A mere seven points separate the 7th and 13th place teams in the Western Conference this morning, yet to talk to the average Dallas Stars fan after this weekends back to back losses you'd think the team was completely out of the race.
That's the fun (or is it the heartache?) of the NHL season, and it's something that has those that follow the Stars in such a "die hard" way questioning what this team is on a day like today. Be they fish or fowl? Are they headed toward a playoff spot or a lottery pick?
A win over the Predators Sunday night would have left the Stars a single point behind both the Flames and Kings, tantalizingly close to a playoff spot and just three back of the Coyotes, but it wasn't to be. The Stars gave points to all three of those teams last week, actually- Teams they're trying to catch, and that's starting to take a toll on the collective outlook on the season.
Chicago, Montreal, Minnesota and Vancouver now stand between the Dallas Stars and the trade deadline, one week from today. The question on everyone's minds, increasingly so with each loss if our twitter feeds are any indications, is "Are the Stars sellers yet?"
"Well, I don't really like the term and I know everyone wants to talk about that," said Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk of the Grossman trade. "I just think [the Grossman trade] is an isolated case and it shows that we're going to be active. We're going to look at things that make our hockey club better going forward and if things present themselves that do that, we'll take a strong look at it."
If there's one thing we know about Joe Nieuwendyk, it's that he wants to make the playoffs. He (perhaps) could have traded Marty Turco in 2010, but chose to keep him in an attempt to make the playoffs. He could have traded Brad Richards last year, but he chose to keep him (in part because he presumably hoped to sign him in the off-season but also) because he wanted to make the playoffs.
As what it is traditionally a fairly active week of trading kicks off in the NHL this morning, we wonder aloud what his strategy will be this time around as frustrations begin to mount.
Continued after the jump...
First, some math.
The pace has not quickened in the West like we thought it might (like it did last year). At least not yet, anyway. 91 points still projects as the line, or somewhere around there, meaning the Stars would have to get at bare minimum 29 additional points this season in 23 games. Something like 13-7-3 the rest of the way. That's not a ludicrous proposition, but it is well above their established rate this year after the 11-3 start. They're 18-23-4 outside of that accelerated beginning and haven't been able to put together much in the way of a positive streak since early December.
"We've got to get some kind of consistency with winning, and that point is probably right now," said Alex Goligoski after the loss Sunday. "You say it's the Phoenix game and then after that you say maybe it's this one, but right now our desperation level has to be as high as it is going to get."
He's right. They keep saying it. They keep saying that the push has to start now. In the coming game. And then the next one. It hasn't. They've now dropped seven of eleven post All-Star break. Players, coaches, fans, front office... everyone wants to believe they're going to turn it around. Everyone wants to have faith.
At the same time, you have to wonder if the right thing to do is to listen to the offers that are out there and stockpile assets for the future, or else use the opportunities available to acquire young roster players that can be a part of the future/rebuilding (easier said than done). Stars fans are going to hear some names thrown around this week in rumors, unsubstantiated or otherwise. They're going to hear Sheldon Souray, likely. They might hear Adam Burish. They might even hear names like Michael Ryder or Steve Ott.
Nieuwendyk said he had discussion about Nicklas Grossman with various teams over the last couple of months, which is interesting insight into how these things happen. It's not an overnight process. It's not a single phone call and an agreement. It can be a long term proposition to move some of these pieces out of here. It also makes you wonder what other inquiries have been made over the last couple of months, weeks, or days.
As the Stars continue to struggle with their schedule on the ice, Joe Nieuwendyk's perception of their chances this year may not waiver, but that of others may, and interesting offers could follow. That's wild speculation at best, but this figures to be a wild week in the National Hockey League.
Patience will be required. Patience with this trade deadline, with this season, and with the direction of the team in general. A fourth straight playoff-less year looms, and you may say your patience is running out, but Tom Gaglardi must be given a chance to show what he's willing to do, if the right opportunity presents itself.
Nothing may happen in the next seven days. Or another core piece could be acquired, as was the case in each of the last two trade deadlines (Alex Goligoski, Kari Lehtonen). The unenviable task of deciding what does happen is up to Joe Nieuwendyk and his new partner Mr. Gaglardi, and they must keep an eye on this season, next season, and five years from now all at the same time if they're to accomplish their stated vision.
This year it started with the draft picks acquired for Nicklas Grossman, and the Stars like what they have there, even if they don't bring the immediacy craved by the fan base.
"I think after going through our scout meetings, they really felt that the top 50 (draft picks this coming summer), there was a number of good players. So now we have potentially three picks within that top 50, which is key," said Nieuwendyk.
While that might be a more exciting quote this coming June than it is in the middle of a playoff race in which his team is falling behind, it's illustrative of the balanced approach he must have as a general manager, and it's a good reminder of the same for us in frustrating times like these.
"I think you guys know well enough by now we are trying to build something here that not only is a good product today but more importantly, we want to compete like the Detroits, like the San Jose's, contending for Cups not just bordering on this seven to 12 area."
"We want to be a consistent team," said the Stars GM.
We might look back on this season some day and say that this was the year they started coming out of the fog left in the wake of Tom Hicks' departure. We might say that old Mr. Gaglardi and Joe Nieuwendyk just needed some time to get the engines started up and to get some momentum. Stars fans hope we will. Whatever happens, a deep breath and patience are the best medicine right now to combat losses to the Coyotes and Predators, etc.
Just something to chew on as you peruse the standings and the schedule on a Monday morning like this one and wonder what will happen both on and off the ice this week, and if things are ever going to change around here.