If we're talking about this season and willing to face the reality of the current situation then it's apparent that the Dallas Stars are likely looking at four straight seasons without a postseason appearance. While the Stars are still far from finished could legitimately make a push for the playoffs, with each game that goes by that probability becomes less and less likely to happen.
The Dallas Stars fans have slowly moved away from the team for various reasons, some justified. In a town with the Texas Rangers and Dallas Mavericks contending for championships, it's tough to ask fans to fully support a team -- no matter what the sport -- if there isn't a clear path for success in place. The fans have seen multiple loved players move on for various reasons with little new blood to replace those beloved players that have departed.
No matter what the reason is, the Stars are fighting against nostalgia and love for an era of hockey that will never return and right now, this season, they face their most daunting task yet. The ownership issues of the past three seasons have severely set back the development of the team, which fought to remain competitive with a roster that was borderline decent.
This year, the roster has fallen to perhaps it's lowest point since the franchise came to Dallas and the fans are restless, frustrated with the lack of sustained success -- or any success in general. With sports being about current results, it's nearly impossible to ask fans to look ahead to the future and find faith in the fact that an actual future exists -- when one didn't just a year ago before the sale.
For a team that has been stagnant for three years with little legitimate growth as a franchise, it's understandable why fans are restless and frustrated. As much as we'd like, the turnaround won't happen overnight and for a fanbase that has already dealt with four years of frustration, asking for one more season of faith is going to be a very tough sell.
The fans are looking for any sign of hope to cling to, a legitimate move by the team that shows that a plan is in place and the path forward is clear. They want to see proof that the owner is willing to make the sacrifices necessary to build this team into a winner once more, when every move over the past three years has only delayed the building process that so obviously needs to happen.
We point to the ownership and financial issues for this stagnation as reasons for this team's struggles, which are legitimate concerns that have lead to this team's problems over the past few years. The truth lies somewhere in between, a hockey team with barely an identity fighting to stay competitive with little to no resources and unwilling to make the tough moves necessary to kick start what should have happened three years ago.
The Stars failures in the draft have only exacerbated the issue, as the team has been unable to fall back on prospects during a time when free agency was never an option. The Stars only added players this past summer by using money allocated for Brad Richards, and did little to be able to actually add as much depth as was needed. The lack of any legitimate improvement, combined with continued mediocrity during the season, has created an apathy among Stars fans that has become increasingly concerning.
This is a franchise that is historically one of the most successful of the past 20 years in the NHL. The bar was set absurdly high during the late 1990's and while the team has remained competitive over the past ten years, the lack of any sort of playoff hopes -- or even a sign that something is being built for the future -- has created a feeling in the fanbase of "why should I care if the team won't even try?"
Fans don't want excuses and the casual fan knows nothing of the inner workings of the business of sports franchises or hockey. They see a new owner purchase the team and the on ice product slowly deteriorate over the course of the season. Fans want tangible results and maneuvers, signs that spending their money on this team will be worth it in the long run.
With the Stars continuing to struggle in the most crucial point of the season, we hear talk about "effort" and "motivation", signs of increasing frustration from fans that are hungry for any signs of improvement. Continued talk about the future of Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson falls on deaf ears, since all we see is the team currently in front of us.
Asking for patience is a tall order. Fans are depressed at seeing their team fall so low and with a new owner in place, it's tough to accept that the current struggles are a result of the previous three seasons and not with anything to do with Nieuwendyk's or Tom Gaglardi's current plan for rebuilding this team. The Stars, for their part, continue to talk about the playoffs. The fans want and need the postseason and are incredibly hungry for it and with reality crashing down around the team and the fans, it's understandable to see why so many are frustrated and depressed over the current situation.
The major problem has to do with the fact that the Stars are stuck in the middle between being a good team and being a truly poor team. Being average is never fun, since there is never any true direction for the fans to hold onto as the team continues to lose. With the trade deadline approaching, fans are hungry for the first signs of what exactly this plan might be and they're ready -- if one were to judge by the responses on the internet -- for the Stars to tear it down and rebuild it from the foundation on up.
What will happen will lie somewhere in the middle, as the Stars try to build around a decent core group of players. The trick is to remember this can't happen overnight and a full "fire sale" isn't exactly the smartest plan of action. A fire sale kicks off a 3-5 year plan of rebuilding when in reality the Stars are looking at a 2-3 year plan before reaching legitimate contender status. Of course, all of that depends on the steps taken by Gaglardi and Nieuwendyk and how smart their decisions turn out to be.
What Stars fans need to find, during the most frustrating season we've ever known, is the patience to remember that it's not about his season and it never was. It was about getting an owner in place and allowing him a full year and a full offseason to put his plan in place -- whatever that might be -- before we decide it's all been worthless.
There is hope here. There is plenty of room for improvement and the Stars have several exciting young players on the way. With an owner that, supposedly, is committed to spending money to build a winner -- we have to have the patience to see that plan play out.
The current frustration is understandable and seeing the team fall just short game after game is extremely trying for a fanbase that has already seen this four years in a row. We must remember that four years may seem like an eternity for us, but compared to many other sports franchises around the NHL and other leagues -- four years is a very, very short time to be frustrated.