A year ago, the Dallas Stars were seen as contenders to reach the Stanley Cup finals. Instead, they didn't even reach the playoffs, and coach Marc Crawford wants to keep that from happening again.
Crawford begins his tenure with the Stars on Saturday night as they open the season against the Nashville Predators, another team looking to avoid missing the playoffs again.
The Stars entered last season with lofty goals after falling to Detroit in six games during the 2008 Western Conference finals. A series of injuries and a failed experiment in signing agitating left wing Sean Avery led to a 36-35-11 finish in 2008-09, coming up eight points shy of the final playoff spot and failing to qualify for the third time since moving to Dallas in 1993.
"Last year, the beginning of the season was awful. Then we had all the injuries," said defenseman Stephane Robidas, signed to a $13.2 million, four-year extension Thursday after setting a career high with 23 assists last season.
"If we would have had an average start, we would have made the playoffs. But we didn't, and we were playing catch-up the rest of the way. The focus (now) is to be ready from the get-go."
The Stars, who lost 14 of their first 20 games last season, haven't failed to reach the playoffs in consecutive years since 1986-88 when they were the Minnesota North Stars.
Dallas fired coach Dave Tippett in June and replaced him with Crawford, who spent last season as a TV analyst after not reaching the playoffs in two seasons with Los Angeles.
"There's a great group of players here that are disappointed with their finish last season," said Crawford, who led Colorado to its first Stanley Cup in 1996. "I'm not satisfied with my last stop in the NHL. So I think together, we're all trying to make the next step. We're all trying to recapture some greatness."
Brenden Morrow is looking to rebound from a torn ACL, which ended his 2008-09 season after 18 games. The Stars captain finished with five goals and 10 assists after setting career highs in goals (32) and points (74) during the previous season.
Dallas also hopes Marty Turco can regain his form after going 33-31-10 with a career-high 2.81 goals-against average. The goaltender has a career 2.26 GAA and his 240 wins rank first in team history.
To ease Turco's workload, the Stars signed veteran Alex Auld, who has spent the last three seasons with Florida, Phoenix, Boston and Ottawa.
"I was ready to go every night," said Turco, who played a career-high 74 games and led the NHL with 4,327 minutes played. "But we didn't make the playoffs. We didn't have team success and that's the only thing we look at and care about."
Dallas and Nashville split four meetings last season with the home team winning each contest.
The Predators had reached the playoffs for four consecutive seasons before seeing that run come to a halt in April, as they finished 40-34-8 to fall three points out of the final position.
They didn't make many changes heading into this season, but will have Steve Sullivan healthy. The left wing, who had 11 goals and 21 assists in 41 games in 2008-09, has missed 147 contests over the past three seasons due to a back injury that required surgery in September 2007.
"I think two points Oct. 3 is just as important as two points April 3," Sullivan told the Predators' official Web site. "We have to look at that and every time we put the jersey on we have to try to get points."
The Predators have yet to say who will start in net, as Dan Ellis competes with Pekka Rinne.
Ellis went 11-19-4 with a 2.93 GAA in 35 games last season, while Rinne had a 29-15-4 record and 2.38 GAA.
"They are both good goalies, so I don't think we can make a wrong choice," coach Barry Trotz said. "It's a really good situation to be in."