So let's just assume that nine days ago, the Stars would have found a way to capitalize on the misfortune of the Blackhawks and beaten the Wild to get in as the 8th and final seed in the West, OK?
On the surface, it would appear that nothing much would have changed result wise. Vancouver, while only having won the last two games by one goal each, is firmly in control of their series against a team that owned them the last two springs.
Perhaps the only thing that might have changed is the average margin of victory considering Dallas never played Vancouver to anything closer than three goals in any of their four meetings this season.
Or perhaps the Canucks might have taken the Stars lightly. Afterall against Chicago, Vancouver had the motivation of having something to prove against their nemesis over the last two springs. And despite getting drilled in Chicago on Tuesday, I still expect Vancouver to close this series out. Of course, I'd love to be wrong on this prediction.
Ever since the Stars fell short against the Canucks in that epic first round series from 2007, the Stars have gone 1-4-1 at what is now known as Rogers Arena with only a shootout win from January 4th, 2008 to show for their efforts. As much as the Hawks had owned the Canucks the last two years, the Canucks would have gone into a series with Dallas with the feeling that they owned Dallas more.
Perhaps that could have caused Vancouver to become a little overconfident coming into this series. However slim a possibility that might have been.
But though we'll never know, I tend to think the Stars would have been minced meat for Vancouver, especially given how the offense, and more to the point, the power play, had become short circuited.
And when I look at the other series in the Western Conference, it's clear to me that even though the Stars were close to the teams in points from the 4th seed to the 8th, they would have been no match for the upper echelon teams in the West.
Why is that the case?
I think part of the problem, as Brad pointed out earlier this week, the Stars didn't really have an identity like other teams. Vancouver's practically toying with a much different Chicago team than the one they had to deal with the last two springs, Detroit's kicked it into high gear and left the Coyotes not only in the dust, but with the distinct possibility that hockey fans in Phoenix may never get to see their Coyotes do so much as win a single playoff series.
Perhaps if the Stars had been matched up with San Jose, they might have had a chance. I still think at some point in the series, the loss of Anze Kopitar is going to prove to be too much for Los Angeles to overcome. Although, his absence is about 100 reasons down the list why the Kings lost the other night in OT to the Sharks in Game 3.
The answer, I think, actually lies in what we saw from these teams from March on. You look at what Anaheim, Nashville, Phoenix, and Los Angeles were able to do and it's clear to me those teams down the stretch had a gear they could shift into that, for whatever reason be it coaching or lack of experience, the Stars just didn't have at their disposal.
The more I think about that reason, the more I believe it's coaching. And the more I think about that, the more I believe Marc Crawford wouldn't have changed things up a bit.
Being away from the bench for a few years may have mellowed Crawford out on the surface. But it seems like based on what we've heard from behind the scenes, he was still as stubborn as he was when he broke into the NHL head coaching ranks with the Quebec Nordiques.
And that could be the irony of it all.
Going all out on offense throughout the season may have helped the Stars to that nice divisional lead back in December. But when it really counted, they couldn't adapt to their personnel landscape that was beset by injuries, thus, leading to an inability to find that other gear.
As we've pointed out here at Defending Big D, the free agent crop this year is basically Brad Richards and everybody else. Even if a new owner is in place by the time free agency rolls around on July 1st, Joe Nieuwendyk likely isn't going to find much in free agency to completely remake the roster to be able to fit players into a specific system.
What this does is further emphasize his need to find somebody who can mold his system to fit the personnel he has. Because as of now, that's the only way the Stars will be able to find that next gear.