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Friday, September 28, 2007
Updated: September 30, 4:06 PM ET
2007-08 Team Preview: Dallas Stars

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Layne Murdoch/Getty Images

Marty Turco erased his playoff demons in last season's first-round series vs. Vancouver.

The Starting Line

By Scott Burnside

The Dallas Stars are a hard team to figure out. In eight of the past 10 seasons, the Stars have topped the 100-point mark. In nine of the past 10 seasons, they have made the playoffs. Yet, since advancing to the Cup finals in 2000, they have managed to win two playoff rounds, miss the playoffs once and bow out in the first round in three straight playoff years. Maybe the Stars aren't all that hard to figure out. They have developed into a team that can put up regular-season points but cannot get the job done in the playoffs.

In the recent past, that has been laid at the feet of netminder Marty Turco, but last spring he played out of his mind and the Stars still fell in seven games to the Vancouver Canucks. The Stars bid adieu to Eric Lindros (who likely is on his way to retirement), Ladislav Nagy (whom they acquired from the Phoenix Coyotes for a first-round pick) and Darryl Sydor this offseason, but they made no additions of note. Defensively, they remain one of the top teams in the league, but their offense is flat at best, non-existent at worst, and making the playoffs in a conference where too many teams have upgraded seems a stretch.

OFFENSE
Only Vancouver entered the Western Conference playoffs having scored fewer goals than the Stars. Then, over the course of seven games, three of which went to overtime, the Stars managed to score just 12 times, with four of those goals coming in Game 1. How bad is the Stars' offense? Their leading scorer, Mike Ribeiro, had all of 59 points. The team had just two 20-goal scores, Jere Lehtinen and Mike Modano, and two of their best producers were defensemen Philippe Boucher and Sergei Zubov, who combined for 105 points.

Granted, Modano was injured and played just 59 games, but he is 37. Isn't it time someone else took the scoring torch from the gifted center, who soon will become the most prolific American-born player in league history? The problem is, there really isn't anyone on the horizon who looks like he can do the job. There's Jussi Jokinen (48 points), but his greatest value seems to be in the shootout. Captain Brenden Morrow has the potential if he can stay healthy. He had 31 points in 40 games after missing the first half of the season with injury. Loui Eriksson probably is the most talented prospect, but to be realistic, he can't be expected to produce more than 50 points.

DEFENSE
If the Stars' offense leaves you wanting and wondering, the Dallas defense remains rock-solid and should keep the Stars at least around the playoff bubble all season. Start with Zubov, who probably doesn't get the recognition he deserves (he was a Norris Trophy nominee two years ago), Boucher, Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Mattias Norstrom and Nolan Baumgartner, and you've got a group that can move the puck, play physical and make life miserable for opposing offenses. Niklas Grossman looks like he's ready to jump from the AHL to NHL.

GOALTENDING
If there is any justice, no one will ask Turco about his lack of playoff success after he stopped 218 of 231 shots in the first round against Vancouver. That, on top of another stellar regular season in which Turco went 38-20-5, reconfirms he is a top-notch NHL netminder. Rookie Mike Smith went 12-5-2 as Turco's backup last season, and it will be interesting to see if Smith can play his way into a larger role this season.

COACHING
Dave Tippett is 190-97-41 and has four straight playoff appearances to his credit since becoming coach in May 2002. Unfortunately, all of the regular-season success doesn't amount to a hill of pucks, given the Stars have won just one playoff round in his tenure. Tippett is progressive and well liked. In the end, he likely will have to deliver at least one playoff series victory next spring to keep his job.

Scott Burnside is the NHL writer for ESPN.com.

DALLAST STARS

EXTRA CREDITS
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LAST-SEASON REVIEW
• Record: 50-25-7
• Division: Second in the Pacific
• Conference: Sixth in the West
• Playoffs: Ousted in the first round by Vancouver



PLAYERS TO WATCH

Boucher

Goalie: Marty Turco
The Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, native won three games in the playoffs, all by shutout. What else would you like him to do?

Defenseman: Philippe Boucher
The 34-year-old has quietly amassed 94 points over the past two seasons. Can he keep getting better?

Forward: Loui Eriksson
The 33rd overall pick in 2003 had 31 goals with Iowa of the AHL in 2005-06, but just six as an NHLer last season. He's got the tools to be a productive member of the Stars' lineup.

MORE FROM BURNSIDE

Buzz Cut
The Stars long have been held up as a model franchise in a non-traditional market. But three straight first-round playoff departures and a lack of dynamic young players on the horizon might finally be putting a dent in fan loyalty.

Where They Will Finish
The Stars will finish third in the Pacific Division and ninth in the Western Conference.

ESPN VIDEO

SPORTSNATION

Where do you think the Dallas Stars will finish this time around? Who will lead the Stars in scoring and what's your take on the man behind the bench? Vote now!

FANTASY TAKE

Modano

Marty Turco is a constant as a top fantasy netminder, and Philippe Boucher should be considered a strong No. 1 defenseman. The sun has begun setting on Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen and Sergei Zubov, but they still have some value. Look for some combination of Jussi Jokinen, Joel Lundqvist, Antti Miettinen and Loui Eriksson to step up. Brenden Morrow should again be a strong, five-category contributor after an injury-riddled campaign. -- Sean Allen

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