Friday, November 21, 2014

Gameday Preview: Stars v. San Antonio Rampage

Texas Stars
6-4-4-0, 16 pts
#8 Western Conference
v.San Antonio Rampage
10-6-0-0, 20 pts
#3 Western Conference
November 21st at 7:30 PM
Cedar Park Center, Cedar Park, TX

The Stars return home after dropping their last four straight games to face the division-leading San Antonio Rampage. No, that can't be right. Let me check the standings. No, OK, I guess so. The usually woebegone Rampage are tops in the West Division right now with no sign of stopping. It is beginning to look like the division crown is going to be a dogfight. By the end of the weekend, Texas could be tied with San Antonio on points if they are able to claim both games in this home-and-home set.

For San Antonio, it's well documented that the Cedar Park Center is a house of horrors. In five years of regular season games, the Rampage have just seven wins. Of course, there are some other factors at play here tonight. While Texas is on a four game losing skid, the Rampage are on a five game winning streak that has seen them pick up important points against division rivals OKC and Charlotte.

Michael Houser and Dan Ellis had been alternating starts for San Antonio until Ellis caught fire in the last streak. Ellis has six of the team's ten wins and a 2.45 GAA. Some of the top young talent for San Antonio is in Florida now, including Vincent Trocheck and Rocco Grimaldi. AHL vet Bobby Butler has 17 points on the season and leads the team in scoring.

On the Texas side, Derek Laxdal has just 12 forwards at his disposal right now. With Kevin Henderson and Brett Ritchie under the weather with the flu bug going through the room, Ludwig Karlsson looks all but certain to play his first AHL game with Texas tonight. In net, it figures to be Jack Campbell. Jussi Rynnas is among the flu-affected and probably wouldn't start if he even dresses.

On defense, it seems likely that Scott Valentine will play his first AHL game not in a Milwaukee uniform. The vet blue liner signed a deal with the Stars this week after Kevin Connauton was claimed on waivers. It seems he will slide ahead of Mike Dalhuisen and be in the lineup for the foreseeable future.



Website: sarampage.com
Blog (unofficial): Rampage with Tony U.
Blog (unofficial): Runnin' With The Herd
Twitter: @SARampage
Twitter: @DanWeissPBP (play-by-play for SA)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Amid Flu Bug, Ludwig Karlsson Gets the Call from Idaho

With Jussi Rynnas, Kevin Henderson and Brett Ritchie all battling illness, Texas had to make a move today to bolster their forward group ahead of tomorrow's game against San Antonio. Ludwig Karlsson gets his first call to the AHL in the Dallas organization.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced today they have called up forward Ludwig Karlsson from their ECHL’s affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads.

Karlsson, 23, began the season in training camp with the Texas Stars before being assigned to the ECHL, where he has appeared in 12 games with five points (three goals, two assists). The 6-foot-3, 190-pound forward appeared in eight AHL games last season for the Binghamton Senators, and was acquired over the summer as part of the Jason Spezza trade for the Dallas Stars.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Texas Stars Sign Scott Valentine to Answer 7th D Issues

The Texas Stars have signed defenseman Scott Valentine to an AHL standard player contract for the remainder of the season. Valentine is a veteran of the AHL and is familiar to Stars fans from his time in Milwaukee. The vet blue liner has been performing well for the Idaho Steelheads so far this season.

As mentioned yesterday, Scott White has looking for a 7th defenseman. Valentine is his man. I would expect him to play mostly in the AHL from here on out this season.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars, American Hockey League affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars, announced today they have signed defenseman Scott Valentine to a contract for the season.

Valentine, 23, has appeared in 192 career AHL games over the previous three years, all with the Milwaukee Admirals, where he skated alongside current Stars forward Kevin Henderson.

The 6-foot, 215-pound defenseman began the season with the Stars ECHL affiliate, the Idaho Steelheads, tallying six assists in 12 games. The Ottawa, Ontario native was a sixth-round draft pick of the Anaheim Ducks (166th overall) in the 2009 NHL draft.

Valentine competed for four years in the Ontario Hockey League prior to turning pro, appearing in 171 games.

Texas Stars Report: What's the Point of an AHL Team?

The American Hockey League is a business where you have to compete to succeed, but it's also the top development league for the NHL. How do you balance those two divergent goals on a nightly basis?
Julius Honka (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
Normally I don't publish the entire Defending Big D Texas Stars Report on 100 Degree Hockey, but this one is a little different. I think it's a big topic, and everyone should read it.

Last week's post about the struggles of Jack Campbell brought to light a lot of questions about the structure and purpose of the top development league for the NHL. So the question is, "What's the point of an AHL team?"

The first thing to understand is that the AHL is a business. It is a business that is separate from the NHL. While many AHL teams are owned by NHL affiliates, the American Hockey League is its own entity from the NHL.

So, at the end of the day, the league needs to make money on its own to stay in business, and they do that by selling their product, the teams and the games those teams play in. The teams also individually need to make money to succeed too. Of course, there's merchandise and all those other things, but at the end of the day, the teams playing games is what drives the whole thing. Without the games, you can't have all the other things surrounding them.

You can't have games without the teams. As a fan, you want your team to win. You want to cheer for a team that wins regularly, if possible. If not, you definitely want a team has a skill level that is able to compete with the league on a nightly basis. If you don't have that, you don't generally get attendance (especially in non-traditional markets), and you find your city on the list of defunct AHL teams Wikipedia page.

So all you need is a quality product with guys that will be able to skate with the rest of the teams in the league. Got it.

But you also need to play the kids. The AHL is the top development league of the NHL. As Dallas fans are very familiar, players who aren't quite ready for the NHL but have aged out of their junior or college programs go to the AHL.

OK, so now we have a conflict. We need to have a quality product that wins games and puts butts in seats while also serving the purpose of taking raw talent from juniors and college and molding it into NHL quality stuff. Raw talent, as you may know, is a mercurial thing: amazing one night and horrid the next. That up-and-down swing is not conducive to consistently winning hockey games.

What came to light in last week's discussion that I think is illuminating is this conflict and the fan understanding of it. Many advocated that Jack Campbell, crowned by many as Dallas' next great goaltender, should play 60 games this season for the Texas Stars regardless of how many games he wins. Those fans might be more familiar with the baseball minor league system, where a guy with a .124 batting average gets the start ahead of someone else who is objectively better and gives the team a better chance to win. The .124 guy gets the start because he has a major league deal.

The AHL does not work like that.

On any given night, Derek Laxdal and the 29 other coaches of the AHL are tasked with the dual roles of winning the game in front of them tonight and making that raw rookie blue liner ready to take on the next Jonathan Toews or Sidney Crosby in five years.

Kurt Kleinendorst, who won a Calder Cup with Binghamton in 2011 but was fired this month from his coaching role with the Iowa Wild, said it best in his interview with Michael Russo.
"... the hardest league to coach is the AHL in my opinion. No. 1 you've got a bunch of guys that don't want to be here and a bunch of them who don't think they should be here. That's an interesting dynamic in itself.

"You've got guys at all different developmental levels. You've got your veteran guys that get it, you've got your middle of the road guys that some get it and some don't but think they do, and you've got your young, developing guys that are just happy to be in the locker room. I mean, it's a tough, tough league to coach, and that's what makes it such a great challenge."
So this is why Jussi Rynnas is playing in net with Jack Campbell. It's part of why Cristopher Nilstorp against St. John's instead of Campbell coming right off injury into the Finals. It's why Curtis McKenzie and Colton Sceviour were centered by Travis Morin instead of Radek Faksa. It's why Maxime Fortunus was paired with Jokipakka for much of last year. The old guys help the young guys learn how to be pros and also help them win. (Remember, of course, that those 'old guys' are 30 years old. Perspective.)

There is also the maxim that winning is the best development. According to Jim Lites, the Dallas Stars organization views the Calder Cup run for the Texas Stars as the equivalent of half of season of regular season games. In the best case scenario, you win it all by playing the kids and everything works out in your favor. That's what Texas got last year. However, when things aren't going so great in the NHL or the AHL for an organization, that's when tough questions start to pop up about the purpose of an AHL team.

I think you'd have to agree; it's a split personality league.

Read the full report at Defending Big D...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Texas GM Scott White on Search for 7th Defenseman, Sunday's Short Bench

Jyrki Jokipakka (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
I managed to catch Scott White for a few minutes this afternoon after a busy morning on the transaction wire for Dallas. I'll drop some bullet points to color in the conversation.

  • The plan with Kevin Connauton was to assign him to the Texas Stars, and it seemed like that would have been immediate. Obviously a claim was a possibility, as it always is.
  • While White did clarify that it's obviously up to the coaching staff to decide who plays in Dallas, Jyrki Jokipakka wouldn't be getting the callup if they didn't think he could handle NHL minutes. White believes Jokipakka showed his readiness earlier this year.
  • White sees Mike Dalhuisen as a third pair guy with "a cannon of a shot". He did indicate that if someone can come in and jump ahead of him, that is a possibility.
  • The Texas Stars are actively looking for a 7th defenseman and not just in Idaho. It will have to be a new signing as Troy Vance is going to stay in Idaho to get valuable minutes there and will not be the callup.
  • White isn't making excuses but does realize that the recent road stretch was tough. Texas went 1-2-2 on their five game trip and has now played seven of their last eight on the road. He also added that the locker room has been affected heavily by some illness which caused the short bench on Sunday.
  • According to White, Radek Faksa probably should not have played on Sunday after taking a puck to the leg in Saturday's game. However, the illness issues forced their hand. He said Faksa will be fine after the four days off this week, but they would have preferred if he hadn't had to play.
  • Finally, Texas is actively looking for a long term home for goalie Maxime Lagace, who has been the third man in Texas for several weeks. White called it a "tough scenario" because there aren't a lot of open jobs right now at the ECHL level. They want to send him somewhere he will be able to stay for a while, not just get one or two games.

Kevin Connauton Claimed by Columbus; Texas In a Bind on Defense

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
UPDATE: Per Mark Stepneski, Dallas is expected to recall Jyrki Jokipakka.

It's a calculated risk to put a player on waivers. Dallas defenseman Kevin Connauton was placed on waivers yesterday and was claimed today by the Columbus Blue Jackets. That leaves Dallas with just six defensemen on the roster.

The claim has big implications for the Texas Stars. When Dallas hits the road again, they will certainly want a seventh defenseman. That defenseman will likely come from the Texas Stars. Odds on favorite is Jyrki Jokipakka, who has already played several games in the NHL this year. There could be some chance that Dallas calls Cameron Gaunce becuase they would rather have Jokipakka playing in Cedar Park than scratched in the NHL. (Note: Jokipakka was recalled shortly after this story was first published.)

This is obviously a developing and rapidly changing situation. Dallas has a game tonight at home, which starts a five-game homestand. The team doesn't need a 7th man for now, but they will soon. If we assume it's Jokipakka, that means Texas will be down to Fortunus, Meech, Wrenn, Honka, Gaunce, and Dalhuisen. The Stars will likely want to sign another defenseman as the 5-6 role. I don't think Troy Vance is ready to be pressed into service quite yet at this level.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Kevin Connauton on Waivers, Could Be Texas-Bound

(Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
One-time Texas Star Kevin Connauton has been placed on waivers by the Dallas Stars this morning. With the emergence of John Klingberg in Dallas, Connauton has been a healthy scratch in four straight games. He last played against San Jose on November 8th. Minus Connauton, the Dallas defense is currently riding at six men: Goligoski, Klingberg, Daley, Dillon, Benn and Oleksiak.

Connauton is the seventh man right now, but with a string of five home games and low chances of Connauton getting into the lineup soon in Dallas, this gives Dallas options. He can be assigned to Texas for a period and come back when the team hits the road again.

The real trouble situation would be a waiver claim. Without a seventh defenseman, Dallas would likely call Jyrki Jokipakka into service as the seventh man when needed. That would certainly negatively impact the Texas Stars.

We will know if he clears waivers or has been claimed on Tuesday at 11 AM Central.