Dallas Stars ready to contend again after summer of upheaval

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, left, congratulates teammate center Devin Shore (17) after Shore scored a goal against the Colorado Avalanche during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Dallas, Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016. The Stars won 4-2. (AP Photo/LM Otero)

The fall for the Dallas Stars was swift – from first to 11th in the Western Conference. A 30-point drop in the standings and a year to forget led to a summer of change for general manager Jim Nill.

It all began with Lindy Ruff’s dismissal and a hearty welcome back for Ken Hitchcock behind the bench.

A coaching change was part one of the plan. The next item on the docket was the most important issue: upgrading the roster.

Exactly one month after firing Ruff, Nill traded for goaltender Ben Bishop and then handed him a six-year contract. Yeah, that term isn’t a favorable one, but change was inevitable after Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi failed to strengthen the position over the last two seasons. The defense was helped out by the acquisition of Marc Methot from Vegas following the expansion draft and Martin Hanzal was signed on the opening day of free agency to help the Stars down the middle. Now add Alex Radulov as a top-line wing next to Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn and you’ve got something cooking.

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Niemi was bought out, Cody Eakin was lost to Vegas, and Patrick Sharp and Ales Hemsky were told to move on. It’s been a good off-season for Nill. Areas that held the Stars back last season have been improved. It’s still a long ways until opening night, but in a short period of time Dallas has set themselves up nicely for a bounce-back season.

But with apologies to the Washington Redskins, they don’t hand out rings for winning the off-season.

“We’re excited about these moves but we’ve got to go to work now,” Nill said on a Monday conference call. “That doesn’t guarantee anything. We like what we have on paper, but in the end the goal for us is to be a contender every year, to get in the playoffs every year and we didn’t do that last year for different reasons, injuries and everything else. In the end, I think we’ve given ourselves a good position but we still have to go do it.

“This game can come at you pretty quick and it’s a tough league. We know we’ve got lots of work to do and we’re going to move forward from here.”

Winning attracts top talent as you can see across sports. The assemblage of talent on a roster also helps, and players can see what a GM is trying to build and how that could help them reach their goal of winning a championship.

Radulov saw that in Dallas. He saw the improvements Nill was making, and a conversation with Stars captain Jamie Benn also helped sell him on the idea. Getting current players involved in selling the franchise to free agents has been part of the GM’s plan this summer. So far, so good.

“There’s probably no better salesman for the team than Jamie Benn,” said Nill.

“In the end, players want to win. When they see these moves they know it gives them the best opportunity to win. I’ve had a chance to talk to quite a few of them. Some of them I’ve had call and talk to players to help in this process, to talk about the city, to talk about the franchise and everything else. They’re excited. I know the coaches and management team is excited. It’s a good feeling.”

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Sean Leahy is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!