Texas Stars Report: Playoff Picture Getting Clearer By The Day

All across the AHL, playoff dreams are beginning to be realized or slowly starting to drift away.  In the case of your Texas Stars, playoff hopes are strong, and there is even a chance for home ice advantage in the first round.  There is a silver lining somewhere in this Stars organization.

Texas played three games this week, all against divisional opponents.  After the jump, we'll take a look at those games, have some discussion of playoff scenarios, see which Dallas Star surprised us by showing up on the Texas Stars playoff roster, and talk about the future of professional hockey in Austin, Texas.

Putting the Franchise Rumors to Rest
(HDH blog link)

If you've been reading the Texas Stars Report regularly, you are already familiar with the Stars situation involving the temporary status of their franchise for the 2009-10 season.  If you aren't, I would recommend reading up on it in my previous posts here.

The fan rumblings about the future of hockey in Austin had begun to reach a dull roar and I decided it was time to put something out there to answer those fan questions.  Based on my research and interviews, I believe now that there is no way the Stars will leave Austin after this season.

The basics of it are mostly financial.  The Stars rank in the top 5 in the league in revenue and top 10 in ticket sales.  They also rank #11 in the league in average attendance.  Seriously.  If you don't believe me, check out the AHL's attendance records here.  And even that's a little wrong since Syracuse, the team in 10th place, had an outdoor game that pulled it 21,000, which significantly skews their numbers.

I gather a few quotes from employees, who are much less worried about the situation than fans.  Here is the most telling one of all:

"I am more confident now that we will have a team next year than I was when this same situation came up about us having a team for [the 2009-2010] season."

The league is a business.  The financial success of the Texas Stars is too much to turn away when other clubs are struggling.

Additionally, you cannot deny that the on-ice product put out by the Stars is superb and the team competes on a high level in the AHL.  It is likely they will host some playoff games in their very first season in the AHL.  That's pretty impressive.  When it all comes together, the Texas Stars have a strong case to stay in the league whether it's by purchasing another franchise or getting another temporary license.

Playoff Projections Page
(HDH blog link)

I was inspired by Brandon Bibb's post here about playoff projections using math.  I have created a permanent page that is updated with data from a Google Spreadsheet that I created.  It attempts to predict who will finish where and how many points are needed to get to a certain position.  The Stars are looking pretty good, according to the sheet, but we'll get to that later.

Brent Krahn returns to shut down Peoria Rivermen at home, 3-2
(HDH blog link)

Texas netminder, Brent Krahn, returned to the crease for the first time since late November on Wednesday night, and his return was indeed triumphant.  The Peoria Rivermen (St. Louis Blues) have given Texas fits this year.  Despite Peoria's less than impressive overall record, Texas was only 2-3-1 against them coming into the game.  The Rivermen were pretty significantly changed by the trade deadline as well.

Peoria opened the scoring in the contest with a shot from Justin Fletcher that was wired to the top right corner.  Texas answered back shorthanded with three minutes left in the first when Colton Sceviour beat Joe Fallon backhand five-hole for a 1-1 score.  Peoria scored in the power play and the second and so did Texas with one from Francis Wathier that went in from behind the goal line after bouncing off the goalie's right shoulder.  

Aaron Gagnon finished the scoring for Texas as he collected a rebound off Fallon for his 18th of the year.  Raymond Sawada also had a big hit in the final three minutes of the game that (reportedly) broke Jonas Junland's arm.

Stars Clear Day roster set
(HDH blog link)

The Clear Day roster is a bit of a new thing for people unfamilar with the AHL.  It occurs approximately one week after the NHL trade deadline.  All teams must have submitted their clear day roster by 2 PM CST on March 10th this year.  Here's a good explanation from the AHL of what the Clear Day roster means:

Each Clear Day roster consists of a maximum of 22 players. According to AHL by-laws, only those players listed on a team’s Clear Day roster are eligible to compete in the remainder of the 2009-10 AHL regular season and in the 2010 Calder Cup Playoffs, unless emergency conditions arise as a result of recall, injury or suspension.

Teams may also add signed junior players or players on amateur tryout contracts, only after their respective junior or college seasons are complete.

So, it's pretty significant to get named to the clear day roster.  If you aren't on this list, you can't play for the rest of the season unless three players on the list are hurt, called up, or suspended.  With that said, here is the list that Texas submitted:

Goalies (2): Matt Climie (G) and Brent Krahn (G)

Forwards (13): Mathieu Beaudoin, Jamie Benn, Aaron Gagnon, Sergei Korostin, Perttu Lindgren, Scott McCulloch, Travis Morin, Warren Peters, Greg Rallo, Raymond Sawada, Colton Sceviour, Francis Wathier, and Landon Wilson

Defensemen (7): Maxime Fortunus, Ethan Graham, Andrew Hutchinson, Dan Jancevski, Trevor Ludwig, Garrett Stafford, and Matt Stephenson

Any names on that list jump out at you?  One certainly should.  Jamie Benn was named to the Stars Clear Day Roster and will be eligible to play in the Calder Cup Playoffs when the Stars season is over.  I think it's a smart move for the Stars.  Benn never played in the minors before joining the Dallas Stars, jumping directly from the Kelowna Rockets to the NHL.  Multiple past Stars have had opportunities like this, such as Mark Fistric, who played for the Manitoba Moose (Vancouver Canucks) last year in their run to the final against the Hershey Bears (Washington Capitals).  

My only question about playing Benn is his position.  We know he's a natural winger, but Crawford's put him at center for much of the season.  Texas has 5 centers already and one of them (Greg Rallo) is already playing wing.  It really depends if Dallas sees the center experiment becoming a permanent fixture for Benn.

Texas falls 2-1 against determined Rampage
(HDH blog link)

I personally traveled to this away game at the AT&T Center to watch the Stars take on the San Antonio Rampage (Phoenix Coyotes).  I will be writing something up this week about my thoughts on the experience at a game in San Antonio versus Cedar Park.  It was a great trip despite the loss.

Texas gave up the first goal on the power play to Alexandre Picard, who was recently traded to the team.  The Rampage were gutted by the trade deadline, losing their top netminder and two of their top five scoring forwards.  Aaron Gagnon scored the lone goal for Texas on a rebound in the 2nd period.  San Antonio scored the only goal of the third, a redirection just in front of Texas netminder Matt Climie that beat him five-hole.

Texas defeats San Antonio 5-4 on third period flurry
(HDH blog link)

I was unable to attend Saturday night's game myself, due to previous commitments to present at South by Southwest here in Austin.  Texas had their 3rd ever sellout in the Cedar Park Center, and the fans were treated to offensive fireworks in the third.  Brent Krahn collected his 13th win of the season (12-2-0) as Texas got goals from Ray Sawada, Francis Wathier (2), Travis Morin, and Aaron Gagnon on the night.  Wathier received the 1st star on the night for his 3 point game (2-1-3).  The line of Sawada-Peters-Wathier combined for three of the five Texas goals.  With his goal in Saturday's game, Aaron Gagnon now leads all Texas Stars in goals with 20.  Five of the nine goals scored in the game were put in during an eleven minute span in the third period from the 7th to 18th minute.

Playoff Picture

Texas picked up four of six possible points this week against two teams that are battling to get into the playoff picture themselves.  As the current standings have it, Peoria and San Antonio are both on the outside looking in. Either one could jump past the Milwaukee Admirals (Nashville Predators) to take over fourth place.

No one in the West Division has clinched a playoff spot or been eliminated yet.  The Chicago Wolves (Atlanta Thrashers) lead the division by a healthy margin.  Texas and the Rockford IceHogs (Chicago Blackhawks) look to be separated by a significant margin (5 points more for Rockford) but closer inspection reveals that Texas has four games in hand over the IceHogs.  If they were to continue on their current points pace, they would both finish the season at 97 points.  The separation between the two teams is crucial.  In the AHL, there is a divisional playoff round, followed by conference, then league.  First seeded team in each division plays fourth, and second plays third.  Clearly, first and second seeds get home ice advantage.  Texas needs to step it up to get the chance to seal home ice advantage for the first round.

Around the AHL, only two teams have clinched playoff spots, Hershey (Washington Capitals) and Hamilton (Montreal Canadiens).  Chicago, Rockford, the Albany River Rats (Carolina Hurricanes), and the Worcester Sharks (San Jose Sharks) are among the leaders in current "magic" number to get into the playoffs.  There have been no teams eliminated from the playoff race yet, but the Springfield Falcons (Edmonton Oilers) are the closest with only 5 points left between them and a summer of golfing.  It has not been a happy year for Oil fans.

The Week Ahead

The Stars are off until Thursday this week when they battle the Milwaukee Admirals at home. Then Texas embarks on their longest road trip of the year, a seven-game in twelve days stretch that sees them play in five cities (none of the repeats are back-to-back though).  The road trip opens in Rockford against the IceHogs on Saturday followed by a matinee game on Sunday against the Peoria Rivermen.

Who's Hot

Aaron Gagnon is certainly the story of the week.  The Stars centerman earned 6 points (3-3-6) and is now the Stars leading goal scorer and point earner (20-26-46).  Francis Wathier also had one heck of a week with 5 points (3-2-5) and ten PIMs.

Who's Not

Dan Jancevski's compete level has just not been there over the past week and perhaps over the past few weeks.  Despite a pair of assists on the week, Jancevski had a few too many times that it seemed like he was not giving the game his all.

Injury report

LW Landon Wilson is out again with an upper-body issue.

You can always follow the Texas Stars by reading my blog at HundredDegreeHockey.com or following me on Twitter@100degreehockey.

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