The Dallas Stars: A 35,000 Foot View

We're trying to get used to this whole "losing" thing. It's not easy. I think we're a lot better off just assuming that we won't have to get used to it for long because next season is going to be SO much better.

You know, just like we said last year?

The season has only been over a couple of days and as fans, it's difficult at first to know where to begin the autopsy. Kind of like...autopsying the family dog. (That is, if your dog kicked you in the groin repeatedly and made you pay thousands of dollars on season seats and merchandise.) OK, bad example, but you get the idea. We can be a bit biased and emotional at times. One way to start is some good old fashioned knee jerking. Fire Crawford! Trade Ribeiro! Fire Nieuwendyk! Get rid of Turco! (yes, some people are still saying this...) and it goes on and on.

The smarter way is probably to chill out and take the old "35,000 foot view" of things. That's what I'd like to talk about today a little bit, and also get a sense from everyone on what your mentality is going forward.

First: What did the Stars try to do this year?

In my opinion, they tried to take a team built to play hockey one way, and make them play hockey a different way without changing any of the (significant) pieces. They had a stated goal of playing hockey the way the Penguins and Red Wings, etc do; To play a puck possession, up-tempo game with speed and lots of skill, and they wanted to do it with the 7th lowest paid roster in the NHL.

Which is to say that they tried to grill a steak with an EZ Bake Oven...

Mike Heika said it easy and fast earlier this week:

It's a lot easier to find good defensive players on a budget than it is good offensive players. Phoenix ranks third in the NHL in goals against average at 2.30 but also has the second-lowest payroll at $42.1 million. Nashville has built its team on defense and has the third-lowest payroll at $43.5 million.

So teams that typically win on the cheap do it with defense.

Another way to say it is that teams that pay less will typically look at what they have and say "How can I craft my coaching strategy to fit this cheapo group of players?" Rather than saying "I don't care who we have, this is how we're going to play," which is kind of what the Stars did this season.

Now, to their credit, they can point to the forward group and say that there's enough talent there to play that way. It's hard to argue there. Once again this off-season I don't think anyone is going to be complaining about the forward group coming into camp. Richards, Benn, Neal, Eriksson, Ribeiro, Morrow, etc...it's quite a list. It's not too shabby at all.

But the defensive group must now be scrutinized by the team itself, not just us this year. Last year it was easy to say that "Oh well, we're going to play different, and that will help Trevor and Mark, and everyone else is a year wiser, etc..." This year, other than being forced to parrot such lines by the economic difficulties presented by Tom Hicks ownership, I can't imagine hearing all the same lines again about the exact same group of players. They know it has to change. We know it has to change.

"We shouldn't have fired Dave Tippett"

"We shouldn't have hired Marc Crawford."

"We should get rid of Crawford."

These are all things that people quite frequently say as they walk down the stairs after a game at the American Airlines Center this year. I've heard them. Over and over and over again. These statements, if you trace the logic of them, all point to the same man, whether people realize it or not (mostly not). If you're the kind of person who says things like that, then I think what you're really trying to say is "We shouldn't have hired Joe Nieuwendyk," right?

Joe Nieuwendyk said goodbye (I really don't think fired is the right word) to Tipp because Tipp doesn't think the game like he does. Tippett likes to play it safe. He wants his personnel to sit back and wait for the other team to make a mistake. Gm Joe wants his team to get up and "go-go-go." To be the aggressors You have to ask yourself, "Do we have personnel to make either of those systems work?"

Phoenix does. They have a better group of defensive players, and there's no question they have better goaltending (thank you Anaheim for sending Bryzgalov off for nothing.) It's working for Dave this year because he has the tools. Like he did here in 2008. That style of play wouldn't have worked any better in Dallas this season than Crawfords did.

At 237 goals for and 254 against (versus 230 for and 257 against last year) it's not clear that it would have been any different at all.

To say you want to keep Dave Tippett (and I'm not necessarily disagreeing with this) or that you want to get rid of Marc Crawford (likewise) is to say that you don't like Joe Nieuwendyk or his philosophy. Don't point at the coach (yet). Address the man pulling the strings if you're inclined to say things like that. Joe Nieuwendyk hired Marc Crawford knowing exactly what he wants to do. The onus is on Joe now to get the pieces that work right for the coach he hired. If he does that, and then judges the coaches efforts a failure, we can talk about a new one.

It nearly did work...kind of....

The important thing to remember is that we should think of it as a process. It didn't work perfectly the first year with Les Jackson's leftovers and players that knew only the old system most of their careers, if not all.

As I look at the season as a whole, I think of the struggles they had along the way and how many things had to go wrong for them to miss the playoffs. The list is quite long.

  • Terrible shootout struggles. Fix that a little and how much closer are you? Quite a bit. Maybe all the way to the 8 seed.
  • A horrible goal scoring drought in November
  • A horrendously inexplicable road losing streak straddling January and December.
  • An uncanny inability to win three in a row.
  • A horrible post Olympic restart following what was a brilliant stretch before the Games.

Fix one or two of these, just a little bit, and think of how much closer they would have been. That has to be their mentality going into next year if no big changes are going to happen. They have to believe that if they tweak a couple of things here or there, and keep doing what they were doing, particularly at home, and they'll be in the tournament next year. If they don't believe that, then what else are they supposed to do?

You and I can believe differently, though. Do you believe those things are fixable by current personnel/players, or is it all interconnected to the lowest paid defense in the National Hockey League?

Improvement can reasonably be expected or hoped for from some players. Kari Lehtonen showed great potential down the stretch. Mark Fistric is still a work in progress, I believe that very firmly. Grossman is another that is still maturing, I think. Benn and Neal should get a little better too, if that's possible, and Tom Wandell: It's next season or never to take that next step.

I've said it before, and I will keep saying it again and again. Next year will be one too many years. If they bring back this same group next season, then it's the old "doing the same thing the same way and expecting different results" thing: Insanity. Stupidity. Call it what you will.

Or am I the insane one for continuing to buy season tickets for the same group of players and daring to hope for different results?

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