No links this morning. Just some heavy thoughts and contemplation.
There's been a lot of talk about what could hold the Dallas Stars back from making the playoffs this season, whether that's depth at forward or defensive inexperience or backup goaltending. On Thursday night we witnessed the real reason the Stars won't make the postseason, if things don't change in a hurry.
The penalty issue for the Dallas Stars has been growing for three seasons now. It started under Marc Crawford and has escalated to substantial proportions under Glen Gulutzan. Last November, just two months into his NHL coaching tenure, Gulutzan was aghast at what he was seeing from the way the officials treated his team yet was also cognizant that the Stars didn't exactly have the greatest of reputations. He vowed this was an issue that would be fixed.
The problems continued and in the offseason the Stars made decisive moves to change the culture of the team, shipping out Mike Ribeiro and Steve Ott and saying goodbye to Sheldon Souray and Adam Burish.
The season the Stars' fascination with the penalty box has grown and the team is once again in the basement of the NHL stats page when it comes to minor penalties taken and power plays given to the opposition. Until lately, most of those issues came from a new problem -- the Stars seem unable to control their sticks, getting hooking calls and high sticking calls at crazy levels each game.
Now, a new problem has reared it's ugly head.
Perhaps the Stars felt they weren't being taken seriously enough. Perhaps the players have felt they need to get back to that "hard to play against" mantra that reigned supreme the last few seasons. It started against Vancouver and then spilled its way into an ugly loss in Nashville. On Thursday night, we hit the pinnacle when Jamie Benn lost his mind at the end of a blowout loss.
The Benn crosscheck on Jones was just the icing on the cake of a horrendously undisciplined game for the Stars, who gave one of the best power plays in the league nine chances on the man advantage -- including multiple chances at 5-on-3.
While the Stars found a way to hold the Oilers scoreless on the power play for the first two periods, all of that man advantage gave Edmonton every bit of momentum and control they needed -- until the third period, one could say the Stars were only down because of a few bad bounces and Devan Dubnyk away from getting hot, aside from the penalties.
So, now we're left with the best player on the team and a guy some were pegging a week ago as the next captain of the team going out on the ice with sole purpose of sending a message to Ryan Jones -- who just minutes before had incidentally run into Kari Lehtonen on a rush (nevermind the friendly tap on the helmet as Jones apologized to the Stars netminder).
..and we're left with a debate on whether Benn should be suspended. David Staples of the Edmonton Journal thinks so:
The puck was nowhere near Jones. Benn was given a five-minute major and a game misconduct.
But should he also be suspended?
My take? Jamie Benn deserves two or three games for that crosscheck. Nailing an unsuspecting player from behind, with a clear intent to injure, should be cause for suspension. In no way was this was a hockey play.
I don't think you can say this was a "clear intent to injure" and one could argue that Jones sold the hit pretty well. A well placed crosscheck in open ice is dangerous and reckless, but calling saying Benn was trying to hurt Jones is probably a bit disingenuous. Still, Benn hitting the ice and not three seconds later laying lumber into Jones' lower lumbar won't exactly earn him many favors with Brenden Shanahan.
Benn's saving grace is that he was heavily penalized on the play, earning a five-minute major and game misconduct for the retaliatory hit -- and that Jones was not injured on the play. There's no doubt that something has to be done about the hit, given the timing and placement of when it occurred and why, and it seems that in this case a fine will be completely warranted.
Will Benn be suspended? There is all sorts of opinion out there today. Most feel top cop Brendan Shanahan will only fine him, because Jones wasn't hurt. But Benn should learn a lesson either way.
I'll be the first and loudest to sing Jamie Benn's praises, but I'll also be the first to cry foul when he screws up. Perhaps this was all borne out of a building frustration; Benn is now minus-8 with just one point in his past three games -- two of those games bad losses. On Thursday Benn and his line had opportunity after opportunity to score and failed and the frustration grew with each period. Benn finished the game with a team-high eight shots on goal and it was clear he started to do way too much on his own by the time the third period rolled around.
And then he lost it.
What this has to be is a tough lesson for Benn to learn. He's growing into a leader on this team and is the best player on the ice nearly every single shift, but he's still finding his way in the NHL -- still learning how to be a professional, how to be a center and how to carry a team from night to night like the best players around this league are capable of.
He's also learning just what it means to be the "face of the franchise," a player who held out into the season to get a five-year contract and now must face the pressure that comes along with it. Benn has looked, at times this season, to be absolutely other-worldly when the puck is on his stick and showed incredible determination and leadership in that big home win against the Sharks and for most of this season, quite frankly.
Now he must learn to control the frustration that comes with bad games; the top player on the team cannot allow himself to stoop to so low a level, he's just too important.
Perhaps Benn's transgression is just indicative of a larger problem. The Stars have lost control too many times the past few weeks, after mostly keeping that part of the game in check. Perhaps Gulutzan hasn't done a good enough job of enforcing accountability on the team and perhaps now is the time to send a message. He certainly talked a good game 16 months ago, perhaps now is the time to follow up on that.
"We have to play less frustrated when adversity hits," said Gulutzan back in November of 2011. "That's going to change. I'll tell you guys this honestly, I'll be glad to go back to Saskatchewan if we don't get out of this, but at the end of the day we're going to do it the way we're going to do it. We're going to be men, we're going to have character, we're going to shut our mouths and we're going to play. If that's not good enough, then so be it."
So be it.