Stars starting over in quest to return to playoffs

Associated Press  |  Last updated September 24, 2013
New Dallas Stars coach Lindy Ruff described the Buffalo Sabres as a ''hornet's nest'' when he took over there 16 years ago. The general manager had been fired, and Ruff's predecessor had rejected a one-year contract offer after feuding with his star goaltender. But, at the least, Ruff's Sabres were coming off a playoff appearance way back when in 1997. Different story here. In fact, he has inherited a team that has a franchise-record streak of five seasons without a trip to the playoffs. That's a long time in the NHL, period. For a once-proud franchise that won a Stanley Cup in 1999, and lost in the final round a year later, it's an eternity. ''That's the toughest question I have to answer,'' Ruff said of Dallas' playoff prospects heading into the opener Oct. 3 against Florida. ''We've put some pieces in place. ''We definitely should be better.'' The Stars are essentially starting over in their quest to end the playoff drought. New general manager Jim Nill fired Glen Gulutzan after two seasons, hired Ruff and overhauled the roster. The biggest addition was Tyler Seguin, a two-time Stanley Cup finalist and one-time champion with Boston who came over in a seven-player deal that sent steady scorer Loui Eriksson to the Bruins. ''Five years without playoffs is a long time,'' said forward Ray Whitney, 41, in his second season with the Stars. ''I think the organization has made that apparent to us with the moves they've made.'' Five things to know as the new-look Stars: FAMILIAR FACES: A few key components remain on a revamped roster. Forward Jamie Benn is the new captain to fill a vacancy created when Brenden Morrow was traded last season. Kari Lehtonen is back, with Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski going into their third full season together on the blue line in front of the goalie. ''Coming into this season there have been a lot of changes,'' Benn said. ''I wanted to come in and do my part and be a leader. I'm not much of a talker, but I want to be a leader on the ice.'' RUSSIAN MENTOR: Nill gambled by drafting 18-year-old Russian Valeri Nichushkin, with the risk being the youngster would prefer to stay in his home country. Nill felt comfortable with the move because he had every indication Nichushkin would come to the U.S., and he had already acquired 39-year-old Sergei Gonchar. The Stars are counting on Gonchar on the ice - he's the active leader in points (775) and assists (558) among NHL defensemen. But he will be a vital locker room presence for his teenage countryman. SILENT SEGUIN: The 21-year-old has apparently lived up to his vow to stay away from Twitter. Over the summer, an anti-gay post on his account - one that he said was posted by a hacker a few days after he was traded to Dallas - surfaced. It wasn't the first time he had run into trouble on the social media site, and he was called out by his Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli over needing to be a ''better pro.'' Now, he says he wants to be the face of a franchise that hasn't had one since Mike Modano left. IT'S LEHTONEN'S NET: The former No. 2 overall pick was 66-46 in his first two full seasons with Dallas, and had his best year in 2011-12 with a 2.33 goals-against average and a .922 save percentage. The numbers weren't as good last year on a team that wasn't a great fit, but Nill has been clear that he likes the incumbent in net. ''I really like the talent we have here,'' Lehtonen said. ''There's a lot more skill and all of those things that you need.'' WILY VETS: Whitney and Gonchar are the elder statesmen in Dallas, but there are three others with at least 10 years in the league in Robidas, Shawn Horcoff and Erik Cole. Horcoff came over in a trade after spending the first 12 seasons of his career in Edmonton. ''We have a group of established veterans who know how to win,'' said the 24-year-old Benn. --- Follow Schuyler Dixon on Twitter at https://twitter.com/apschuyler
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