In the 11 months since Defending Big D was launched, one thing that I am constantly amazed by is not only the camaraderie among Dallas Stars fans, but also among the contingent of superbly talented bloggers covering the team. From Mike Heika all the way down to the newest bloggers, everyone is treated with the same level of respect, something that I am extremely proud to be a part of.
As we head into the holidays, I thought it would be good to put together a discussion among a number of these Stars bloggers and talk about the season so far and where this team might be headed. In this super roundtable we were joined by Cole Jones (TheOther6Seconds.com), Myra Lackey (Laughs2Loud.com), Brandon Bibb and none other than Bob Sturm of 1310 The Ticket fame and resident blogger at DallasStars.com.
The discussion was lengthy and fairly detailed. After the jump, I present to you the first half of the chat in a slightly abridged version. Part 2 will be posted later this afternoon.
Brandon W. - I think everyone here pretty much knows everybody, but just for the sake of professionalism let's all introduce ourselves and where we blog at.
Bob S. - Bob Sturm - DallasStars.com
Cole J. - I'm Cole Jones, and I blog at TheOther6Seconds.com, which is perhaps one of the five greatest websites in existence.
Myra L. - Myra Lackey, Laughs 2 Loud
Brandon B. - Brandon Bibb at the exceptional Defending Big D -- Which is free to use and easy to join in case you didn't know.
Brandon W. - I'd like to start off with your thoughts from the game against the Ducks. We've already extensively covered the inconsistencies of the season, but should we be worried that the breakdowns against the Ducks will become larger issues as the season progresses?
Bob S. - I think it is tough to merely isolate one game, but we have had many games that follow a template of not being able to kill off a game and attempting to bring home a 3rd period lead, only to realize that this team is far from set up to bring home 3rd period leads. The fatal flaw in this team is pretty big, when it comes to playing with the lead. And playing with the lead is the only way to play, so I am not sure if this team is fish nor fowl as it stands.
Myra L. - It certainly felt like the worse loss of the season so far and a continuation of the breakdowns we saw against Edmonton. That said, it's a very young team. They are going to have breakdowns.
Cole J. - I think the issue is large enough to be a concern, already. We've shown that we can come from behind in a hurry, but we've also shown that we can be on the other side of a comeback just as easily. Part of me is worried that it's part of the Crawford system, which relies much more on our ability to score than either the Hitchcock or Tippett systems.
Brandon B. - Time will tell whether or not those breakdowns lead to something worse such as an extended losing streak. And at one point in the third, I did have to remind myself that I expected this club to finish anywhere from 6th to 10th in the Western Conference and that patience would be the order of the season. That having been said, the Stars did exactly what the scouting report on the Ducks had to tell them NOT what to do. They gave up the blue line far too easily for a Ducks squad that feeds off hemming teams into their own zone and allowing their forecheckers to maul the defense. So that was disconcerting to say the least.
Brandon B. - And of course, maul the defense is exactly what the Ducks did to the Stars in the third period Tuesday night.
Brandon W. - Bob, you mention a "fatal flaw". What would you guys say that is specifically? Is it lack of execution or urgency with a lead? Bad coaching? Bad work ethic?
Bob S. - Honestly, the fatal flaw to me is tied up quite a bit in personnel. I have said for a while that I believe this team lacks both a #1 and #2 d-man. Add that to a team that cannot win a draw in its defensive zone with any regularity and a goalie who short circuits in crunch time occasionally, and there is your gigantic fatal flaw.
Cole J. - I think urgency plays a big part in it. At times, we look complacent with or without the lead... and when guys like Neal and Morrow are having "loud shifts" then we're playing well. We just seem to have a hard time staying at that level.
Bob S. - Killing off a game is very difficult even with Derian, Matvichuk, Guy winning draws, and Belfour in goal. But, with young blueliners who may never be a true #1 horse, and Modano is clearly your best option on a defensive draw, and trouble can ensue.
Myra L. - Wow. I think it starts with lack of staying with the system. Continue the offensive push regardless of the lead. Why do they take the foot off the gas?
Bob S. - By the way, I agree with both Cole and Myra. Urgency is big, and so is staying offensive. But, at the core, I think this team is trying to play a style based on its talent - which is clearly forward weighted to me.
Brandon W. - So the question becomes, is this team capable of overcoming these shortcomings? Because it's not like we're getting a new defenseman anytime soon. You'd think that falls on the coaching, but should we have faith in Crawford to get them over this hump?
Brandon B. - Well, in any hockey game, just like in sports, you're going to have ebbs and flows. Going back to what Bob just said, when you have a true #1 and #2 defenseman and a guy you can depend on to win draws in key situations, that can go a long way to help stem the tide of an ebb. As it is, the Stars don't really have anyone they can lean on during the ebb and they have to hang on...just like on Tuesday night.
Cole J. - I think we can overcome it to an extent... we're still a work in progress as the team tries to get used to the new regime. I think we'll see an improvement, but Bob nailed it on the head with the lack of a stud defenseman. We won't see a miracle, and we're probably not about to go on a run and win the division... but I doubt we'll go the rest of the season without a marked improvement.
Brandon B. - When you had Derian and Matty out there with Belfour in net and key vets like Screwy and Keaner, you knew you were in good hands back then. The Stars don't really have anyone, personnel wise, that they can depend on in crunch time right now, aside from maybe Brad Richards. The problem with Richards is, and this really showed Tuesday night, he's almost ineffective when he's hemmed into his own zone.
Cole J. - I personally think this discussion deserves a mention of Brian Sutherby. He's not Skrewy or Keane or Carbo... but I think he's the kind of responsible player that needs to be seeing more game action. He's not flashy, but he's effective in his role. I enjoy when he's in the lineup.
Brandon W. - It's been really odd constantly seeing him on the healthy scratch list.
Bob S. - I have high hopes for Nik Grossman, and we all know Robidas and Daley are achieving almost everything they have in their projections, but there does come a time where you look at your competition - San Jose, Anaheim with they won a cup, Chicago right now, and Detroit for years, and you see the Stars resemble a Rangers pitching rotation. a few #3's and #4s, and #5s.
Bob S. - Agreed on Sutherby. I think they just don't know fully what to do with the bottom 2 lines right now.
Myra L. - Bottomline, they have to work with what they have got for now. What are their strengths? They are young. What happened to wearing out the other team with their offense? We were doing that for a while.
Myra L. - And I read today that Sutherby's injury has continued to bother him. I was surprised when he didn't play against the Ducks but I guess he is still having issues.
Brandon W. - That's hurtful, because I think the Stars are in desperate need of a player like Sutherby right now.
Bob S. - Myra, to me that premise looks good in the offseason, but regardless of how many goals you score and allow, at the absolute core of every game is going to be a "next goal wins" period of the game. The Stars do not play with reckless offensive abandon because they know they are shorthanded in the back. This keeps things a bit conservative. If they could trust the blueline, we would see much more aggresive sorties going forward, IMO.
Myra L. - Heika said he is a game time decision for tomorrow night's game.
Brandon W. - I hate to keep bringing up sports analogies here, but it's a really good comparison when you think of the Dallas Cowboys pass rush. They can't unleash the blitz unless they're certain the defensive backs behind them can handle the work load.
Brandon B. - Yeah, it is. And we've talked about on DBD one player in particular being a little bit hesitant to unleash some aggressive sorties as Bob just said. And that's Trevor Daley.
Bob S. - I know looking at the roster (and ultimately the payroll of the team is a tiring exercise, but when Chicago has Campbell, Barker, Keith, and Seabrook as their top 4, you have to ask which of those 4 would not instantly go to the top of our depth chart. Certainly 3 of them would be the best of our bunch. Coaching can only make up for so much of that, to me.
Myra L. - Oh, I agree Bob, I'm not talking about reckless offensive abandon (and there is a joke in there that I'm going to bypass). I guess, it's falling back into a defensive posture that definitely do not have.
Cole J. - Daley seems to be stuck inbetween both worlds. He has flashes of being an offensive guy, but then has to retreat back to his conservative defensive game. It's really weird that against Anaheim, at 26, he was our second oldest defenseman. It's hard to be flashy, when you've got to be the big brother.
Myra L. - And I keep reading and forgetting to type. Gah.
Bob S. - Which brings up the hockey cliche of "safe is death"
Brandon W. - Well, lets slide things over a bit and talk about the elephant in the room then. It's not as if the Stars are hard against the cap and unable to make moves; this team is handcuffed by a strict budget that's lower than it's been in over a decade.
Myra L. - It's hard to be flashy when you are afraid, too.
Bob S. - Another Hicks Sports Group production
Brandon B. - Welcome to the world of the Rangers, Stars AND Liverpool FC fan, Brandon *sigh*
Bob S. - Yo tambien
Cole J. - I'm sure no one wants to hear this, coming from one of those scummy fans that wears Red Sox paraphernalia to the Ballpark, but the whole Hicks thing is really making me bitter towards the Rangers.
Cole J. - Liverpool and the Rangers can please go away, so my Stars can get some players maybe.
Myra L. - Aw, Cole, don't take it out on the Rangers.
Brandon W. - We talked about this last night, but Tom Hicks maintains that the Stars operate completely independently and that the budget is just a product of the finances of the team.
Cole J. - it's not the team's fault or the fans fault... but it all started with A-Rod coming and Derian going. lol.
Bob S. - When the Atlanta Thrashers can talk about $3m more, I will beg to differ, Brandon
Brandon B. - Well, you're about to get one part of your wish. And trust me, if Liverpool FC fans had their way, Hicks and George Gillett would have been gone a long time ago. I'll bet David Moores regrets the day he sold the club to them and not to Dubai International Capital.
Bob S. - The Blues, $4m, the Kings, $4m
Myra L. - Moves can be made. But it won't be pretty. I hate seeing some of young D go but if you want results now....We are a results driven city when it comes to sports fans.
Bob S. - It is truly outrageous. $12m behind the teams "going for it" with no budget restraints makes things extremely difficult. And do we know that moves can really be made? Or is it like Milwood - you can make moves that save money or even cost.
Cole J. - I honestly don't see room for both Nisky and Vishnevskiy in the future, if we're going to try and keep everyone together. Plus Larsen... so I'm not opposed to a swap somewhere down the line.
Brandon W. - Bob brings up a great point. We can talk about trading prospects and young defensemen all we want, but the reality is as it stands right now the Stars are unable to take on extra salary with getting rid of some first.
Bob S. - San Jose - a team that never has cash - is spending $8m more.
Cole J. - Oh, I agree completely.
Cole J. - And as you mentioned on DBD not long ago, it's a position us fans aren't really used to being in.
Brandon W. - Well the good news is that when the cap drops next season, the Stars are already in great shape.
Brandon B. - Those of us who also root for the Rangers had a sinking feeling deep down that there would come a day when the Stars operations would be affected in much the same way the Rangers operations were by Hicks financial problems
Cole J. - For some reason, I picture a super villain somewhere in Edmonton right now stroking his cat, wearing a Tommy Salo jersey, and laughing about our financial situation.
Bob S. - We are truly getting a taste of the otherside. The good news is it can't get much lower. Coyotes, Islanders, Predators, and Blue Jackets are lower, but that is it. Yes, Edmonton spends $10m more!
Brandon B. - And when HSG defaulted on the loan and Hicks went from indicating he'd sell off a minority share to, 'I'm open to any and all offers for the entire team.'... The writing was on the wall
Bob S. - Edmonton!
Brandon B. - But at least we can watch the home games on TV here.
Cole J. - So how long until Tom's "I'm not interested in selling the Stars" turns into "Well, maybe... Whatcha got?"
Bob S. - True, true
Myra L. - We have to deal with the reality of what it is right now. Wishing that we could spend more won't help. The coach has to find a way to deal with what he has now and the GM has to find a way to get what he needs with what he has. That is life as we know it right now.
Brandon B. - Depends on how long it takes the credit markets to unfreeze I guess.
Bob S. - My theory? He is interested in selling, but knows to slow play that hand given the difficulty to sell a hockey team in Dallas these days.
Bob S. - On the other hand, perhaps a baseball sale will put him flush with cash - provided it all doesn't immediately go to pay down that LFC note.
Cole J. - I used to have a theory on Tom Hicks... That he spent on hockey, and not on baseball, because he assumed the Rangers could still sell tickets if they were in the cellar, and the Stars couldn't. I worry that my theory on his philosophy might be pretty accurate.
To be continued....