Despite incredible regular season success Turco was becoming known to struggle in the playoffs, allowing 36 goals in ten playoff games against Colorado in 2005 and 2006. While he continued to be one of the top goaltenders in the NHL season after season, there were many that were convinced that Turco could never become the type of goalie that can carry a team through the postseason. It's a horrible stigma for a high-caliber goalie to have, one that is not easily shaken.
And then Marty Turco had one of the best playoff series a goaltender has ever had. In the 2007 playoffs against Vancouver, he posted a 1.30 GAA and a .952 save percentage while recording three shutouts in the seven game series. With the rest of the team around him struggling to score goals (the only games Dallas won in the series were by shutout), Turco placed the team on his back and put forth a legendary performance. The Stars would go on to lose in game seven, but many now believed that Turco had turned a corner in his career.
The next season in the 2008 playoffs, Turco had yet another outstanding performance. In playoff series' against Evgeni Nabokov and J.S. Giguere, Turco held his ground and matched save for save with two of the top goaltenders in the NHL. In epic battles against division rivals Anaheim and San Jose, including four overtime games against the Sharks, Turco proved himself capable of being a shutdown playoff goaltender and one whom the team could rely on to hold ground in the long grind for the Stanley Cup. Although Dallas would eventually lose in six games to Detroit Turco exorcised demons in that series as well, winning at Joe Louis Arena for the first time in his career.
Marty Turco had seemingly proven all of his detractors wrong. He had taken that next step to becoming an elite goaltender in the NHL. That's why his fall to mediocrity in 2008-09 was so surprising, so discouraging and ultimately alarming.
Follow the jump for much, much more.
Marty Turco will never be thought of as a traditional goaltender. Turco has never been one to shy away from speaking his mind, whether it's to do with himself, his teammates or the direction of the Dallas Stars. A self-proclaimed leader in the locker room, Turco eschews the stereotype that goaltenders are silent, solitary types and is one of the more outspoken players on the team. He's always been the first to blame himself when he isn't playing well and acknowledges when he needs to improve, but his penchant for criticising his teammates in the name of leadership has led some to believe that sometimes his mind isn't always where it should be. With the struggles the team endured to start the season, his focus on things not in his control p[erhaps led to the worst two months of hockey he's ever played.
Before things ever began to spiral out of control in October and November Turco entered the preseason already well behind the curve. With his outstanding playoff performance just a few months prior, he has admitted that he was not as physically prepared for training camp as he should have been.
"We told ourselves we were ready, but we weren't close to ready," [Turco] said. "That was lip service, and we realize that now – I realize it as much as anyone. I have to work harder, and I am working harder."
Known around the league as one of the top athletes in the NHL, Turco uses very non-efficient style of goaltending that maximises his athletic potential while using an incredible amount of energy. If he is not in the best shape possible then he becomes fatigued much quicker, especially since Turco would never be one to hold back on the ice.
Compounding the problem was a complete lack of trust in Turco's backup, Tobias Stephan. After the Stars traded Mike Smith and with Johan Holmqvist leaving via free agency, Stephan became the backup by default. Yet a disappointing preseason and lackluster efforts in practice led the Stars to have little faith that he could successfully spell Turco throughout the season. With the team rapidly falling down the standings to start the season there was little room for error and the coaches decided it best to stick with Turco, despite his extraordinary struggles in October and into November.
With the addition of Sean Avery, several long-time veterans on the team took it upon themselves to speak out about the free agent signing as well as to speak out when things began to fall apart. As he struggled to find consistency in his play on the ice, Turco still chose to focus on the issues surrounding the rest of the team and to continue to be one of the outspoken leaders in the locker room. He had become a liability on the ice and was struggling to focus off of it. Turco realizes the consequences of the choices he made last season.
"I look at last season as a lot of things went wrong, a lot of things in addition to the goaltending, and I got caught up in that. I didn't handle my job well enough and that was a part of the problem. I realize that the best thing I can do for the team is be a good goalie, focus on my job, and that's what I'm going to do."
What made things even tougher on the goaltender was the rift that developed between him and coach Andy Moog. With Turco focusing on the Sean Avery situation and how Stephan was being mishandled by the coaching staff, Turco struggled to come to terms with just what was wrong with his own game. While the exact details of how far apart player and coach became in their relationship are unknown, it was apparent during the early months of last season that Turco was stubbornly trying to work things out during games, convinced that with enough time he would eventually start to come around.
By November 30, the time that most point to as the turning point in the Stars season, Turco had the worst two months of his career. In 21 games Turco had a 7-10-4 record, with a 3.42 GAA and disastrous .859 save percentage.
As the Dallas Stars began to finally start stringing wins together, Turco did start to come around. In fact between mid-December and late February, Turco played the best stretch of hockey of his career. He was efficient, stalwart in goal and night after night carried his team as they fought to make their way back up the standings. It was remarkable to watch the complete turnaround in Turco's game as the confidence returned and he returned to being the goaltender Stars fans have known for so very long. His mental mistakes were gone, he was challenging shooters and his puck-handling was again tops in the NHL.
Yet it was the lingering issue with his physical readiness combined with the lack of confidence in Tobias Stephan that set the table for a disappointing finish. In a season that he admitted he wasn't in top physical shape, Turco broke franchise records by playing in 33 straight games for the Stars. He was incredible during that stretch and the main reason the Stars climbed out of the basement in the Western Conference. Yet he wore down as the season entered March and the team turned to Stephan to help spell Turco as the playoffs approached. Unfortunately, Stephan was unable to hold his ground in net and the Stars found themselves right back on Turco's weary shoulders.
It was obvious that Turco was fading down the stretch, along with the team in front of him. After four months of battling each and every night to get back in the playoff hunt, the energy was completely sapped and the season eventually lost. For just the third time since coming to Dallas in 1993, the Stars missed the postseason.
While a lot can be said about the toll the injuries took on the team, and how the lack of a quality backup kept Turco from resting down the stretch the fact remains that the hole the Stars found themselves in on December 1st became just too big to completely crawl out of. Before the season ending injuries to Brenden Morrow and Brad Richards, before Sean Avery was suspended, Marty Turco entered the season unprepared. It cost the team dearly and it led to the worst season of his professional career.
Turco is now faced with the final season of a four-year, $22.8 million contract. The future of what is to come at the goaltending position for the Dallas Stars is still to be decided. Turco will be 35 years old at the start of the 2010 season and there are doubts as to whether his best years are behind him. Yet this season the pieces are in place for Turco to return to the form the Stars desperately need him to be in.
After losing out on Jonas Gustavsson, the Stars traded for backup goaltender Alex Auld. Last season Turco appeared in 74 games, the most of his career. To be consistently successful, the coaches and Turco believe that he needs to play between 55 and 65 games. This gives him the time during the season he requires to keep his energy up while getting enough rest for what is hoped to be a long playoff run. Auld, a successful backup with Vancouver, Ottawa, Florida, Boston and Pheonix, has the experience and ability to start 20 games and give the Stars a great chance of winning in the process. More importantly, Auld is a goaltender who has also been a successful starter and can push Turco for playing time if he starts to falter again.
After the issues of last season and some tough lessons learned, Turco is prepared to enter this season as the best goaltender he can be. He and goalies coach Andy Moog have cleared the air between them and are focused on a singular goal once more. Concentration on the task at hand, focus in the right areas and being in the best physical shape possible with hopefully return Turco to being goaltender we witnessed just 13 months ago.