Dallas Stars season in review

by Dan M | Posted on Monday, May 19th, 2014

DallasStars_top5slideshow

By Richard Pollak
For the first time since  2009, I have entered the offseason with hope and optimism for the future of the Dallas Stars instead of a multitude of negativity that always followed a failed attempt at the postseason under the past regimes.
From the heights of the press box high above the common hockey fan at American Airlines Center,  the experience of those final few minutes on Sunday night are still a bit too fresh in my mind…. the Stars were almost back to legitimacy. Then again, I recall the wisdom of Sports Radio 1310 The Ticket’s Dallas Star’s pre-post game commentator extrodinaire Bruce Levine, “As Gologoski goes, so goes the Dallas Stars” which was the kiss of death.
In one of former GM Joe Niewendyk’s less than brilliant moves he trades a league leading goal scorer in James Neal and a now established defenseman, Matt Niskanen, for a 4th or 5th defenseman at best in number 33.
Still, there are plenty of thoughts bouncing around in my hockey head that  for the last time this season, the Stars almost proved me wrong!
Why was Robidas traded when he was so needed? Because the Stars hockey brain trust truly thought, but hoped, they were not making the playoffs and needed to bring up a young inexperienced defenseman in Nemith to shine hope for next year’s season tickets sales.
I still profess the New Dallas Stars Owner Tom Gagliardi doesn’t have any extra daddy’s money to spend on a real number #1 and #2 like the former Dallas Stars, Hatcher/Matvichuck days.
Around this time last year, Niewy’s hands were financially tied as coach Glen Gulutzan was on his way out and a search was just beginning for the next head coach. How I remember saying “anyone but John Tortorella or Lindy Ruff.” What we should have paid attention to is how Ruff had garnered a reputation as a coach able to adapt his team’s style to fit the players at his disposal but I say he’s past his coaching gritty prime.
This was a Dallas Stars squad that became known as the team that refused to quit in the playoffs, their first trip since 2009.  They were a different team than the one that luckily landed in the Stanley Cup playoffs  only because Phoenix lost their #1 Goaltender.
I haven’t agreed with many decision he’s made . There’s a lot that still needs to be fixed but for the first time in five years I have some  faith in a coaching staff that continue to build and grow a team that is on the cusp of being something better.
What the Stars need now is a number #2 Center. Unfortunately, they  have 2 great players sharing the first line glory but no one to follow up like there was with Niewendyk, who did it for Modano, then    Carbonneau, Keane, Hogue and Skrudland.

The power up the middle that new GM Jim Nill says he had going into the season but never produced. Putting Jamie Benn back to the wing, something the new regime was adamant needed to be done, but then that failed.
How many of us imagined that Tyler Seguin would become that fabled elite superstar, and how many expected that in the course of one year the Stars would suddenly have a top-5 scoring forward in the NHL?
Seguin has seen his career reborn in Dallas and he’s embraced the city and the fans in the town he now calls home. He and Benn form one of the absolute most dangerous top lines in hockey and he’s managed to completely turn around perceptions about himself both on and off the ice. He scored big goal after big goal throughout the season and while he hit a rough patch in the playoffs — he was still one of the best forwards on the ice throughout the series.
Then think about this: Tyler Seguin is only going to get better. Then think about this one: Jamie Benn is still going to get better.
BUT WHERE IS THE SECOND LINE CENTER?
I am more  concerned about the defense a than I was just five months ago. The coaching staff has overseen the development of a very determined group of players who all reached and went beyond their perceived potential this season, and there’s still room for growth for many of those on the blueline. But big change on defense is needed.
Stars desperately need to figure out what to do with Sergei Gonchar. Does that mean the search for a big, game-changing top pairing defensemen should be over? Not at all — but I  think the Stars need to drop everything and trade away the world in a desperate attempt to completely re-make the blueline like we may have thought last summer.
The Dallas Stars need a backup goaltender who can step in and play 20 or so games next season – will Jack Campbell ever be ready?  Or even more — not be counted upon to poop the bed when called upon. The absolute lack of faith in a backup has led to Lehtonen getting overworked significantly these past few seasons and as much I love and respect the Big Finn, it’s also clear the Stars need to start grooming his eventual replacement. For many, that player remains to be Jack Campbell. I’m of the opinion that it’s time to bring him up and sit him behind Kari on the depth chart and then see what he can do with semi-regular playing time.. But having Campbell playing in Austin while the Stars play Lehtonen for 70 games next year because the Stars have a crappy backup? Not the best plan.
We’ve been saying it and writing about it for years now, but the youth movement is finally underway in Dallas. The Stars embraced pulling players up from the AHL and giving them the chance to play and prove themselves by going into the postseason with 12 of 18 regular skaters having zero NHL postseason experience and many with less that two years of experience in the NHL.  More will be on their way, and most were originally added to the franchise under the tutelage of Joe Nieuwendyk and company.
Jim Nill has been great for the franchise but what Nieuwendyk was able to do in remaking the prospect system and development pool can still be questioned  enough — even if it was just a decision to let Les Jackson do his thing while actually putting value in prospects and draft picks.
Finally, it’s amazing how quickly the perception of the Dallas Stars around the NHL has changed in just one year. Suddenly this is a team that people want to watch play, a team that is competitive in nearly every game and a young roster that provides an immense level of excitement for anyone who loves watching hockey. Add in the fact that the AAC atmosphere increasingly became more intense and magical and suddenly you have a team that might actually start getting national attention that is positive rather than focused on what all is wrong.That goes a long way towards creating an environment that other players want to be a part of, and  the national spotlight wants to shine on. The Stars might not have the national draw as some Original Six teams, but this is also a team that everyone suddenly wants to watch …..and wants to watch succeed which can only be good for the business of the franchise — and good for the product on the ice as well.

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