After a run to the conference finals in 2008, the Dallas Stars have fallen on some down times. The conference finals team was stocked with veterans, and those veteran players left the Stars shortly thereafter. Jeff Halpern, Sergei Zubov, Stu Barnes, Philippe Boucher, Mattias Norstrom, and Antti Miettinen all left the Stars in 2008-2009 through free agency, injury, retirement or trade. Dallas general managers Lee Jackson & Brett Hull chose to replace those veterans with an assortment of kids and then vastly overpaid Sean Avery. The results were poor, to say the least. Sound familiar? I asked NBC's Brandon Worley, Managing Editor of ProHockeyTalk, and long-time Managing Editor of Defending Big D here at SB Nation, about the situation. "The Dallas Stars are going through the darkest period the franchise has had since moving to Dallas - two straight seasons of not making the playoffs. Tom Hicks’ financial woes have really handcuffed the team," he said.
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The difference between the Stars and the Oilers is that the kids that were thrown into the fire weren't completely abandoned and they've grown up well. The core of the Stars team is now made up of a group of eight players between the ages of 21 and 26, including four defensemen - Trevor Daley, Nicklas Grossman, Mark Fistric and Matt Niskanen - that have already combined to play 991 NHL games. Yes, it was an error in management to expect those four to take the wheel from Zubov, Norstrom and Boucher, but the hard time has done them well and Grossman has grown into a top-pairing rock, Fistric is killing the soft minutes and Daley has played steady hockey for the entire year. Only Niskanen took a step back this year, but he's shown that he's ready for the NHL, and should rebound next season.
Two of the forwards are well-known - James Neal and Loui Eriksson - and they've continued to play at a high level this season. Worley said "Neal and Eriksson are both wingers with incredible scoring and finishing ability." But the Stars have found a couple of more kids this year that sort of came from nowhere. Jamie Benn was drafted in the fifth round (#129) in 2007 and Tom Wandell (#146) was drafted in the fifth round in 2005, and both, as Lowetide loves to say have "covered the bet" and then some. To Worley again, "Jamie Benn and Tom Wandell are two versatile centers who are just as solid defensively as they are playmakers on offense. Benn has emerged as a phenom of sorts at a position he had never played before. Benn was moved to center permanently after Wandell was lost for the season with a torn ACL, and after some bumpy starts has become a very capable No. 2 center on a team flourishing in them. His size, tenacity and fearlessness have endeared him to fans, and his playmaking ability is making those around him better."
The Stars haven't thrown the kids up front into the fire like they did to the defensemen, as they've had veterans like Brad Richards, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Riberio and the never-ending presence of Mike Modano to handle the hard work while the kids have grown up.
The Stars aren't loaded with non-NHL players at this point, as last year was the first year that the Stars had a pick inside the top 25 since 1996. The one gem in the system is forward Scott Glennie, taken with that draft choice last season and now plays for the Brandon Wheat Kings. Glennie is expected to challenge for the NHL roster next season.
The Stars have been down, but not out for the last two seasons and they've not been able to follow any particular "model" like the Oilers seem to have such a proclivity for, but they've set themselves up well for the future. Either the scouts or the procurement have worked something of a miracle and delivered a nearly half of a roster full of real NHL players without the benefit of top 25 picks. I don't know that what Dallas has done can be called a "model", but whatever it is, the Oilers should take a long look at what's happened in Dallas in late-round procurement and player development and beg, borrow and steal whatever scraps of information happen to fall from the Stars' pockets.