Five years ago, in September of 2008, the Dallas Stars franchise was riding high. After two straight first-round exits in 2006 and 2007, Dave Tippet's hockey team finally came to life in the postseason and made a surprising run all the way to the Conference Finals.
It was a shot in the arm of a hockey team that was already struggling with incredibly high expectations year after year, in a market that demands nothing but success. It was thought that, less than a decade after the victory over Buffalo, the Stars were finally back on the right path aimed straight for the Stanley Cup and the excitement and energy around the team was at high as it had been in a very long time.
After all, this was a talented team that had appeared to have improved in the offseason with the addition of the highly-coveted Fabian Brunnstrom and the soon-to-be-disastrous signing of Sean Avery. The loss of Mattias Norstrom to retirement wasn't seen as a particularly major loss, especially with such promising youngsters in the wings like Nicklas Grossman(n), Mark Fistric and Matt Niskanen.
Except it all went horribly, horribly wrong and almost right away. The hangover from the Conference Finals loss carried over to a slow start and with the Sean Avery circus in full swing, the Stars watched Phillipe Boucher (16), Sergei Zubov (10) and Brenden Morrow (18) all have limited seasons with Brad Richards also missing 28 games. The Stars finished with just 83 points in the worst season for the franchise since 1995.
All of the momentum built from the 2008 run was gone. The unfortunate season would lead to a major upheaval in the organization, which quickly led into a financial crisis that eventually landed the franchise in bankruptcy court.
The Dallas Stars fought their way forward with a bargain payroll and a razor-thin prospect system, missing the playoffs for the next four seasons yet never quite finding a way to be bad enough to make all of the heartache worth the pain.
Sometimes, it felt as if this was a team that was underachieving while at others it was clear the Stars were playing well above their heads. There were moments of brilliance but it's tough not to look back upon the past few years without a feeling of regret and a thought of good it should have been.
Marty Turco, Mike Modano, Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen, Mike Ribeiro, Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson, Brad Richards, Steve Ott -- these are names that are synonymous with Dallas Stars hockey for the past decade and all are no longer with the team, for a multitude of reasons. A group of players that, with the exception of a few, formed the core of a team that always came close but found a way to never quite come close enough.
Only six players remain from the Dallas Stars roster of just two seasons ago, and the team is now in the hands of a proud, ambitious owner that has given new life to a sullen fanbase. The lockout slowed the plan down a bit but for the past three months, we've been witness to a remake of a sports team that is unlike anything you'll ever likely see again.
In one single offseason the Dallas Stars have been remade as a hockey franchise, inside and out. A new logo, a sharp new jersey with a bold, new color scheme has performed a heck of a makeover on the depressing aesthetics of the past several years -- while big changes in the front office and on the coaching staff has been matched with a major roster upheaval and one of the biggest trades in franchise history.
After soaring to such heights in 2008 and appearing to be headed in the absolute right direction, the Dallas Stars instead fell back to the earth and hard. It's been a very rough stretch of seasons for the team, for those that work behind the scenes and it's been very tough on a proud but steadily dwindling core fanbase.
We don't know if the Dallas Stars will be a vastly improved team this year over the one from last season, but what we do know is that for the first time since that summer five years ago there is a very real sense of hope and optimism that things are finally headed in the right direction.
It's been said, both here and elsewhere, that we only need to look forward to the future for hope, that -- while it all may be tough and frustrating now -- things will invariably get better.
The journey of how the Dallas Stars traveled from the high expectations of the 2008-2009 season to the refocused and rebranded hockey franchise we now see before us has not been without it's trials and tribulations. Such highs and lows in that span with such incredible, unforgettable moments surrounded by an overall feeling of "what-could-have-been."
Yet we get through these struggles and come out on the other side stronger than ever. The Dallas Stars franchise is in as good a place as it has been in the past ten years, and is now looking upon a future with nothing but possibilities and hope. Hitting the reset button for the organization is something not many get to truly make a reality, a clean slate with which to start over and forget the disappointments of the past.
It's a time of new beginnings and fresh starts, and in just a few week's time we'll get to see this new version of the Dallas Stars on the ice together for the first time. In just over a month, the Stars will play in their first regular season game as a member of the new Central Division while wearing their new green home jerseys with Tyler Seguin centering the top line.
It's a time of new beginnings, and I can't wait for this season to start.
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- Peace Out, Pacific: A Los Angeles Kings Fan Says Goodbye to the Dallas Stars
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