MOST VALUABLE PLAYER
Kari Lehtonen is an absolute no-brainer pick here. The Finnish-born netminder was healthy for much of the season, except for a groin injury that sidelined him for most of December, but early in the season No. 32 helped carry the Stars to an 11-3-0 start. He tired late in the season and his performance at crunch time took a corresponding dip, so questions remain about him being a big-game goalie. Still, he was the Stars' MVP hands down.
MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER
Brenden Morrow is one of several players who could fit the bill here. Sure, the Stars' captain missed 25 games this season because of a string of injuries, but when he was on the ice, he just wasn't the same player he has been, especially last year when he led the club with 33 goals. Coach Glen Gulutzan moved him up and down the lineup after his second return from injury as he struggled to find the best spot for Morrow, who logged time on the second, third and even fourth lines. Maybe an offseason where he can rest and get completely healthy would allow him to return to his previous form. But maybe all those years of wear and tear have finally caught up with the 33-year-old.
The Stars clearly need a true No. 1 defenseman to anchor the blue line. Dallas' top pairing of Stephane Robidas and Sheldon Souray was solid but also showed how badly this club needs a true top blue-liner. Another need is atop-six forward who can help take the scoring load off the shoulders of Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder. Predators D Ryan Suter and Devils LW Zach Parise are considered their top targets in free agency provided they even reach that point.
FREE AGENT FOCUS
The Stars have a number of free agents. The list of restricted free agents includes RW Adam Burish, C Jake Dowell, RW Radek Dvorak, C Toby Petersen and D Sheldon Souray. Of that group, Burish, Dvorak and possibly Souray are the most likely to return. Dallas' unrestricted free agents include Richard Bachman, Jamie Benn, Jordie Benn, Mark Fistric, Ryan Garbutt, Philip Larsen and Tom Wandell. Getting Jamie Benn signed to an extension is clearly the top priority here, but it wouldn't be surprising to see Dallas bring back Bachman, Fistric, Garbutt and Larsen and maybe even Jordie Benn.
--C Jamie Benn continued his progression, setting a career high with 63 points (26-37-63) in a season where he became an NHL All-Star for the first time. Around the league, Benn is regarded as a true up-and-comer, and for good reason. His blend of sheer speed, offensive skill and sheer determination have combined to make him a huge fan favorite with the Dallas faithful.
--RW Adam Burish will be an unrestricted free agent this summer, but his performance in 65 games -- he had 19 points, a total that included a career-high 13 assists -- would appear to make him more attractive to the Stars. Burish played on the second, third and fourth lines and continues to not only bring a stellar work ethic on the ice, he's also invaluable in the room as a glue guy. He's a player coach Glen Gulutzan loves, so it's expected that he'll return.
--LW Loui Eriksson was one of three Stars to skate in all 82 regular-season games, and the consistent winger also had 70 points for a third straight season, finishing with 71 (26-45-71). However, there was one down side to Eriksson this season: He had no goals in the final nine games.
--RW Michael Ryder proved to be an invaluable offseason pickup as he led the Stars with 35 goals, a career high for the Newfoundland native. The ex-Bruin was also a nice veteran addition to the room, not just because of his championship pedigree, but his easygoing yet simultaneously businesslike demeanor spoke volumes with what is a mostly young squad.
--D Mark Fistric (groin) had a slight groin tear late in the season and missed the Stars' finale against the Blues. It is not known whether or not he will need surgery during the offseason.
Copyright (C) 2012 The Sports Xchange. All Rights Reserved.