This is the first of a two-part series which will examine the state of Dallas-Fort Worth Professional sports teams as they make their way to or through their seasons. The Dallas Cowboys and Dallas Stars will be examined in this part.Dallas Cowboys
Hopes are sky high once again as America’s Team enters training camp in Oxnard, California on July 28th. The signing of highly publicized receiver Terrell Owens immediately upped the expectations and media coverage of a Cowboys team that narrowly missed the playoffs last season with a 9-7 record. 5 of those 7 losses came by a touchdown or less which indicates that the Cowboys hung around in games last season and should repeat that trend in 2006-2007.
For the first time in his tumultuous tenure Head Coach Bill Parcells finally has the pieces to successfully run his preferred 3-4 defense with the drafting of Ohio State linebacker Bobby Carpenter and the signing of free agent linebacker Akin Ayodele. The secondary also looks promising with the addition of defensive back and noted “Parcells Guy” Marcus Coleman from the Houston Texans. Cornerback Terence Newman came into his own last season displaying better technique and ball skills that will allow the Cowboys to play man to man more on his side this season.
Future Hall of Fame guard Larry Allen leaves a huge void, and it’s up to free agent addition Kyle Kosier to fill it. Kosier is versatile and can play both tackle spots but expect him to get first shot a filling Allen’s shoes. The biggest addition to an offensive line that was patchwork at best last season is the return of 2-time Pro Bowler LT Flozell Adams. Adams should provide consistent protection for quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s blind side and his return should result in a significant reduction from the 49 sacks the Cowboys O-Line allowed last season.
Despite having receiving weapons like Owens, Terry Glenn, and rising star TE Jason Witten; Parcells is still a staunch advocate of the ground game and will rely on incumbents Julius Jones and Marion Barber to man the backfield. Barber and Jones battled injuries and inconsistency last season but still combined for 1531 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The kicking game also gets a much needed upgrade with the signing of Mike Vanderjagt, the most accurate kicker in NFL history. The Cowboys used three kickers last season with varying degrees of success, and though the Cowboys have had a great track record with developing kickers they don’t have the time for growing pains in 2006.
All but 3 of the Cowboys first 9 games are on the road so a quick start is paramount for the Cowboys playoff chances. Despite all the criticism that this decade’s Cowboys teams have endured for the first time since the days of Aikman, Irvin, and Smith the Cowboys sport the kind of depth that a Super Bowl run requires.
The area’s local hockey team made headlines this week with their signing of talented yet oft-injured free agent center Eric Lindros to a 1 year deal. Lindros is expected to take the place of departed center Jason Arnott, who signed a free agent deal with the Nashville Predators. The signing of free agents Jeff Halpern and Matthew Barnaby provide the Stars with the grit they lacked during the playoffs last season. The Stars have a bevy of blueliners so expect them trade one (possibly Janne Niinimaa or Jon Klemm) to add an additional offensive-minded forward. The Stars only have 3 million dollars in cap space left so Lindros is likely to be the final free agent the team signs.
In future years the Stars are likely going to use a light touch when approaching player acquisitions to avoid such free agent mistakes like Bill Guerin and Pierre Turgeon. The Stars gave lengthy contracts to Guerin and Turgeon expecting immediate results and their careers in Dallas were mediocre at best. In the new NHL developing young, in-house talent to replace departed players will be vital to success even more than in past years because in-house players are a cheap source of talent. The Stars hit the jackpot last year with Finnish left wingers Jussi Jokinen and Antti Miettinen combining for 28 goals and 86 points. Jokinen also led the NHL with 10 shootout goals including 3 game-winners. On the way up is Swedish left winger Loui Eriksson who led the Iowa Stars, Dallas’s minor league affiliate in goals, assists and points in 2005-2006.
The Stars ran away with the Pacific Division this season finishing with 112 points (13 more than runner-up San Jose) and wrapping up the Western Conference’s No.2 seed with weeks left in the season, meaning that their late season schedule was devoid of meaningful games which attributed to their stale performance in their first round series versus the Colorado Avalanche. Whereas division rivals San Jose and Anaheim played their best hockey at season’s end resulting in deep playoff runs for both (including a Stanley Cup Finals berth for Anaheim). Furthermore San Jose brings back league MVP Joe Thornton and league-leading goal scorer Jonathan Cheechoo while Anaheim adds one of the league’s top defenseman in Chris Pronger who they acquired in an offseason trade with frequent Dallas foil Edmonton.
The Stars will struggle to get out of their division alive in 2006-2007 with a sudden lack of top-level offensive talent. Captain Mike Modano is coming off a career season, but at 36 one can only wonder how many great seasons he has left. Goalie Marty Turco is the key to any real success because for the Stars to get back to having deep summer Cup runs Turco will have to translate his regular season success (68% winning percentage, 2.08 GAA) to the postseason where his numbers are less desirable (36% winning percentage, 2.54 GAA). With the parity that exists in the Western Conference the Stars should make it to the playoffs for the 9th time in 10 seasons but this season’s Stars lack the depth and talent to end this city’s Stanley Cup drought.