A 12th place finish, a 12th place finish, a 9th place finish, and a 10th place finish. The Dallas Stars have been stuck for some time now in one of sports' worst bear traps - Believing they're nearly good enough, and not being bad enough to draft meaningful help and spurn substantive change.
They've drafted 8th, 11th, 14th and 13th. They've changed coaches. They've changed general managers. They've moved on from Mike Modano and Marty Turco. They've churned the bottom of the roster. They've been competitive, but never where they want to be when it's all said and done.
In all that time the Stars have not had a truly impactful free agent signing outside of Michael Ryder. Too few prospects have bullied their way onto the roster from the lower levels to really contribute. 10 of 19 regular skaters in the 2008-2009 season (Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Steve Ott, Loui Eriksson, Stephane Robidas, Trevor Daley, Nick Grossmann, Toby Petersen, Krys Barch, Mark Fistric) were still on the team last year.
In short, they have kept doing what they've always done (on the ice) and they've kept getting what they've... You know.
Much of it was not for lack of trying, of course. It was for lack of resources. We can trot Tom Hicks' name out here in this spot if you like. It doesn't matter. Things are changing this time. The trading of Mike Ribeiro - of a point a game player - seems to indicate a new direction.
When faced with the prospect of once again keeping the same core of leaders and nibbling on the fringe of the roster to make their changes the Stars, this time, appear to be choosing bolder action.
Moving Mr. "Six Shades of Sexy" Mike Ribeiro might not be the best thing, if the internet was any indication this weekend, for ticket sales and morale of the common fan (If Steve Ott is moved as well, doubly so) but it's a necessary part of changing the culture on the ice, in the locker room, and more importantly: getting younger and thinking about the future.
Continued after the jump...
It's easy to look at the Mike Ribeiro trade and see one thing: Lack of production this coming October. In sports the next game, the next period, the next play - is king.
Most Stars fans looked at the press release on Friday (this fan included) and saw: "DALLAS STARS C MIKE RIBEIRO TRADED TO WASHINGTON FOR SOMETHING THAT DOESN'T REPLACE HIS OFFENSE AND SOMETHING ELSE THAT DOESN'T REPLACE HIS OFFENSE."
And we panicked.
Only 43 guys in the league scored more points than Mike Ribeiro last season. "He makes the offense work. Scoring chances will be quite few and far between without him." Etc. The reality is that he's been on the market for longer than most would like to think. The reality is that his talents come with glaring complications. Josh explained the reality of that situation rather splendiferously, as he would say, here yesterday in his examination of Mike Ribeiro's tactical implications on this roster last season.
None of that is exactly a secret. The third straight draft with Mike Ribeiro rumors culminating in this trade tells us that perhaps Cody Eakin and a second is the best offer the Stars received and were ever going to for him.
Mike Ribeiro was a good player here. He was fun to watch. He's going to be missed. But this is less about him specifically, and the center position specifically, and more about an organization shift in direction that Tom Gaglardi and Joe Nieuwendyk, now joined by Jim Lites and Bob Gainey, have been planning from day one.
"You look at four straight years without the playoffs, and I definitely think you have to look at your leadership group," Gaglardi told media the week after the regular season ended in mid-April. "I don't think our leaders were our best players down the stretch, and that's something that we need to look at to see if that was a common theme in the last four years."
The verdict must have been - Yes, it was.
It was assumed at the time that the leadership group of which he spoke included Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas and Steve Ott, primarily. They are the hold-overs from the 2008 run, with Daley and Fistric to a lesser extent. They are the senior-most members of the club in tenure. They are all one the chopping block for the right (younger) price. Notice has been served.
So now we wait for the next shoe to drop. Steve Ott's name is still being tossed about. Until Friday I'd have said it was all just a lot of smoke. After the team's highest paid player was moved further (substantive) action does not seem so far fetched.
"We want to be smart, and we want to build the team for the long-term, to be a long-term winner, but we also know that we have free agency and we have trades, and we have to be prepared to use both of them to get better," Gaglardi told the Dallas Morning News this weekend.
The rub of course, with whatever this plan is, we won't know all of it for another week, is that it's a risk. It's a big one. The Ribeiro trade feels like just the start of something but the rest of it, be it another trade or a free agent acquisition, is something they could not possibly bank on 100% when they pulled the trigger Friday evening with Washington.
They may intend to replace Ribeiro's production with another proven NHL player, but they can't promise it here on Monday morning. The plan must be flexible. The inclusion of some very young bodies thought set to play in Cedar Park next year, if not the intention, must be a contingency to which they're now very easily willing to commit.
Nevertheless, it is a plan and they are prepared to act. Rather than being content to take the easy, safe road with the same core group and the same ancillary tweaks and adjustments that may land them the 8th seed or land them another #14 pick in the first round, they've decided to be bold. To change.
It's a change that most are willing to concede is probably a good one when considering the next five years, or the so-called big picture, such as making the most out of Loui Eriksson's current contract and Kari Lehtonen's back.
Whether or not it's a plan that will make for a pleasant experience in the 2012-2013 season is a subject that we cannot wholly or properly address for seven or eight days time. Just be thankful in the mean time, that something is being done.