"The pleasure of expecting enjoyment is often greater than that of obtaining it, and the completion of almost every wish is found a disappointment"
-- Samuel Johnson
Once again Dallas Stars fans find themselves looking upon the NHL postseason and struggling to determine who they should root for as their beloved team failed to make the playoffs, this time for the third straight season. It's been three years of extreme frustration and building anxiety and this past season was perhaps the most frustrating of all. Just a few short months ago the Dallas Stars stood alone at the top of the Pacific division, only to stumble and fall when the pressure mounted.
Throughout the good times of this past season we struggled with lofty expectations and the feeling that this was a team that was vastly overachieving, finding ways to win despite every single stat and historical numbers telling us there was no way to maintain their level of success. While we argued that perhaps their grit and mental toughness could overcome the team's shortcomings, in the end it was a lack of talent and a lack of fortitude that ultimately let them down.
In the end, the Dallas Stars just weren't good enough.
It's tough to sit here after such a disheartening and frustrating loss like we suffered through yesterday and declare that the 2010-11 season for the Dallas Stars was ultimately a success. For many, the expectations that we had headed into the start of the season changed after their incredible jump out of the gates and despite no one truly believing this was a playoff team now there is nothing but bitter disappointment after their fall from the top of the conference.
In the NHL, the good teams eventually separate themselves out and they're the ones that move on. While it is beyond frustrating to see the difference in success and talent between the East and the West, the reality is that Stars were clearly not as good as the eight teams that did make it to the postseason. The Stars may have enjoyed brief success as the leaders of the Pacific division, when the gauntlet was thrown down and the real race began for the playoffs the Stars were left in the dust of more talented and hungrier teams. Yesterday's loss to the Wild is proof alone that the Stars just did not deserve to move on.
Yet missing the playoffs does not automatically mean this season was not a success. While many may temper their feelings on this matter based purely on whether the Stars made the playoffs or not, it's imperative to measure the ultimate result of this season against what was expected when the year started.
Altered expectations based on early success aside, when we really sit back and look at this season as a whole we begin to understand that while missing the playoffs hurts just as much as it always has there are some truly great things happening once again for your Dallas Stars.
In the coming months, we're going to extensively cover a very important offseason for the Dallas Stars. We'll examine every single inch of this roster and do our best to determine just what changes need to be made for the Stars to really step up and improve upon the positives that were evident this season.
Make no mistake, changes are needed. While I'll argue that the 2010-11 season was ultimately a success for the Stars, it's easy to see that without changes and without improvement in several areas the Dallas Stars are destined for more mediocrity and missing the playoffs yet again. While many may not agree on just what changes are needed the most and what can be done to improve this roster and this team, I am fairly certain every single Dallas Stars fan can agree that there is a strong core group of players on the team that instills hope in all of us that good things are on their way -- and hopefully very soon.
Perhaps the one aspect of this past season that makes us the most hopeful that the Stars are on the right track is the young core group of players that are only getting better as each season goes by. Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Alex Goligoski, Nicklas Grossman, Trevor Daley and even Brenden Morrow all had career seasons in either goals, assists or both.
Nicklas Grossman developed into the most consistent and steady defenseman on the Dallas Stars, his presence greatly missed in key games down the stretch in March and April. It's amazing to think that of the young defensemen the Stars have developed over the past three or four seasons that Grossman would be the one to truly break out, yet the quiet and unassuming Grossman is on his way to becoming one of the top "defensive" defensemen in the NHL. He still needs to learn how to play more physical, yet his calming influence on the blue line helped to solidify a very rocky and inconsistent defensive group.
Trevor Daley, after signing a six-year extension with the Stars, enjoyed perhaps his most successful time in the NHL immediately afterward. His point production slowed down dramatically in the final two months of the season -- coinciding with the slide the Stars took in the standings -- yet Daley finally was able to showcase the potential to be a driving force defensively and offensive that we all hoped he could be. He'll likely never truly live up to the lofty expectations the contract will put on his shoulders, yet Daley took great strides this year in coming out of his shell and becoming the player he always had the potential to be.
Brenden Morrow played hurt for most of this season. He suffered an incredibly nasty broken nose midway through the year and has suffered with various ailments that we'll never know from perhaps the very start of the season. Despite this, Morrow enjoyed the highest goal total of his career and did all he could to carry the Stars once more into the playoffs. The captain of the team will always shoulder the most responsibility for the successes and failures of his team, and Morrow has not been immune to those who feel he is no longer fit to truly lead the team any longer. Yet game after game Morrow battled out on the ice for the Stars, once more scoring big goals when the team desperately needed them. He put his body on the line time and again and while there is always time to examine just what might have gone wrong it's tough to say with certainty that Morrow didn't give it his best this season. That's all you could ask for.
Jamie Benn. Yep.
Loui Eriksson may have a bit a of a disappointing goal total this season, but he showed that he is much more than just a pure goal scorer. Eriksson enjoyed a career year in assists and point total, led the Stars with six game-winning goals and was named as an NHL All Star for the first time in his young career. Eriksson struggled at times with the raised expectations that comes from emerging from being an underrated player in NHL to becoming a top player on a team that desperately needs him for success. Despite his struggles at times, Eriksson continues to become one of the top two-way forwards in the NHL and is consistently one of the best pure playmakers in the Western Conference.
When word began to get around that the Stars were interested in trading James Neal for Alex Goligoski, many instantly berated the Stars for even considering trading such a "proven commodity" like Neal for a player many felt was a disappointment in Pittsburgh. After just a few games for the Stars, it was apparent that Alex Goligoski was just what this team needed.
The Stars were more than willing to deal from a position of depth to fill a desperate need on a team that was hurting for defensive playmakers. Stephane Robidas was struggling with top minutes at the age of 34 and despite some young talent on the team and in the system, the Stars were obviously struggling without a true offensive talent on the blue line. Goligoski provided balance on the defense and showed us just what the Stars had been missing ever since #56 departed the team and left a cavernous void in his absence.
The Stars still need to make some major changes on defense, yet Goligoski's presence allows the Stars to focus on the "defensive" side instead of trying to find one of those mythical defensemen that can score and play great defense in front of the net. Goligoski showed that he is capable of playing solidly in his own zone and while there were certainly some growing pains he has all the potential to be the top defensemen for the Stars for years to come.
Individual successes aside, the season as a whole could be seen as a positive step in the right direction. It's true that missing the postseason is going to be painful and lead to a very long summer, but when we sit back and look at just what Joe Nieuwendyk was working with it's amazing they even came as close as they did. The addition of Kari Lehtonen provided the goaltending support that was missing the previous two seasons and the Stars were able show that when they play to the absolute potential they possess they can skate with any team in the NHL.
It's that last point that makes this season so frustrating, despite the success that was enjoyed along the way. We caught glimpses of what this team is capable of becoming and we wonder just what is keeping the Stars from consistently playing at the level they're capable of. Perhaps it's the coaching, unable to inspire these players to play above their heads for a full 82 game season. Perhaps the lack of talent is ultimately holding them back.
Perhaps it's a combination of many factors, showing us that despite flashes of greatness this Stars team still has a long ways to go.
This season, while filled with disappointment and frustration, was more enjoyable than we've seen in a long time. They emergence of Jamie Benn as a powerful force in the NHL was a wonder to behold and witnessing Kari Lehtonen make it through the season as a steadying force in net proved that sometimes a gamble is well worth the risk.
There weren't as many Trevor Daley goals into his own net and Stephane Robidas was able to make it through an entire season without breaking his face in any way.
There were some incredibly entertaining games and some momentous wins, such as the beatdown the Stars handed the Pittsburgh Penguins at home or the magical come-from-behind win against San Jose.
There were some amazing goals, some amazing individual performances and it was incredible to get to watch many players really step forward and show that they're prepared to lead this team into the future.
This summer will be filled with uncertainty. We don't know what is going to happen with Brad Richards and there is still no good news on the ownership situation. Unless things change soon, the Stars will be unable to make the roster changes that are necessary as there will be no money with which to spend. There are several big decisions that need to be made regarding free agents and while the Stars have several young players in the AHL that could make some noise next season, there isn't a lot of help on the way from the farm system.
Despite all this, despite the lingering disappointment of such a long season, it's tough not to sit back and smile at all the fun we did have watching this team.
It's going to be a long summer, but I'm heading into the offseason with a smile on my face.
I cannot wait until October.