compete for division supremacy with the likes of Chicago, St. Louis and Minnesota, the Stars could be the fourth-best club in the Central, which also includes Colorado, Nashville and Winnipeg.

The Stars are still attempting to rebuild on the fly and the club hopes the hiring of former longtime Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff is the next step in making that process a success. Ruff, of course, was head coach of the Sabres team that lost to Dallas in the 1999 Stanley Cup Finals, but perhaps he can make a name for himself in Big D for something less dubious.

FORWARDS - Outside of Ruff's hiring, the biggest move for Dallas heading into the 2013-14 season was the acquisition of talented, but controversial forward Tyler Seguin.

Seguin, the second overall pick in the 2010 draft, showed flashes of brilliance during his first NHL stint in Boston, but rumors of poor off-ice behavior (including accusations of heavy drinking) ultimately led to his being banished from the Bruins this summer. On July 4, Boston sent Seguin along with fellow NHL forward Rich Peverley and defensive prospect Ryan Button to Dallas in exchange for forward Loui Eriksson and a trio of prospects, including blueliner Joe Morrow, a former first-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The 21-year-old Seguin's tenure in Dallas got off to a rough start in July when an offensive message was sent via his Twitter account. Although Seguin insists the tweet in question, which paraphrased an off-color quote from the film "Full Metal Jacket," was the result of hacking, the whole incident did little to change the public perception of Seguin as immature.

Given the bad press Seguin received over the last several months, he has a great deal to prove this season. Considering he has notched a solid 121 points (56G, 65A) over his first 203 NHL games, he may be able to shift the focus back to his on-ice talents.

Although he played right wing in Boston, Seguin expects to center the top line for Dallas this season, a decision that'll allow Jamie Benn to move to his natural position on the left wing.

Although Benn missed the first four games of last year's shortened season due to a contract dispute, he still led Dallas in points with 33 and was tied for second on the club with Eriksson in goals (12). The Stars are betting that moving Benn back to wing can result in a career year for the 24-year-old.

In a decidedly less high-profile deal than the one that landed Seguin to Dallas, the Stars traded for veteran centerman Shawn Horcoff to bolster the middle of the ice. Dallas acquired Horcoff, who has two years remaining on six-year, $33 million contract, from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Philip Larsen and a seventh-round draft pick in 2016.

As captain of the Edmonton Oilers for the past three seasons, Horcoff at least should bring leadership to the Stars, but his value as a scorer at this point in his career is minimal. Horcoff had a career-high 22 goals and 73 points in 2005-06, but hasn't even reached 50 points since 2008-09. Last season with the Oilers, the 34-year-old had seven goals and five assists over 31 games.

Horcoff and Peverley figure to battle it out for the second center spot behind Seguin, although the latter player is expected to miss the start of the season due to an irregular heartbeat. Peverley had six goals and 12 assists in 47 games for the Bruins last season.

Elsewhere, the Stars boast veteran wingers Erik Cole and Ray Whitney. After coming over in a trade with Montreal during last season, Cole recorded six goals in 28 games and could find himself on the top line with Benn and Seguin.

At 41 years of age, Whitney will try to rebound after a broken foot robbed him of 16 games in 2013. He posted 11 goals and 29 assists in 32 games last season and could be a threat to score 20 goals or more this year for the second time in his last three campaigns.

The Stars, who ranked 11th in the NHL in goals per game last season, could get a further injection of scoring from highly-touted rookie Valeri Nichushkin in 2013-14. Selected by Dallas with the 10th overall pick of this summer's draft, the 18-year-old will be given every opportunity this season to earn minutes with the Stars. There is even a possibility Nichushkin could earn second-line minutes playing the opposite wing from Whitney, who is nearly a quarter- century older than his Russian counterpart.

DEFENSE - Team defense was a problem area for the Stars last season, as the club ranked 24th in the NHL by allowing nearly three goals (2.94) every night.

Stars general manager Jim Nill hopes the acquisition of veteran defenseman Sergei Gonchar can get the team's blue line in order. The 39-year-old Gonchar, who was acquired in a trade with Ottawa in June before signing a two-year, $10 million with the Stars, was once considered one of the best all-around defensemen in the world, but those dominant days appear to be behind him.

Although the Russian's skills have eroded a bit, Gonchar still is a capable puck-mover and he managed to record 27 points (3G, 24A) in 45 games with the Senators last season. He also added six assists in 10 playoff tilts with Ottawa.

Alex Goligoski figures to join Gonchar to form the top pairing for Dallas. The 28-year-old led the Stars in ice time last season and, like Gonchar, he posted 27 points on three goals and 24 assists in 2013.

Stephane Robidas has been a mainstay on the Dallas blue line for years and is back for another go-round in 2013-14. Now 36 years of age, he is coming off a season in which he recorded one goal and 12 assists over 48 games.

Trevor Daley, who led Stars defensemen with four goals in 2013, will also figure into the rotation, while Brenden Dillon aims to build off a solid rookie campaign. Dillon, 22, had three goals and five assists over 48 games and finished the campaign with a plus-one rating.

Kevin Connauton, Aaron Rome and Jordie Benn, older brother of Jamie, provide organizational depth at the back end.

GOALTENDING - Although the Stars had trouble keeping the puck out of the net last season the problem doesn't seem to stem from the crease, where Kari Lehtonen has proven to be an unspectacular but solid No. 1 option.

Lehtonen went 15-14-3 with a 2.66 goals against average and .916 save percentage in 36 appearances last year. It was a decent year, although not nearly as strong as Lehtonen's performance for Dallas in 2011-12, when he was 32-22-4 with a 2.33 GAA and .922 save percentage.

Last season, the Stars tried both Richard Bachman (now an Edmonton Oiler) and Cristopher Nilstorp as backups to Lehtonen and neither guy was particularly impressive. So, the Stars went out and landed Lehtonen a more experienced backup for this season in free-agent signing Dan Ellis, who went 6-8-2 with a 3.13 GAA last season in front of a poor defense in Carolina.

WHEN ALL IS SAID AND DONE - From a new uniform design to the installation of Ruff as Glen Gulutzan's successor and the acquisition of Seguin, this expects to be a season of change for the Stars. Unfortunately, one thing that could remain the same is Dallas spending another spring watching the playoffs for home. Although the future seems brighter than it did prior to the start of last season, the rebuilding process could take a little longer to really take hold.