Practice, Patience Needed as Dallas Stars Search For Identity Continues

Kirk Irwin

A 2-4-1 start to the season has Dallas Stars fans frustrated, angry and confused. Just what sort of hockey team are the Stars this season, and how long will fans have the patience to wait it out?

Just how patient can the Dallas Stars ask the fans to be?

That's the dilemma at hand as the Dallas Stars prepare for Friday night's game against the Phoenix Coyotes, hoping to end a four-game losing streak that has pretty much erased all of the preseason optimism and "buzz" that existed the last time the Coyotes were in town.

It doesn't help that the Dallas Stars were just losing; this is a team that has actually looked progressively worse with each game that has passed. The defense is struggling, the offense can't score goals and the team can't stay out of the penalty box - despite some very precise offseason moves made in part to address that particular issue.

The only thing that Stars fans can feel good about right now is that Kari Lehtonen is perhaps the best goaltender in the NHL so far this season, and even that fact is frustrating to think about.

This was supposed to be a new era for the Dallas Stars. This was supposed to be a new team going in a new direction, adding big pieces like Derek Roy and Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr, while finally getting to see some of the young players in significant roles in the NHL. This was going to be a faster and more aggressive team, an exciting and more balanced offense than what we've seen the past few seasons.

Instead, for some, it feels like the same old thing all over again -- and that has fans frustrated, angry and already calling for changes.

Mike Heika had a great article up yesterday, written in the small hours following that dud of a loss against Detroit, that the Dallas Stars organization is going to remain positive, going to push forward...and ask for even more patience from the fans.

You die with each loss, you need the playoffs, you care about this stuff...and you can't understand why the Stars don't.

Rest assured, they do.

Here is Stephane Robidas when told that the fans are in a tizzy: "We cannot sit here and start wondering how many points it will take to make the playoffs or what we have to do for the next seven games. That will drive you crazy. What we have to do is concentrate on the next game, then do everything we can to win that one. It's the only way we can move forward."

Joe Nieuwendyk preaches patience. Glen Gulutzan says he sees good things. The players convince themselves that pieces are coming together and progress is being made. And maybe they're right. Maybe the fans have been jaded too much by the negativity of Twitter, and the insistence that every goal be dissected and someone be blamed.

Or maybe, just maybe, you know what you're talking about.

It's really a great article and a great dissection of exactly where this Stars organization is at right now. The Dallas Stars are not going to make any coaching changes anytime soon, and especially not after just seven games into the season. Tom Gaglardi isn't going to ditch Joe Nieuwendyk and create another round of upheaval in the organization, just because the team is performing poorly right now.

That doesn't mean that Gaglardi, Nieuwendyk or coach Glen Gulutzan are immune to the issues plaguing this team right now. There's no doubt the Stars are struggling in nearly every aspect of the game right now but after so much change in the offseason, there has to be some sort of patience involved as this franchise attempts to figure out exactly what sort of team they even have right now.

It's important, sometimes, to take a step back and really look at the overall situation. We get caught up in the minutiae of each game, day to day, and sometimes forget that there is a big picture at play here. The Dallas Stars are far from the only team in the NHL struggling to live up to the fan's expectations and, while it's always tough to compare situations, it could be said that teams like the Flyers and Capitals are actually deserving of the lofty expectations placed upon them.

The Dallas Stars, no matter how much optimism may exist this season, were going to struggle. Those struggles just so happen to be coming early in the season, before any sort of track record could be established, so we now attribute the struggles of the past four games to being the very definition of what this Dallas Stars team is going to actually be this season.

That's a dangerous game to play.

Consider the fact that today is the first day of true practice the Dallas Stars have had in well over a week. The tight schedule of the shortened season, combined with some odd traveling quirks and hiccups, have made the "seven games in 11 days" even more grueling than they would have been before. Combine those factors with a team featuring inexperienced players in key situations, a completely new top six and a roster that has yet to feature the actual full team that Joe Nieuwendyk assembled this offseason and it's easy to see why there have been struggles.

What's interesting is that the lack of true practice time has not once been mentioned as an excuse by the team. Gulutzan, perhaps to the chagrin and frustration of the fans, mentioned that these are "elite players" and that talking about situations and looking at film -- putting the thought in the players' heads -- should be just as effective as an actual practice. While that's true to an extent, this was perhaps a case of Gulutzan putting the pressure on the players and not looking for excuses as to the regressive play on the ice.

There is something to be said about the need for rest and practice, to take time to regroup as a team and find some actual chemistry away from a game situation. Despite what some fans may want to believe, this isn't a Dallas Stars team that just "needs to try harder" and then they'll be successful. Consider the fact that in each of the four losses the Dallas Stars actually held a lead; the Stars looked inspired and energetic the first 30 minutes against Detroit, before penalties derailed the team once more in the second period.

Instead, this is a team that just needs to figure out who they are. This is also a team that is in dire need of Derek Roy and Jamie Benn to actually be playing at the same time. There is a balance that needs to be found on offense that has not existed just yet, outside of the first game against Phoenix and perhaps the win in Detroit last week.

There are legitimate gripes and concerns with how the team is playing, yet the Stars have shown that they will at least find ways to address them. While fans call for sweeping changes, however, the Stars make adjustments. The team has made a commitment to relying on the veteran players to provide a buffer for the young and inexperienced on the roster, no matter how frustrating that may be. Perhaps it won't work, but there is a very real danger in just turning the team over to the kids and throwing the team to the wolves.

This weekend against Phoenix, and the next seven games, will say a lot about who these Dallas Stars really are. It's true that time is running out on needing to turn things around to even have a hope and a prayer for the playoffs, but perhaps a little patience is indeed needed as the Stars take some time to regroup and find some actual chemistry on a roster that hat yet to have stability this season.

Perhaps Glen Gulutzan isn't the long-term answer at coach, but let's see how the team responds in this next batch of games before making the sure-fire judgment call. Joe Nieuwendyk has had his struggles as a GM at times but he's also managed to completely rebuild the prospect pool and has created the framework for the future that has so many fans excited

Patience is a tough thing to ask for right now, especially after four years of mediocrity. Yet the simple fact is that this is a team in transition, a franchise that is making a turn in a new direction and there are going to be some very significant growing pains along the way.

Some see a team and franchise that refuses to make the hard decisions, yet others see a team that has the captain playing on the fourth line (who hasn't complained one bit about it), who has in the past moved on from Mike Modano and Marty Turco and Steve Ott, and a Stars team that has now called up Jamie Oleksiak in an attempt to bring balance to a defense that is struggling mightily.

This next stretch of games will tell us more about this coach and this team and this organization than the last seven.

We just have to have the patience to wait it out.

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