The Chicago Blackhawks surely didn't enjoy this past offseason as much as their previous one. After adding some much-needed toughness and depth to compliment their high-octane offense, they could be poised to get back to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Dallas Stars are relying on a rookie coach to end their playoff drought -- a task made tougher with their leading scorer out of the picture.
Glen Gulutzan makes his NHL coaching debut as the Stars and Blackhawks kick off their seasons Friday night at American Airlines Center.
One season after winning its first Stanley Cup in 49 years, Chicago crept into the playoffs thanks to a Dallas loss on the final day of the 2010-11 regular season. The Blackhawks fell into a 3-0 hole against Vancouver before rallying to force a Game 7, but were ultimately eliminated by the Western Conference champions in the first round.
"I think a lot of us have to prove that what we did two years ago wasn't really a fluke," said right wing Patrick Kane, who returns following July wrist surgery. "Last year, we didn't have our best team and we almost did some damage."
"You need to be able to change the momentum, and that's usually with guys who play a certain (physical) style," Bowman said. "That's why we've added all those players while we've kept all our top guys."
"The guys who are coming in are some big, physical guys," added goalie Corey Crawford, who went 33-18-6 with a 2.30 goals-against average as a rookie last season. "Once we have the big guys go out with checks and open up space and get the other team thinking a bit, then our skilled guys can go out there with their speed and their puck handling."
While the Blackhawks are excited about their acquisitions, the Stars are counting on Gulutzan to help snap a franchise worst-tying three-year playoff drought. Gulutzan spent the last two years coaching the Texas Stars -- Dallas' top minor league affiliate.
"Even though he's young and hasn't coached a game in the NHL, his strengths are exactly what we need," general manager Joe Nieuwendyk said. "He just gets it. He understands players. He understands how to mesh players and how to get the most from their ability. We've seen that from talking to players who played for him. We were highly impressed with the structure and the style of play, just the bench demeanor of Glen. I think that's going to translate well with our players."
Richards spent the last three-plus seasons with Dallas but signed with the New York Rangers in the offseason. He tallied 77 points in 72 games in 2010-11.
With Richards gone, the time may be right for Jamie Benn to take the next step in what looks to be a promising career. The left wing recorded 56 points last season after notching 41 during his 2009-10 rookie campaign.
"I think we recognize that he is a gifted young player who's going to be capable of raising the bar here," Nieuwendyk said.
Captain Brenden Morrow, who scored a career-high 33 goals last season, has eight goals and six assists over his last 14 games against Chicago.
No. 1 goaltender Kari Lehtonen has also thrived in this series of late, going 3-0-0 with a 1.62 GAA versus the Blackhawks in 2010-11.
While the Stars may lack the sort of firepower teams such as Chicago posses, center Steve Ott believes a group effort could produce success.
"The little detail things are going to add up. If we're great at those, we'll be a competitive team," Ott said. "Our structure is going to be our backbone. Our competitive guys in our lineup will push the pace. Every single night you'll have a tough game against the Dallas Stars."