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Will risk equal reward?

10/2/2003

With the Detroit Red Wings improving defensively and the Colorado Avalanche getting better on offense, the Stars seem to have been overlooked.

Then again, that's exactly what they hope.

Coach Dave Tippett has preached all along that he wants a team that can not only score goals, but stop them as well. He believes his system of aggressive breakout passes can foster a team that does everything well. The Stars hope to control the placement of the puck under Tippett's plan and move it through the neutral zone with smart passes. In doing so, they believe they will not only control the pace of the game, but keep the opposition from scoring.

The hole in Tippett's theory is that aggression can play right into the hands of the trap-happy teams that populate the NHL today. Aggressive passing through the neutral zone can mean risky passing and that can lead to turnovers, which is exactly how teams in Anaheim and Minnesota like to operate. When you give those teams a chance to counter-attack, they can get a quick lead and then sit on it.

Tippett, however, trusts his defensemen to make the smart pass when it's available and dump the puck in when lanes are clogged. Combine that philosophy with Marty Turco's puck-handling skills and you have a team that is very difficult to establish a solid forecheck against and also a team which should dominate attack zone time. When Turco was sidelined for 18 games with a high ankle sprain last season, the team's offensive rhythm was noticeably interrupted. If the Stars get the rhythm back this season, they will again be among the leaders in goal differential (plus-76 last season).

Offense
The Stars believe they can be dramatically better this season. Last season, the quartet of Bill Guerin, Jason Arnott, Pierre Turgeon and Scott Young was average at best. Each can pick up his scoring and find a better way to fit into the lineup. In addition, Niko Kapanen should be better after continued improvement during his rookie season and rookie winger Antti Miettinen could prove to be a real find.

Tippett's biggest problem will be finding the right line chemistry. The Stars have had too many top-level centers for the past two seasons and Tippett has experimented with Mike Modano on the left wing to try to solve the problem. That solution probably won't work, but it's worth a try while Tippett dabbles in mixing and matching. Turgeon has shown some chemistry on the left wing with center Stu Barnes, and you can almost be sure Kapanen and Miettinen will play the majority of the season together.

The Stars can ice two potent power-play units and would like to improve on the 62 man-advantage goals they posted last season.

Defense
The Stars top four defensemen have served as a security blanket for the past seven seasons, always among the league leaders. But the losses of Derian Hatcher (Detroit) and Darryl Sydor (Columbus) have created the need for some juggling.

The acquisition of Teppo Numminen from Phoenix in the Sydor three-way trade gives Dallas a 25-minute blueliner who can take the place of Hatcher and mesh well offensively with Sergei Zubov. The problem is that in replacing Hatcher with Numminen, the personality of the corps is altered. Now, instead of complementary and balanced pairs, Zubov-Numminen are a skilled pair and Richard Matvichuk-Philippe Boucher are a shut-down pair, and the disparity makes shift changes risky, especially on the road when the home team has last line change. What the Stars would like is that both pairs become versatile enough to handle both offensive and defensive assignments.

The third pair gives the Stars a few interesting choices. John Erskine could be the most physical of the defensemen, while Don Sweeney and Stephane Robidas are both small, but reliable. All in all, the blueline has the potential to come together, but there is work to be done.

The Stars continue to be one of the better penalty-killing teams in the NHL and should get better with the addition of Stu Barnes for an entire season and the play of Miettinen. The loss of Hatcher will hurt, but expect the team to use Boucher more in that role.

Goaltending
Because they've drafted well, the Stars have four home-grown talents who should give them depth for years to come. Marty Turco waited a few years to get his chance to be a No. 1 goalie and ended up leading the NHL in goals-against average (1.72) and save percentage (.932) last year, his first full NHL season. His GAA was the lowest since 1940. Turco believes he can be even better this season as he continues to study angles and bring a little more consistency to his game under the direction of goalie coach Andy Moog.

Ron Tugnutt is a reliable backup and will have much more support this season in the event of an injury to Turco. Jason Bacashihua (21), Mike Smith (21) and Dan Ellis (23) will rotate between Utah (AHL) and Boise (ECHL). Right now, all three are considered legitimate NHL prospects.

Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News is a regular contributor to ESPN.com.