Tonight, as the Wings prepare for their home opener versus the Dallas Stars, a team transitioning in identity (and at least partially rebuilding), we've got three questions with Brandon Worley of Defending Big D.
1. What are expectations like around the Stars this season? Have they improved enough relative to their division and conference to make some noise into the postseason?
We'll see. That's the best way to answer that question right now. There's no doubting that the Stars have a much different dynamic on the ice from the last few seasons and I've been hard-pressed to look back and see a bigger change in personnel/style than we've seen from last season to this one.
The top six group, especially with Benn, is much more balanced and much more dangerous. Without Benn, however, the lack depth at center is much more pronounced and the playmaking ability of the second line is nearly non-existent to this point. There's also the issue on defense, where the Stars are turning the future over to the young guns in a season where there will be some very rough growing pains at times.
Personally, I'll be thrilled and surprised if the Stars make the postseason -- and I won't see it as a failure if they do not.
2. Coming from Wings fans, you know we're not judging the Stars having two 40-year olds in the top six, but is there any concern about guys like Jagr and Whitney adjusting to such a condensed schedule or should a shorter season help them?
There's a thought that the shorter season could help Jagr and Whitney, but Jagr has already played half a season with HC Kladno. I think that first game against Phoenix was a big wake-up call for Jagr, who had a nasty reminder of just how tough and physical the NHL can be. He had a target on his back after it was clear he was the best player on the ice and I wonder how much the short recovery time had an effect on his game in Minnesota.
I also think the crazy travel schedule for the Stars will likely nullify any advantage the short season could have provided. The travel schedule for teams like the NY Rangers, Boston and Philadelphia are absolute jokes compared to what the Stars will be going through this season.
3. How much longer before Jamie Benn is back on the ice for Dallas? How long before he's fully up-to-speed?
He'll be on the ice by Saturday. If it goes any longer than that, then something went terribly wrong somewhere. He played in Germany during the lockout but it's been a month since he played in a game. For each game he misses, that's more time he'll need to catch up to speed with the rest of the team -- who are finding chemistry while he waits on a new contract.
Benn will potentially have two wingers he's never played with. He needs to be on the ice sooner than later -- although that goes without saying.