Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mapping Out the Rest of the Texas Stars' Summer

Dallas at the 2011 Traverse City Tournament (Credit: Judy True)
Did you feel that change in the winds just after the NHL announced their schedule and involvement in the 2014 Olympics in Sochi? That sudden death in all the wind currents (aka news stories) is the mid-summer doldrums. Let's take this opportunity to look at what we have to look forward to over the next few months.

At some point in August, usually mid-month, the AHL releases the season schedule. In some prior years, they have announced the scheduled teams for each club ahead of this but did not do so last season.

Many future and current Texas Stars will step onto the ice for the first time competitively together from September 5-9 in the Traverse City Prospects Tournament in Traverse City, Michigan. While I've never been myself, it is supposed to be a wonderful environment for the fans. Given how few make it to the event, diehards can rub elbows with GMs and head coaches in the stands, who are taking in the game from the same bleachers they are.

Dallas will hold their training camp in Fort Worth from September 11-14. It's a change from some far-flung destinations (and planned destinations) of the past few years including Charlottetown, PEI and Boise, Idaho. The move fits into the club's overall strategy to become the 'hockey team of the Southwest'. By moving training camp to Fort Worth, Dallas hopes to open up some connection to Cowtown.

Immediately following training camp, the Stars will start preseason games. Their first few will be in traditional NHL arenas, but two will fall in AHL arenas within driving distance, if you're so inclined. Especially interesting to Texas fans is the September 20th game in San Antonio against the Florida Panthers. If you're willing to go more far afield, the Stars will also have a game against Edmonton at the COX Convention Center in OKC on September 27th. Then again, Dallas is quite a bit closer than OKC if you just want to see some Dallas Stars preseason hockey.

Finally, during the preseason, Texas will start receiving players from Dallas to start their training camp in Cedar Park. Training camp should start in the last week of September with the preseason start for the AHL during the first week of October.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Around the League: Former Stars Both Finding and Still Searching For Jobs

Justin Dowling (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Odds and ends from around the league. Here we go:
  • Justin Dowling got a little bit of good pub from his local paper. Mostly information you should be familiar with except for Dowling's mention that he could be invited to Dallas camp in September. [Cochrane Eagle]

  • Former Stars Michael Neal has re-signed in Orlando with the Solar Bears. Neal had 12-20-32 in 46 games with Orlando last season. [Orlando Solar Bears]

  • Think you have what it takes to play pro hockey in the ECHL? The Idaho Steelheads might have a spot for you in Boise. [Steelheads]

  • Former Stars coach Paul Jerrard is still looking for a job. He has been continuously employed as a coach somewhere since 1997-98. [Pennlive]

  • Austin Fyten will be with the Barons next season. [Twitter]

  • A former Stars training camp invitee, Andrew Carroll, just signed a one year deal with the Hartford Wolf Pack [Stamford Plus]

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Will the Texas Stars Run Afoul of the AHL's Veteran Rule?

Two of the Stars' vets for the coming season, Toby Petersen and Francis Wathier. (Credit: Mike Connell/Texas Stars)
It's time for the annual review of the AHL veteran rule and how it applies to the Texas Stars. I wrote one of these last year, which you can read here. I'll re-include the salient portions of the rulebook and my explanation here:
Here's the language that the AHL uses on its website to describe the rule:
"Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a regular-season game, at least 13 must be qualified as "development players." Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL, IHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season."
If that's a little confusing, that's OK. Let's break it down.

Essentially, a hockey team is most usually made up of 12 forwards, 6 defensemen and 2 goalies. Goalies are exempt from the veteran rule. For the 18 remaining skaters, the veteran rule states that 12 of those players must have played fewer than 260 regular season pro games. Of the remaining 6, one of those must have played fewer than 320 regular season pro games. Of the remaining 5 at that point, there are no restrictions on how many games have been played. All measures are taken at the beginning of the season and don't change as the season goes on.

With 76 games in an AHL season, two-hundred and sixty games is enough to get through a player's initial three-year entry-level contract (ELC) without hitting the rule. In fact, fourth year players are generally exempt from the rule, having played at most 246 regular season games to that point (82 NHL games per season over 3 seasons).

The 320 games player rule was added in the 2007 PHPA CBA negotiation to allow one "tweener" player.
Now let's see the top-tenured player list for the coming season:

Toby Petersen398517915
Maxime Fortunus8568576
Francis Wathier10444454
Chris Mueller37323360
Colton Sceviour2294296
Travis Morin3284287
Luke Gazdic0256256
Cameron Gaunce11206217

Alright, the good news is that the Stars, even with all the players who are likely to be assigned, have exactly the right number of players to comply with the veteran rule. Petersen, Fortunus, Wathier, Mueller and Sceviour are the five with no restrictions. Morin is your 'less than 320' vet.

If the Stars had too many players who qualify as vets, they would have to sit some of them each night to ice their squad. That just generally doesn't work out because either you've got one veteran sitting out consistently (which isn't what you're paying him to do) or you've got a different vet sitting out each night (which means you lose momentum and consistency with going in and out of the lineup).

One especially interesting point is that Luke Gazdic just barely misses the cutoff for the vet rule, coming in 4 games short. If he had played 4 more games his first season or even last season, that could have been a factor in making the decision to re-sign him.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Quick Hits: GM Scott White Talks About Fortunus, Remaining Open Roster Spots

Maxime Fortunus (Credit: Steven Christy)
I caught up with Texas Stars GM Scott White Tuesday afternoon after the signing of Maxime Fortunus was announced. We chatted about that and also some of the roster openings still remaining in Texas.

On his overall thoughts on the signing:
"Obviously Max had options. He's at a point in his career where there are family and financial decisions. At the end of the day, our offer was very competitive, a two year AHL contract. He knows where he'll be for the next two years. He will go to Dallas in camp and do his best there." 
"You never know whatever occurs down the road in terms of needs for the NHL. He still has that, but he has family and [job] security issues. With his kids and wife, they are very comfortable in Cedar Park. It's a great place to live. His oldest is five or six and getting into school. Max can solidify himself in this area with this deal."
On whether the two year term played a big factor in the decision to sign in Texas:
"I think term was there, but there were other offers out there and he was very comfortable with the Texas and Dallas Stars. He's been with us for a long time and knows what we're all about. He's been a big part of our success from a depth perspective. He's been a big part of our success, and he's a good leader, good for the younger players on and off the ice."
White has only signed one other two year deal, with Landon Wilson in the first season. WIlson didn't play the second year when he was injured. White isn't worried about that with Fortunus:
"Max is a fit guy. He was dinged up a bit last year, but it wasn't because he wasn't a fit athelete. I think he'll come back in even better shape this year."
On PTO signing and development camp attendee Brendan Ranford:
"He's a player that is going to have to establish himself. He has pace and skill, but he's a little undersized. He plays the game the right way, but it's really in the player's hands to take advantage of the opportunity. He's got to be ready when the time comes. Mike Hedden went through it when he joined up. Ranford had a good development camp but so did a lot of other guys. It was more about getting them introduced to the Dallas Stars as an organization."
Austin Fyten (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
On whether there are remaining open roster spots:
"You know me, I always like to have more depth and a lot of different guys. If we can tweak it a bit by adding more depth and players that spend time in Idaho, that's what we'll do. If it's a player who can add depth, there's a long time between now and the end of the regular season so you never know. If the right player is out there, we may add that player. Other than that we are pretty good with numbers right now."
On reaching out to some of the PTO/ATO players from last year like Ryder, Fyten or Johnston:
"I evaluate those case-by-case but right now I'm running with the status quo. Obviously Brad Ralph is working with a lot of players because many fall through the cracks with finding AHL jobs. I'm constantly talking, emailing and texting player reps to see who might still be available. You keep your eyes open. The players that you mention, I don't see them in the mix at this juncture. "
On getting the core players and the coaching staff back in Texas for a second season:
"It's a good core group and I like that we're brining some youth into it as well. Now the coaching staff just has to manage them accordingly over the schedule and put the team into the playoffs. It's a long year and it's all about guys managing and taking advnatage of opportunities. That's what you need in a dev setting." 
"Willie and Doug will be prepared and the players will compete. The coaches believe that the work ethic needs to be top notch and that will give them a great chance for success."

Texas Signs Captain Maxime Fortunus to Two-Year AHL Deal

Maxime Fortunus (Credit: Gregg Forwerck)
One of the longest-tenured Texas Stars will be returning for two more seasons as Texas announced this afternoon that they have signed captain Maxime Fortunus to a two year AHL only deal.

It turns out Fortunus was the veteran defenseman that GM Scott White had been looking for, and he didn't have to go very far to find him. The 29-year old Quebec native had made a decision to test free agency coming off a two-way deal with the Dallas Stars. Fortunus played a few NHL games in the 2009-10 season for Dallas.

With the expectation that Jordie Benn could stay in Dallas among the likely stable of eight defensemen there, the AHL Stars needed a veteran presence to guide youngsters including sophomores Oleksiak and Nemeth and rookies Klingberg, Jokipakka and Boutet.

It's an interesting signing for the Stars, who were at one point looking for a veteran defenseman who could push the NHL roster. They appear to have gotten that and a little bit more with Jordie Benn, who is anticipated by some to make the NHL out of camp. Needing to backfill that veteran gap, Fortunus fits the bill.

The term of the deal leads me to believe that the Stars are investing in Fortunus's leadership abilities following the success of last season under his captaincy. Two year deals are rare in the AHL mostly due to the constantly shifting rosters. Texas has had only two in its history, both captains. Landon Wilson signed a two year deal but only played one season due to injuries.

Fortunus joins Luke Gazdic, Francis Wathier, Travis Morin and Colton Sceviour as first-year Stars to remain with the club through its fifth season.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars announced today that the club has signed defenseman Maxime Fortunus to a two-year standard American Hockey League contract through the 2014-15 season.

Fortunus, 29, is a member of the Original Texas Stars, having played all four years of the franchise's existence. The La Prairie, Quebec native was selected as the Stars' third captain in team history on October 12, 2012 and had 28 points (7 goals, 21 assists) and 16 penalty minutes in 67 regular season games during the 2012-13 season. Fortunus also appeared in all nine Calder Cup Playoff games for Texas, registering one assist and two penalty minutes. Undrafted after playing parts of five seasons for Baie-Comeau Drakkar of the QMJHL, he has played in 699 career professional games over the course of his ten pro seasons, including 568 career AHL games with 180 points (49 goals, 131 assists) and 234 penalty minutes in his AHL career. Fortunus has also played in 94 career Calder Cup Playoff games, reaching the Calder Cup Finals in back-to-back seasons with the Manitoba Moose (2009) and Texas (2010), both times losing to the Hershey Bears in six games. He made his NHL debut with the Dallas Stars on December 18, 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings and has appeared in eight career NHL games for the Stars.

Fortunus has appeared in 272 career regular season games for Texas, which is the most of any defenseman in team history and ranks fourth overall. He leads the franchise amongst defenseman in almost every offensive category: goals (29), assists (76), points (105), power play goals (11), power play assists (31) and shots (410). Fortunus ranks fourth overall in assists and points, fifth in shots, ninth in goals and 13th in penalty minutes. He is one of only three players, along with Colton Sceviour and Francis Wathier, to play in all 39 Calder Cup Playoff games in Texas Stars history.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Quick Hits with GM Scott White: Goalie Depth; Travel in the New Division

Cody Eakin takes a shot on now-teammate G Dan Ellis. (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
It's been a whirlwind couple of weeks for Texas Stars GM Scott White, who was involved in the draft, development camp and the AHL Board of Governor's meetings. I caught up with him this morning before he is surely off to enjoy his first weekend off in a bit.

On the Stars' new division:
"That's what I thought would happen. We'll have some back-to-backs out there where we can pair two games like we did last year. We'll also have more trips to the Midwest Division [to make up for lost games against Houston]."
On the signing of Dan Ellis for the backup role in Dallas:
"Mike Valley and everybody was confident with the signing. We know him from when he was in Iowa with us and we know his character. He's grown a lot since Iowa and will provide great competition for Kari Lehtonen in Dallas."
On whether Jack Campbell will be getting a bigger role this year:
"That's up to the player. We want Jack to get games, but that's up to him. We're going to have to wait and see what they show us."
On any potentially forthcoming announcements on new rules for 2013-14, incl. hybrid icing:
"The AHL does a great job testing rules for the NHL. [Hybrid icing] is one of those. I believe and we believe as an organization that hybrid icing is good. It doesn't slow down the game and it helps from a player safety standpoint."
On signing Chris Mueller and what his role is going to be:
"We expect Chris to get top six minutes and play on the power play. He may also be on the penalty kill depending on the skill set. He's a 200 foot player and a player that is steadily improving. He will get some NHL time this year. "

Texas Stars Secure Key Pieces Mike Hedden, Josh Robinson

Mike Hedden (Credit: Christina Shapiro)
The Texas Stars announced this morning that they have locked down two of their AHL contracts for the coming season, both re-signings, as winger Mike Hedden and goalie Josh Robinson rejoin the fold. Hedden, who is entering his third year with the club, is a key signing for the Stars' top six. His combination with Justin Dowling during the last season was an engine for success for the club. Both are now back under contract.

"Mike can take a bigger bite here," said Texas Stars GM Scott White. "The trade (sending Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith to Boston) opened up opportunities in our top six. Fortunately, [Hedden] was still available. He can seize some key minutes for us next year."
Josh Robinson (Credit: Idaho Steelheads)
Texas also locked down their goaltending depth. With the departure of Tyler Beskorowany, the team has a definite number five guy in Josh Robinson. Robinson was a rookie last year in the ECHL and was lights out for the Steelheads (27-8-1-3). White is looking for Robinson to continue that depth role in Idaho and be ready for the callup if the time comes. Robinson did not get into an AHL game last year.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars announced today that the club has signed both left wing Mike Hedden and goaltender Josh Robinson to one-year standard American Hockey League contracts for the 2013-14 season.

Hedden, 28, returns for his third season with the Stars after finishing tied for fourth on the team with 35 points (13 goals, 22 assists) during 2012-13, along with 38 penalty minutes and a plus-eight plus-minus rating. The Dunnville, Ontario native saw his first career AHL post-season action during the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs and was tied for second on Texas by scoring four points (1 goal, 3 assists) in nine games. Over the last two seasons, Hedden has appeared in 130 career AHL games for the Stars, which ranks 14th on the team’s all-time list, and has 69 points (32 goals, 37 assists) and 93 penalty minutes. He ranks sixth in franchise history in game-winning goals (7), seventh in goals, ninth in points, 11th in assists and 12th in shots (212).

Hedden holds the distinction of being one of just two players in Texas Stars history, along with Colton Sceviour, to score a penalty shot goal. He accomplished the feat on April 14, 2012 when he beat Oklahoma City goaltender David LeNeveu at 5:35 of the second period in front of a sellout crowd at Cedar Park Center. Hedden played four years of NCAA Division III college hockey for Neumann University of the ECAC West, helping the Knights win the 2009 NCAA D-III National Championship, the first in school history.

Robinson, 23, re-signs for his second year with Texas after spending his first professional season with the Idaho Steelheads, the Stars’ ECHL affiliate. The Frankenmuth, Michigan native played in 39 games for Idaho during the 2012-13 season, posting a 27-8-1-3 record, with a 2.57 goals-against average (GAA), a 0.925 save percentage (SV%) and five shutouts. Robinson ranked second in the ECHL in wins, shutouts and SV%, fourth in saves (1,245), sixth in minutes played (2,362) and ninth in the league in GAA. He also appeared in 13 post-season games for the Steelheads during the 2013 Kelly Cup Playoffs, earning a 5-7 record with a 2.50 GAA, a 0.919 SV% and one shutout, leading Idaho to the Western Conference Finals before losing to the Stockton Thunder in five games. Robinson was recalled to Texas twice last season and served as the Stars backup goaltender for three AHL games. He was undrafted after playing four years of NCAA Division I college hockey for Michigan Technological University of the WCHA.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

AHL Re-Alignment Mess Puts Charlotte, Abbotsford in Same Division with Texas

(Credit: Texas Stars)
With the addition of the Utica Comets, departure of the Peoria Rivermen and the relocation of the Houston Aeros, it was inevitable that a little bit of divisional realignment was coming to the AHL this summer. What came out of it is a nasty mess for the Texas Stars, who find that their new division spans the entire North American continent and four time zones. Stretching just under 2300 miles by air east to west, Texas will face off with Oklahoma City, San Antonio, Abbotsford and Charlotte in the newly renamed 'West Division' in 2013-14.

This chain of events, that sees the Checkers starting away games against a divisional opponent at 10 PM local time and Abbotsford at 4 PM, was set into motion by the Canucks' purchase of the Peoria Rivermen. Their decision not to keep the team in Peoria and move them instead to Utica forced the AHL's hand here as they wanted to keep a 15/15 West to East split. Utica stayed in the West but needed a new division. They slide into the North Division, replacing Abbotsford, as Iowa moves into the Midwest to replace the now vacant spot previously held by Peoria.

The overall divisional alignment is pretty good. You have to ask, really, what other choice did the league have? There are a few teams that have good arguments to move East (Charlotte being tops on the list) and they've all got more tenure than Utica.

So where do you put Abbotsford? It's so much out on an island that it causes real travel headache for the whole conference. Earlier news that Peoria might have relocated to Seattle is now made doubly bitter as the Coyotes have stayed in Arizona. The potential failure of the arena deal in Glendale and subsequent likely move to Seattle was one reason why the move was blocked. Yes, Texas probably would have ended up in a division with the Seattle AHL team, but it would have made a little more sense. You could chain a few games together up there and the Heat and Seattle could play 12 games against each other with just a bus ride between them. The economics make more sense.

Of course, given that the Abbotsford club is guaranteed to break even using city money, who knows what sort of economic calculations went into this decision.

Here's the release with all the divisions:
American Hockey League President and CEO David Andrews announced that the league’s Board of Governors, convening this week for its Annual Meeting in Hilton Head Island, S.C., has approved the following division alignment for the 2013-14 AHL season (NHL affiliates in parentheses):

Eastern Conference
Atlantic Division
Manchester Monarchs (LA)
Portland Pirates (PHX)
Providence Bruins (BOS)
St. John’s IceCaps (WPG)
Worcester Sharks (SJ)

Northeast Division
Adirondack Phantoms (PHI)
Albany Devils (NJ)
Bridgeport Sound Tigers (NYI)
Hartford Wolf Pack (NYR)
Springfield Falcons (CBJ)

East Division
Binghamton Senators (OTT)
Hershey Bears (WSH)
Norfolk Admirals (ANA)
Syracuse Crunch (TB)
Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (PIT)

Western Conference
North Division
Hamilton Bulldogs (MTL)
Lake Erie Monsters (COL)
Rochester Americans (BUF)
Toronto Marlies (TOR)
Utica Comets (VAN)

Midwest Division
Chicago Wolves (STL)
Grand Rapids Griffins (DET)
Iowa Wild (MIN)
Milwaukee Admirals (NSH)
Rockford IceHogs (CHI)

West Division
Abbotsford Heat (CGY)
Charlotte Checkers (CAR)
Oklahoma City Barons (EDM)
San Antonio Rampage (FLA)
Texas Stars (DAL)

The Stars, who are the reigning South Division Champions, will now add the Abbotsford Heat to their division alongside Charlotte, Oklahoma City and San Antonio and the division will be renamed the West Division. Other changes from last year’s alignment include Iowa being placed in the Midwest Division and Utica being slotted in the North Division.

The format for the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs was also approved by the Board of Governors, and remains the same as 2013: Eight teams in each conference will qualify for the postseason, with the three division winners earning the top three seeds and the next five best teams in order of regular-season points seeded fourth through eighth. The conference quarterfinals will be best-of-five series; the conference semifinals, conference finals and Calder Cup Finals will be best-of-seven series. Teams will be re-ordered after the first round so that the highest-remaining seed plays the lowest-remaining seed.

The playing schedule for the 2013-14 regular season, which begins Oct. 4, will be announced later this summer.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Stars Add C Chris Mueller, Former Stars on the Move

Chris Mueller, then as a Milwaukee Admiral, attempts to find a lane for the perfect pass during the 2011 Calder Cup Playoffs (Credit: Jeff Hanisch)
The Dallas Stars added some depth at center over the past few days including the signing of Chris Mueller to a one year, two-way contract. The pivot man sliced and diced the Stars in the 2011 playoffs for the Milwaukee Admirals. In just six games against Texas that series, he had three goals and five assists. His line with Gabriel Bourque was a main engine of the Stars' demise that year. Now the 27-year old Michigan State product likely brings his services to the Cedar Park Center.

Elsewhere, some former Stars have found new employers; others are still looking. Richard Bachman will be heading to the Edmonton Oilers organization, where he will likely visit the Cedar Park Center frequently as the #1 for the Oklahoma City Barons. He was a steady hand for Texas in the AHL but faltered in the NHL. Philip Larsen is also on the way to the Oilers, likely to make the NHL roster, as the return in the Shawn Horcoff trade.

Likely former Stars captain Maxime Fortunus has announced that he is going to be testing free agency and is still looking for a home. UFAs Carl Sneep and Tyler Sloan are also still seeking employment. Tyler Beskorowany, Jace Coyle and Mathieu Tousignant, all RFAs that did not receive qualifying offers, are all still in the available talent pool.

In other news, the Texas Stars will not be seeing Valeri Nichushkin this year according to an interview that Mark Stepneski did with his agent Monday. Either the young winger will play in the NHL for Dallas or head back to the KHL to play for Dynamo.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Defenseman Jordie Benn Signs For Three More Years In Dallas

Jordie Benn (Credit: Steven Christy)
The trade with Boston sort of obscured another bit of news for the Dallas Stars over the past twenty-four hours: the signing of defenseman Jordie Benn. After initially having a three year contract announced by his agent on Twitter a few days ago, the Dallas Stars confirmed that contract yesterday. The deal is two-way in the first year and two-way in the second and third years.

This deal suggested that the Stars are confident in Benn's ability to mature into a 6/7 swing man for the club longer term. It is a pretty incredible story for the player once best known as "Jamie Benn's brother". After starting in the ECHL and CHL, Benn signed in Texas. He didn't get into many games to start but then found his way onto the roster and played so well that Glen Gulutzan couldn't take him out. That play earned him a Dallas contract, which has now turned into this three year deal. He's played 29 NHL games and scored eight points. When he was playing in the CHL, I don't know if many thought that Benn would end up in the NHL. Now, he's got three-year NHL contract.

Here's the relase:
The Texas Stars announced today that the Dallas Stars, the club’s National Hockey League affiliate, have signed defenseman Jordie Benn to a three-year contract. As per club policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.

Benn, 25, concluded the 2012-13 season with six points (1G-5A) in 26 games for Dallas. He scored his first career NHL goal on March 23, 2013 against the Colorado Avalanche. On the season, he earned four of his six points on home ice at the American Airlines Center.

In addition to his time in Dallas, Benn also skated in 43 games for Texas, the Stars’ top development affiliate in the American Hockey League (AHL). He finished fourth amongst team defensemen in points (7G-14A-21P) on the season. Benn has appeared in 165 career AHL games for Texas, which ranks seventh on the team’s all-time list, and he has 65 career points (18 goals, 47 assists), which ranks 10th all-time.

The 6-foot-1, 200-pound native of Victoria, British Columbia was originally signed as an undrafted free agent by Dallas on July 1, 2011.

Stars Send Matt Fraser, Reilly Smith, Joe Morrow to Bruins in Huge Trade

Probably my favorite picture of Matt Fraser ever, just after he scored his first pro goal. (Credit: Ron Byrd/Texas Stars)
So much for a vacation. The Dallas Stars made a blockbuster trade today with major ripple effects down into the minor leagues. Dallas acquired centers Tyler Seguin and Rich Peverley and defenseman Ryan Button from Boston in exchange for wingers Loui Eriksson, Matt Fraser, and Reilly Smith along with defenseman Joe Morrow.

Matt Fraser and Reilly Smith have been big contributors in Texas over the past two and one seasons respectively. Obviously the loss of the all-time leading goal scorer in Fraser and one of the team's top points-per-game producers in Smith is a pretty rough one-two punch. However, there is talent coming along the pipe, some of which was previewed such as Brett Ritchie.

In the end, the Texas Stars primary purpose is talent development. While most of the time it is nice to see that talent develop and then stay in the system, seeing that talent leave the system is also a positive sometimes. Matt Fraser, an undrafted free agent, has matured into a player that dominates the AHL level and has a crack at the NHL level now, perhaps in Boston. The Bruins saw what he did in Cedar Park and put a value on that, hence his inclusion in the trade. Again, it's a tough hole to fill, but the Stars hope to see players such as Ritchie step up into that goal scoring role.

In my opinion, the loss of the scoring from Fraser and potentially Smith, in the case that he would have made the AHL roster instead of Dallas, makes secondary scoring even more important for the team. Mike Hedden should be a priority for the Texas Stars in the coming days. The two sides have been having talks.

Also gone in the trade is Joe Morrow, who saw action in all but one game after his trade to the Dallas system. Morrow has now been traded twice in four months. It seemed like the performance he had in Cedar Park did not match expectations of him. The Stars received Ryan Button on the blue line in his place. Button was a third round pick in 2009 by Boston. He played in the WHL, mostly with Prince Albert, but also seeing time in his final season with Brenden Dillon and the Seattle Thunderbirds. Kirk Luedeke, who covers Boston prospects, had this to say about Button: "Mobile shutdown, bottom-pairing guy, real good character. Has the tools to be more, could just never apply them."  Button spent some time in the ECHL over the past two seasons and has yet to tally a goal at the AHL level but has 3 points.

Reilly Smith (Credit: Grand Rapids Griffins)
Finally, yes, there are a lot of people who are going to be upset about the Texas Stars losing some top talent and getting what seems like to them a rather meager return. However, the number one goal of the Dallas Stars organization is to win a Stanley Cup. Players on the roster are all tools in the GM's toolbox to get there. When a trade comes across the table, the work that the Stars have done to develop players can help make those AHL players valuable pieces in the trades. Those trades make the Dallas Stars better and move them closer to the Cup.

To say that this wasn't a good deal for either side isn't a fair analysis. Boston gets scoring wingers, including the centerpiece of the trade for them, Loui Eriksson. Eriksson is a big scorer in his prime or perhaps just past who can help the Bruins right now. Dallas gets two centers, which immediately shores up that position, and allows them to move Jamie Benn back to his natural wing spot.

If you want to try and make the argument that Jim Nill doesn't care about the minor league team, take a look at the Grand Rapids Griffins, which were under Nill's management this season. They just won the Calder Cup. It's an argument that doesn't hold water.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Quick Hits with Luke Gazdic: Figure Skating and the Declining Role of 'Enforcers'

Luke Gazdic (Credit: Josh Rasmussen/Texas Stars)
Luke Gazdic, one of only a few remaining original Texas Stars, signed a one-year two-way contract for the coming season yesterday. I caught him for a quick chat earlier today.

On getting his contract done and expectations for next year:
"After the season, I talked with Jim Nill and Les Jackson. They expressed interest in having me come back, and that was a positive coming home. A couple of weeks ago, they wanted to get a contract done and once they said that I knew it was all about the numbers game. It came down to the last minute, but I'm glad we got it done.

Jim Nill and I talked after the season, and he liked what he saw in the last bit of the season and the playoffs. He knows what kind of game I bring to the table. The expectation now is that I'm going to be fighting for a job in the NHL just like the 50-something other kids. I'm expecting to go in and fight for a roster spot in Dallas."
On what role he expects to play to make the roster in Dallas:
"My first year and a bit I was fighting a ton. As a result, I was injured a lot. The game changed, and it's constantly changing. I got advice from coaches and management that if I wanted to play at the next level, I knew I had to work on my defensive game and skating. I can't be a one-dimensional tough guy and just go out there to fight.

As you can see in the game now, these types of players are being eliminated slowly. Even as recently as 5 or 6 years ago, those guys are getting phased out because they can't handle the speed and the quickness the game has developed. I know now that along with keeping my toughness up, I have to work on making my game a little more well-rounded."
On how he is working to improve this summer:
"A lot of power skating. A lot of trendy stuff right now is working with figure skaters, and I have a figure skater I'm working with. She breaks down your stride and tries to make it the most efficient possible. I'm trying to maximize the efficiency of my stride and use my full power to get the most out of it. My stride is too short and choppy, so I'm trying to lengthen it."

"I told her I want to be able to do a triple axle by the end of the summer. (laughing) I don't know if my 240 pound body can even make it once around!"

"Other than that, I'm skating to get skill stuff in. I'm keeping my boxing up to keep that part of my game up."
On the momentum from last year's Texas squad coming into the next season:
"It's nice to have Willie and Doug coming back and having a lot of the core chunk of guys back from the team last year. It was a strange year start to finish with the lockout and the deadline. It was like we played for three different teams. It'll be nice to have all the guys down there with the core staff. Also, guys that didn't have much playoff experience last year, including myself, now know what playoff hockey entails and how much different it is than the regular season."

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Dallas Re-Signs LW Luke Gazdic, Lets Bachman, Beskorowany Walk

Luke Gazdic (Credit: Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The Dallas Stars announced this afternoon that Luke Gazdic was among two players signed today for the coming season. The left winger, who has played most of his pro career in Texas, was signed on a one year two-way deal. Gazdic was a restricted free agent and was without a qualifying offer coming into this afternoon's deadline.

The fan favorite is definitely looking to make some noise with this coming season. He has become a trusted veteran voice in the locker room and earned the "A" on the ice several times during the season. He will be a trusted member of the bottom six for Willie Desjardins, but no question he is looking to make his impact felt in Dallas as well. There are still a lot of items to be hammered out in Big D with regard to their roster so there is still time.

In other RFA news, the Stars made the decision not to qualifying several other players who were in Texas at various points this season. Tom Wandell had already signed in the KHL and was not qualified. Tyler Beskorowany, Jace Coyle and Mathieu Tousignant did not receive offers and were not expected to. Finally, Dallas made the decision not to qualify Richard Bachman, who had a very bad 2012-13 season in Dallas, posting a sub-.900 save percentage and really not giving Kari Lehtonen enough of a break to keep the backup role. The Stars could sign a veteran backup for the NHL role and then allow that player to fight it out with Cristopher Nilstorp for the #2 spot behind Lehtonen.

Here's the release:
The Texas Stars announced today that the Dallas Stars, the club’s National Hockey League affiliate, has signed left wing Luke Gazdic to a one year contract for the 2013-14 season. Dallas also announced the signing of forward Lane MacDermid to a one year deal.

Gazdic, 23, registered 11 points (4G-7A) and 80 penalty minutes in 59 regular season contests with Texas last season. The 6-foot-3, 240-pound forward tallied a season-high two assists and recorded a +2 plus/minus rating on Jan. 18 at Chicago and played in his 250th career American Hockey League game on April 6th vs. Hamilton. The Toronto, Ontario native appeared in eight games and had 19 penalty minutes for the Stars in the 2013 Calder Cup Playoffs, helping the team reach the Western Conference Semifinals. He has skated in 256 career AHL games, posting 447 penalty minutes and 55 points (27G-28A) in four seasons with Texas.

Gazdic is the Stars’ all-time franchise leader in penalty minutes and holds single season team records for penalty minutes (155) and major penalties (21). He ranks fifth all-time on Texas in games played, 10th in goals and 14th in points. Gazdic is a member of the Original Texas Stars, one of eight players who have played every season of the team’s existence. He was Dallas’ sixth round selection (172nd overall) in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.

Nichushkin in Cedar Park? Not So Fast...

Traverse City tourney from several years ago
Valeri Nichushkin, the Stars first round pick in Sunday's draft, is a rare first round pick eligible to play in the AHL immediately after the draft. Because he is coming from the KHL, instead of the CHL, the transfer rules we are used to do not apply. However, Nichushkin is also the sort of player that could make an NHL impact in the first year after his draft. Unfortunately for Texas fans, he is likely to start the season in Dallas and has specifically stated that he would come to North America next year as long as he didn't have to play in the AHL.

It's sort of unclear what should be gathered from that statement. In a perfect world, any draft pick would say they were willing to go wherever the organization wanted them in order to ensure they had the best chance to develop into a consistent NHL contributor. However, fairly or not, Russian players have developed a reputation for turning down chances to play in North America, especially in the minor leagues, in favor of the KHL ranks.

The other players drafted on Sunday may not get to the pro ranks for a few years. For comparison, the Texas Stars' coming rookie players for this next season were mostly drafted in 2010 and 2011. That puts your potential AHL ETA for players like Jason Dickinson or Remi Elie at 2015-16 or 16-17.

Until then, you can monitor their growth as sites like Defending Big D track their progress.