Stars Bag of Pucks – March 12 – Modano, Peverley, and Playoff Runs Past
I have written a summary of each season’s final month below, but the result of the experiment is that with the exception of the 2012 team, this squad has always been about the 9th or 10th seed in a league where the 8 best get in. Are they chokers? No. That means you are good enough and just can’t see it through. Are they teases? Maybe. They tease you that they might be good enough but cannot sustain it for all 82 games against the competition. One word of warning is that we are 65 games into the season and the issues have usually happened after Game 70. So, while I believe this team is the best of the bunch and they will make the post-season, they have been able to play 70 games very well in the past. But, the final dozen games have been where the good teams have left Dallas in the dust.
2008-09: This year is best known for being the year that everything the Stars worked so hard to build with their 2008 Western Conference Finals run and really over a decade of quality hockey was blown up by the signing of Sean Avery. I am sure that is hyperbole, but I am not sure to what extent. This was the year that they started with 6 wins in their first 20 games, and then dumped Avery and the final 3 and 3/4 years of his 4 year deal in Calgary and then played about 3.5 months of very impressive hockey. Unfortunately, during that season they also lost their captain and playoff hero Brenden Morrow to a severe ACL injury to his knee and missed almost the entire year and top scorer Brad Richards broke his wrist, missed a large amount of time, returned, and then in the very same game of his return he broke his other hand. It just wasn’t there year. As shown by the green line above, on March 14 in Game 69, the Stars won their 2nd consecutive game, which sadly turned out to be the last time they would win 2 in a row. They finished on a 3-7-3 slide and the horrific year cost the General Manager duo of Brett Hull and Les Jackson their jobs, which then cost Dave Tippett his job.
2009-10: The first season of Marc Crawford and Joe Nieuwendyk will perhaps be best remembered for the end of Mike Modano’s run in Dallas (and Marty Turco and Jere Lehtinen) and the oddity of finishing the season with that bit of drama which momentarily allowed us all to smile for a moment about the past and what a treat it was to watch #9 and #26 for so long. But, the season also had the disgusting attribute of being the only team in the entire NHL that had never won 3 consecutive games for the entire year. It was really quite brutal. Modano spent quite a few games injured with a broken rib and Mike Ribeiro had a significant throat injury in New York that took him out for a month. But, make no mistake, this team was just not very good at hockey and finished a long ways out and really never threatened at any time to make the playoffs. As the purple line shows, they just were not in the mix.
2010-11: This one was easily the year that there is no way to sugarcoat the idea that they choked. Largely, because they did (see gold line). They spent almost all of the year in 1st place and as of Jan 20 was considered one of the best team’s in the league with a 29-13-5 record. But, with the looming issue of Brad Richards’ expiring contract and concussion as well as a blue-line that was falling apart the Stars would go on a huge 2-11-1 run where they then had to decide how to save their season. Joe Nieuwendyk then pulled the trigger on a huge trade of James Neal and Matt Niskanen for Alex Goligoski to attempt to jump start the roster. Meanwhile the concussion and Richards’ no trade clause forced the team to hold their expiring asset until the end, knowing he wasn’t going to be kept in the summer with bankruptcy freezing all spending. The trade seemed to help them find something momentarily, but a 6-game losing streak in late March put them from in the playoffs to needing a prayer with 5 games to play. On April 2, they were 6 points back with 5 games left, and seemed all but eliminated. But, they won 4 straight and then needed help on the final day of the season from a Detroit team with no incentive to beat Chicago in Chicago with everything on the line. They did. So, playing Minnesota in St Paul against a Wild team that has been eliminated and not fielding a full lineup, the Stars suffered the ultimate humiliation of being eliminate on a winning goal by former Stars prospect Antii Miettinen. In a win-and-you’re-in game, the Stars lost to a bad team in a game that Marc Crawford would pay for with his job, despite the Stars finishing with 95 points (tied a record for most points to miss the playoffs ever).
2011-12: So, Brad Richards is gone and so is Crawford. In his place is new coach Glen Gulatzan and a host of low cost free agents like Michael Ryder, Vern Fiddler, and Sheldon Souray, and even Eric Nystrom who had to be signed to get the Stars to the salary floor in the league. The best news of all, though, was that Tom Hicks officially handed the keys over to a new, optimistic, and not-broke Stars owner in Tom Gagliardi. Again, though, this version of the squad – that came to be known as the "pesky Stars" battled their tails off all season long and had a solid month from mid-Feb to mid-March where they mowed through everyone and were in fantastic shape, even though they played without Jamie Benn for a few weeks after he suffered a skate laceration. But, 70 games in, the Stars held the 3 seed and had a 4-point lead in their division over everyone. It was a remarkable season, especially considering the fact that they had one of the worst power plays in the history of the sport both in chances and in conversion rates, while stubbornly keeping Jamie Benn off of the #1 power play unit for the year. However, as the brown line above indicates, the Stars went from 5 points up to 8 points back in just 12 games where they finished the season falling on their face with a 3-9 crash and burn. And nearly every single game down the stretch was with Kari Lehtonen looking tired between the pipes.
2012-13: And finally, year 5 of the march through the wilderness was the 48 game lockout-shortened season last year that started with trading away Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott the summer before and trying to build the team around Jamie Benn who started the year with a contract holdout. That eventually got worked out, and he would join a team that was very young with rookies everywhere and very old with 40 year old signees Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr. It was a very bizarre year where you could sense it was Nieuwendyk’s last year if they didn’t make the playoffs (making it also Gulatzan’s last year, too) and yet to his credit, the GM made many trades that all seemed to have an eye to the future. So, as Jagr, Brenden Morrow, Derek Roy, and Michael Ryder were all being dealt away for pieces on this team, the squad kept playing well to a point where they were just 2 points back of the 8 seed (Columbus) with 5 games to play. Unfortunately, they lost each of the final 5 and finished 8 points back and thus ended the tenures of Joe Nieuwendyk (4 seasons, 0 playoffs, 1 bankruptcy) and Glen Gulatzan. The final run of 1-6 in the final 7 certainly looked like a collapse, albeit perhaps not as bad as 2011 or 2012.
So, is the 2013-14 team better? Will it end the drought?
I think so, but perils do wait ahead.