With the coach and a number of players already signed on the dotted line, it’s fair to say Dundee Stars are well ahead in their preparations for next season.
A year ago they were rock bottom of the Elite League, resulting in the axe falling on Player/Coach Jeff Hutchins as the Stars looked to do something different.
Marc LeFebvre, Hutchins’ replacement, has made them a competitive force again and their return to the play-offs this year is testament to what he’s restored to the team.
When Stars won the Gardiner Conference two years ago, as well as the excellent Dan Bakala in goal, they carried a real threat in the forward lines.
Helped by British duo Sam McCluskey and Paul Swindlehurst, who were superb, and the impressive Rory Rawlyk in the defensive core, the Stars were great entertainment.
But it all went horribly wrong last season as poor recruitment saw them go from a top-three side to the bottom of the table.
Enter Lefebvre, back in Britain after a stint in Hungary, and perhaps with something to prove after a disappointing time with Coventry Blaze.
It was last May when the 33-year-old Canadian was appointed and he immediately set about building his first team as Dundee looked for better fortunes.
Netminder Vlastomil Lakosil was the first capture, followed by promising Brit D-man Craig Moore, who returned home from Ogden Mustangs.
Soon the core of the team was being put together. The signing of Bobby Chaumont from Fife Flyers as Player/Assistant Coach was certainly a wise one.
His experience of the Gardiner Conference set-up would prove invaluable as LeFebvre got his feet under the Tayside table.
Some of the early results – wins over Belfast Giants and Braehead Clan – made it clear this was a different team to the one left behind by Hutchins.
Stars hit a slump over Christmas, winning only two in seven, but the form overall convinced the club’s management to agree a two-year extension with LeFebvre.
He’s subsequently extended the contracts of five of his team so far, with Kevin Hart, Justin Faryna, Mikael Lidhammar, Brett Switzer and Craig Moore all back on board.
The signs are there could be more before the summer as LeFebvre lays down foundations for next season.
Where can they go? It’s a hard one to answer given this season has yet to finish, but we’ve seen a tight league in the last two seasons which could be even closer next year.
Stars have already improved this season and a play-off place is the minimum requirement, which was achieved fairly comfortably in the end.
Having won the Conference two seasons ago, with the right sort of players you can never rule them out of the running and Lefebvre will target that next season.
What does he do now? Without having any insider knowledge of the coach’s thinking and what he wants to do, a good netminder would be the cornerstone for the Stars.
Hutchins had it with Bakala, and Lakosil and Koenig have done a job for the team, but if LeFebvre can find a younger ambitious goalie with a blooming reputation, it could help.
While the depth in offense has been a real plus, defence is an area that needs work. Moore and Hart need more experience around them – someone to do the less glamorous tasks.
They could probably use a couple of extra bodies to help with the workload, but every other team has players aged over 30, with the experience and reading of the game.
That’s not to suggest for a minute the players they have don’t have that, but the stats show that out of the top eight teams, their defensive record is the worst.
If LeFebvre can pick up a couple of players with a good level of experience at the back, they can challenge for that Conference title next season.
Stars are currently the highest scorers in the Elite League (23 goals over Edinburgh last weekend certainly helped that) with 198 and that’s not an area of concern.
The only worry will be if LeFebvre doesn’t take the chance to upgrade the talent he has and take them to that next level.
Hutchins did it in his first season and it fell apart in the second campaign – LeFebvre certainly won’t want to emulate that.
(Image permission: Al Goold Photo)