It’s hard to determine what’s going on with the Dallas Stars as the regular season draws to a close.
All we can be sure of is that, with just over a dozen games left, they’re a good five wins out of a playoff invitation. There’s still a possibility that the “invitation” is in the mail, but with two of their last 13 games against San Jose, one versus Ottawa, and one with Chicago, there is a growing chance that it may end up in the undeliverable pile.
So, assuming that what we see is what we get, we are motivated to ask: What has gone wrong with the Stars in 2010? What has angered the hockey gods?
In 2008-09, there was the basic assumption that upset chemistry—due to the herculean mistake of adding Sean Avery and his pie-hole to the roster—contributed to the Stars inability to make the playoffs.
Goaltending, which had been solid before the loss of certain blue-liners to injury and age, was strangely sub-par for long stretches and was immediately pegged as another excuse. Then coaching—which had also been stellar for years prior to 2009—was pinpointed as an area to be revamped.
The result? Well…it was something decidedly less than what was hoped for. But then again, you could argue the changes made after 2009 were both inevitable and necessary. Though at this point, the best you could successfully argue is that they were merely preliminary adjustments as part of a greater solution. And even if you did argue this, it would be hard to show evidence that the changes were a step forward.
One culprit (on the surface) for the Stars' bad placement in the standings could be that, at the 68-game mark, the team has a league leading 13 overtime losses (OTLs). Then again, you could also consider that a saving grace, and a small reason why there’s still a snowball's chance in hell for the team to salvage a playoff berth.
The other scapegoat is Marty Turco who, despite posting four shutouts on the season and allowing virtually the same amount of goals as Mikka Kiprusoff, Ilya Bryzgalof, and Evgeni Nabokov, has managed a 29th best GAA of 2.79 and a save percentage of 9.11. That's just a bit better than Jonathan Quick, and 19th best in the league as of today.
Coaching could be the other glitch. Marc Crawford may be the nicest guy, and he may have had some history of success in the NHL, but his progress with this team has been elusive. One cannot say the same for his predecessor, Dave Tippet. Tippet has deftly taken a team that couldn’t win an argument under Wayne Gretzky and shepherded them into serious playoff contention.
But more than anything, the root of the problem seems to fall at the feet of a disinterested Tom Hicks, whose profligate, A-Rod-courting days are now sadly drifting away. Licking the wounds of financial battles fought from here to Liverpool, Hicks has dictated that the Stars operate well below an owner-induced salary cap that was supposed to be the boon of all franchise proprietors.
Thus, the Stars remain saddled with an over-taxed defensive corps, a goaltender crisis, and an anemic second and third line, with no money to throw at the problem. Hicks has mentally checked out beyond finagling a bailout purchase deal for the team, and, although the organization has been quite generous with the fan’s ticket prices, he doesn’t seem to be too concerned with its immediate future.
In the midst of these franchise doldrums, GM Joe Nieuwendyk is asked to husband his resources and keep the team limping along until the deeper pockets of a new ownership arrive. This is like running Chrysler before the bailout, but without the Vipers.
The usual strategy of putting money into the “Bank of Modano” has become as sound as the Schleiffen plan of World War I. And even Wilson and Burke (during their awesome selection of Team USA) properly recognized the signs that Modano has reached the point where his good looks and past performances are now his greatest assets.
The team has scoured its farm teams and brought up a host of youngsters to try mining for gold. But outside of James Neal’s surprising emergence and Jamie Benn’s flashes of promise, the well seems to be about as tapped as it can be. Additionally, the once great pantry of goaltenders the Stars had squirreled away is now, evidently, bare.
So what is there left for this team but to, perhaps, play over their heads for as long as they can. Brad Richards must earn more than his $7.8 million dollar salary and get his poor plus/minus stats (-15 as of today) shored up. Ribiero has to exceed his $5 million value by getting knocked off the puck a little less and scoring more than 20 goals.
Brendan Morrow, who contributes much more than his stats show, needs to find a way to lead his team past other clubs whose owners spend millions to stock their rosters with talent. Stephane Robidas must continue to battle forwards twice his size (in height and weight, but not in heart) and Marty Turco and or Kari Lehtonen have to dig even deeper and save like high-interest IRAs.
And Modano? The floating Derek Zoolander of the team? Well…as far as I’m concerned, he just needs to take his place beside Ambassador of Fun, Brett Hull as Burgemeister of “Good Lookingness” or something.
Can they do it? Can they overachieve their way to playoff success? Sure. In the game of hockey anything is possible.
Will it be tough to do?
You better believe it!
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