On April 3, 2013 it seemed as if the Dallas Stars season was dead in the water. After a run of disappointing losses and uninspired performances, the Stars management decided it best to move on from a number of pending free agents that also represented a significant portion of the skill on the team. Combined with the Michael Ryder trade, moving on from Jaromir Jagr, Derek Roy and Brenden Morrow apparently signaled to the rest of the NHL that the Stars had thrown up the white flag and it was time to look ahead to the future.
That night, the first game after the trade deadline, the Stars lost 5-2 to the Anaheim Ducks in a game that even Ralph Strangis appeared to have a hard time getting enthusiastic over. For many, that loss -- with so many young players suddenly thrust into larger roles -- was what should have been the beginning of a 12-game struggle that would end with the Stars getting a coveted top-five pick in one of the more intriguing drafts of the past decade.
Instead, something interesting happened in Anaheim between that 5-2 loss and the game against the Ducks just two days later. The team found a common goal build from a camaraderie that perhaps had not existed for much of the season, or focus on proving everyone wrong about how bad this team had suddenly become.
The newfound focus resulted in six wins in seven games and complete control of their playoff destiny with just five games remaining. Suddenly a team that everyone had counted out was on the brink of doing what no one though possible, all the while riding an incredibly team performance boosted by the strong play of not just the veterans but a number of young players suddenly coming into their own when given the opportunity.
Despite the good feelings generated by that winning streak, the more realistic fans were worried about the consequences such a run would have in the long term. The chances of the Stars surviving a brutal schedule to finish the season and fight their way back into the playoffs were always incredibly slim, even moreso for a team that -- despite the improved team play -- didn't have nearly the amount of talent or coaching ability as those they were fighting for the postseason.
Ultimately, the Stars did stumble. Scoring just seven goals across the final five games, the Stars' hard work proved to not be nearly enough.
So, what was the cost of that little winning streak in the final weeks of the season? The Stars fell from what was likely to be a No. 4 or No. 5 pick to No. 10 -- any other draft year, the disparity in talent between those draft spots would be much more pronounced yet is still painful to think about.
While the Stars will certainly have the ability to add some significant talent to the organization at No. 10, the options that would exist just a few spots higher for the Stars is impossible to overlook. Consider that, at No. 5 or No. 6 in the draft, the Stars could potentially have their pick between Aleksander Barkov, Elias Lindholm. Valeri Nichushkin, Rasmus Ristolainen, Sean Monahan and Darnell Nurse.
Instead of debating which player could potentially fall to the Stars, we'd be debating the difficult decision facing the Dallas Stars at such a spot.
Now, there's still a chance the Stars put themselves into that exact position by trading up on draft day. There's logic behind such a move -- just as there would be in trading down -- but there's no doubt that moving up even three spots in this draft will be incredibly costly when it comes to the assets needed to make such a move.
For many, that little run at the end of the season was ultimately empty and meaningless. It did not thing to save the job of GM Joe Nieuwendyk or coach Glen Gulutzan, and the Stars are still looking at needing significant upgrades at several positions before sustained success can be found.
At first glance, the only true outcome of the final few weeks of the season was the price being paid to drop from No. 5 to No. 10 in the draft.
Yet there's something to be said about the importance such a run had on the team and the players. After a season of intense frustration and struggle to even play as a consistent team, the Stars suddenly looked like a cohesive unit that was being fueled by the strong performances of players expected to be the cornerstone of the franchise moving forward -- as well as some others that were a bit surprising in their success.
While sweeping changes have hit the organization in the wake of another postseason-less year, there's a sentiment that that little winning streak will have a lasting impression on this team moving forward. This was a young team that learned that they can, in fact, be successful against the best the NHL has to offer while embracing a style of play that was much more in their favor.
Suddenly, the Stars became a fun team to watch again -- even with those frustrating losses to close out the year. The fans found hope in a season defined by disappointment and there was some significant momentum being built for this franchise moving forward.
"For sure," said Stars forward Jamie Benn when asked on Tuesday whether the winning streak would pay off in the future. "Obviously at the deadline we made some deals, brought in some younger guys. I think we took off as a team and played a lot better hockey. We were a lot younger, excited to play. I think we are going in the right direction."
That "right direction" is something not to be overlooked when thinking about where this team is headed in the near future. While we don't know exactly what the new GM has in store for this franchise and the roster, there's a hope that the type of hockey we witnessed for that short burst is something we see more of sooner than later.
Life is full of "shoulda, coulda, woulda" and the what-if game we play with all of the hypotheticals we see as we look back on the past. No one should fault the Stars for finding motivation on that road trip in Anaheim and deciding they were going to prove the masses wrong about the team they believed they had. No fault should be found for the players finishing the season by playing their hearts out and laying it all out on the ice -- while the five-game collapse certainly hurt, this time it wasn't because of lack of effort or will.
Would a higher draft pick have been nice? Certainly. All the Stars can do now, however, is build with what they do have and what they have is still very, very exciting to think about.