Veteran core could be broken up

The Sports Xchange

For the fourth straight season, the Stars are not participating in the Stanley Cup playoffs. This year's club missed the postseason by six points, which was precipitated by a 3-9-0 finish in which Dallas lost five straight for the second time this season.

So what do the Stars need to do in order to break through and return the postseason for the first time since 2008, when they fell to the Red Wings in the Western Conference final?

Well, this will be the first offseason under new owner Tom Gaglardi, and Dallas figures to be very active in free agency this summer.

"It's obviously very difficult," general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said. "We're the NHL bridesmaids two years in a row, and it's tough to swallow. I think the good thing is we have an owner now that is committed to getting better, and we're going to be aggressive at getting better, too."

One of the first things they are likely to address is a power play that not only finished the season as the worst in the NHL, it will go down as the worst in franchise history, converting at a rate of just 13.5 percent.

The best way to address that might be to bring in either a true No. 1 defenseman or a top-six forward who can log considerable power play minutes.

Dallas will also face some tough decisions on an aging veteran core that has been one of the few constants during this playoff dry spell. This group includes captain Brenden Morrow, the gritty Steve Ott, flashy center Mike Ribeiro and veteran defenseman Stephane Robidas. It wouldn't be surprising if at least one members of that group doesn't return next fall.

But there is some hope for the Stars. The young duo of Jamie Benn, a 2012 All-Star, and Loui Eriksson, a 2011 All-Star, form a solid cornerstone, and newcomer Michael Ryder, who came over from the Stanley Cup champion Bruins last summer, led the team with 35 goals.

The Stars are also fairly well squared away in goal, where Kari Lehtonen was stellar for pretty much the entire season, except for a late season swoon brought on by overwork more than anything else.

Dallas also has some young players who showed considerable promise. Backup goaltender Richard Bachman, forward Ryan Garbutt, defenseman Philip Larsen and winger Tomas Vincour each contributed, as did defenseman Jordie Benn, older brother of Jamie, who had two assists in his three NHL games.

And in their season-ending loss to the Blues on April 7, the Stars got a further glimpse of their future as defenseman Brenden Dillon and winger Scott Glennie, Dallas' top pick in the 2009 NHL Draft, each made their league debuts in a 3-2 loss.

"I think it's important (to get a look at these kids)," Nieuwendyk said. "Those kids, we've been kind of awaiting their arrival in Austin for some time now. I think under the circumstances, it's good to give them a look."

The Stars' 4-2 win over the reigning Stanley Cup champion Bruins on Dec. 31 at American Airlines Center not only drew a sellout crowd, it gave Dallas considerable confidence heading into 2012. That confidence manifested itself in the 11-game point streak the Stars went on between Feb. 21 and March 14, a span in which they were 10-0-1.

In a 4-1 home loss to the Blackhawks on March 16, the Stars were blitzed by Chicago early. Dave Bolland made it 1-0 just 10 seconds in and, just 1:32 later, teammate Patrick Sharp made it a two-goal game. Dallas was playing at home for the first time since its 11-game point streak had ended two nights earlier in Winnipeg, and it was clear the same problem that had bitten the Stars earlier in the season -- slow starts -- was still a problem.

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