Brenden Morrow celebrates a goal against the Edmonton Oilers. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
I’m banking my Stanley Cup pick on the continuation of a post-lockout trend.
Well, that and a fantastic goalie playing on a team with a tremendous captain.
Yes sports fans, Texas is big enough for two championship teams in one year and just a few months after ’dem Cowboys are done winning the Super Bowl, the Dallas Stars are going to win the Stanley Cup.
Detroit Red Wings you say? Repeat after me; nobody repeats anymore. The whole concept is sooooo ’90s.
San Jose? When Sharks fly.
One of Pittsburgh’s premier players from last year doesn’t even think they’ve got the best shot at Stanley and the Pens’ chances certainly got worse when Marian Hossa used that rationale to hop on another pony.
Anaheim? That depends; I can’t remember which of its stars are in this year and which don’t even have the desire to play hockey any more.
And sorry Habs fans, it’ll be 15 seasons without a Cup come June. Keep working on that whole no-real-No.-1-center thing.
Dallas made it to the conference final last year before bowing out to the Wings. That fact alone makes me optimistic about the Stars’ chances.
The past two Cup winners – Detroit and Anaheim – were bounced in the conference final the year prior to winning it all. Making it to the final four is a strong indication a team is on the championship path.
Losing at that stage also provides huge incentive and hunger to win it all – an element that cannot be ignored – while also sparing a team the excessive fatigue of playing two more weeks of hockey in the final.
Those extra six or seven games may not seem like a lot, but you can’t ignore the fact no team that has played in a post-lockout final has won so much as a playoff round the year after their post-season run.
If you’re looking for more tangible rationale than a conference finalist theory, have a peek at Marty Turco and Brenden Morrow, two players who’ve endured personal turmoil in their careers and come clean through on the brighter side.
With the awkwardness of the Mike Modano-Morrow captaincy hand-off officially in the past, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind the Stars are Morrow’s team now. Most importantly, he’s finally comfortable with the scenario.
Dallas’s leader is a perfect mix of Saskatchewan and skill, meaning he’s got the hands to contribute significant offense and the heart to plough throw any opponents unwilling to play the role of pushover.
Turco has spent the past two springs dousing the notion he’s not a playoff performer. Going three rounds deep last year should shut up even the staunchest of Turco’s critics, who are obviously unaware his lifetime post-season goals-against average is 2.17.
There’s no denying the Stars have an enviable mix of deep forwards, which free-agent signee Sean Avery only adds to.
Mike Ribeiro showed actual grit last year en route to posting 17 points in 18 playoff contests. Brad Richards gets a full year to learn the lay of the land in Dallas and though he’s not a premier point-producer, I’ll take a Conn Smythe winner in the dead prime of his career any time.
The only real question for the Stars is on defense. Sergei Zubov is 38, only played 46 games last season and will begin this season on the sidelines after undergoing hip surgery. The end is clearly near, but Zubov still moves the puck well and knows how to run a power play.
If Stephane Robidas’ strong playoff carries over and 23-year-old Nicklas Grossman develops the way Dallas anticipates he will, there will be enough talent on the blueline to get it done by committee, similar to the 2006 Carolina Hurricanes.
No, there isn’t a Nicklas Lidstrom, Chris Pronger or even a Dan Boyle on the Stars’ back end, but the team is well coached by Dave Tippet and everybody knows his defense-first ethos.
As a forward, you don’t watch Jere Lehtinen play and think defense is not important.
Fabian Brunnstrom is a much talked about rookie, but keep an eye out for James Neal. He’s a big 21-year-old with touch and just may follow the Dustin Penner path to success. Neal may start the year in the American League, but I expect him to make an NHL impact before too long.
The Stars’ roster is a beautiful blend of old (Zubov, Modano, Lehtinen), new (Brunnstrom, Grossman) and now (Morrow, Turco Ribeiro). It will be 10 years come June since Brett Hull’s foot-in-the-crease goal won the Stars their only Stanley Cup and Hull, in his new role as co-GM with Les Jackson, has shown he’s willing to do what it takes to make sure the drought doesn’t last any longer.
Trading for Richards, signing Avery and Brunnstrom – these are aggressive moves indicating both long-term vision and a desire to win now.
If the Stars’ brass feels there’s an element missing on their team, it will be added.
So get ready for a Stanley Cup parade with some of the best barbecue you can imagine, because nobody is going to mess with Texas this year.
Best of all, a Dallas win would surely result in a new reality show called Sean Avery’s summer with the Cup.
Just imagine the cameo possibilities that contains.
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