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Dallas Stars morning thoughts: Who's to blame, and how do we move forward?

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Well, I've finally made it home. It was a very long, very exhausting three-day trip but it was one that should prove to be very fruitful for Defending Big D in the near future.

I would like to thank Gravypan for his hard work keeping the place running in my absence. He has done a great job since coming on a few weeks ago and his help on the site has been immeasurable. I'd also like to give a big shout out to Hull Fan, who put together a great breakdown of the Stars' needs in the upcoming draft.

Looking ahead, I'll have a fairly lengthy account of my time with Microsoft and some of the exciting things we have to look forward in regards to Internet TV. I'm also planning on making a few announcements in the next week or so about some exciting changes and additions here at Defending Big D and SB Nation.

Now onto some Stars stuff.

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Last night's 5-2 loss to Vancouver is most likely the nail in the coffin of the 2008-2009 season for the Dallas Stars. While yes, there is still a chance for the Stars to get hot, leapfrog four teams and slide into the 8th spot, the reality is that this team has hit the proverbial wall.

So like any other time in sports where a team falls well short of expectations, the questions start being asked about who is to blame for the disappointment of the season. Perusing the DMN Dallas Stars blog last night I found the lit torches had made an appearance as nearly every comment called for Dave Tippett's head on a platter. The easiest thing to do in pro sports is to blame the coach when things go wrong and 99% of the time that is what happens, especially since changing a coach is cheaper than changing out the players on the team.

As of right now, Stars owner Tom Hicks says that Tippett's job is safe. Dave Tippett is currently one of the longest tenured coaches in the NHL and during his time the Stars have been one of the most consistent and successful teams in the league. If the Stars fail to make the playoffs this season, it will be the first time they have fallen short with Tippett running the team. There have definitely been some ups and downs in his tenure, including several surprising first-round exits, yet Tippett has remained the constant as the Stars have gone through several different strategies as an organization.

Since Les Jackson and Brett Hull became co-general managers, the Stars have steadily worked to head in a different direction than they had previously attempted since winning the Stanley Cup in 1999. Rather than try to win with several big name  free agents and roster full of talented but aging veterans, the Stars have moved towards a focus on building around a nucleus of young prospects and players.

This move has left the organization in a sort of stasis; the team is stuck between rebuilding with younger talent and the desire to have a contending team each season. The Stars have an exciting group of young players that have the potential to do great things for this team for years to come. So the question is: do the Stars move forward with the plan in place and continue to throw these young players into the fire with some veteran talent around them, or do they put themselves into full rebuilding mode?

The first option is basically what happened this season. It wasn't the exact plan but in the end it's how it worked out. James Neal, Loui Eriksson, Mark Fistric, Fabian Brunnstrom and Chris Conner were all thrust into important roles for the Stars when injuries hit this team at the most crucial point of the season. It did not turn out well. These players will only get better with experience yet they are nowhere near being able to carry a team. Next season other key players, such as Brenden Morrow, Brad Richards and Mike Ribeiro, will provide the veteran presence and leadership needed to help guide and focus the team. Yet the Stars also have several tough choices to make when it comes to the older veterans on the team.

Jere Lehtinen, Sergei Zubov, Brendan Morrison, Steve Begin, Daryl Sydor and Mark Parrish are scheduled to become unrestricted free agents on July 1st. Who of these players should  the Stars attempt to re-sign?

Should the Stars continue with the plan of trying to "win now" and be a contender each season while trying to build around young talent? Because if so, then there will be future growing pains like this season mired by high expectations and it is doubtful if the Stars ever get better than just an above-average team. Perhaps the Stars should really focus on building from within and look towards putting a team on the ice that can be a no-doubt Stanley Cup contender in a few seasons.

The biggest question moving forward is whether Dave Tippett is part of either plan. The Dallas Stars have been a remarkably patient team with their coaches and especially with Tippett, but you have to think his leash is growing short. If the Stars truly wish to move forward into a rebuilding process, perhaps it would be best to move forward with a different approach on the bench.

Right now, my belief is that this team as constructed has one season to get things turned back around before a full reconstruction project is undertaken. There's no doubt that the Dallas Stars have a very talented and team-oriented nucleus that has been successful for a long time. Yet I also believe that without some tweaks this team is no better than a middle of the pack Western Conference team, even with Morrow and Richards returning.

The front office has some tough questions to answer and they most likely will be facing those decisions much sooner than anyone anticipated. Right now, the Stars seem to be a team without a clear direction for the future and playing for the present hasn't worked out so great the past few seasons. There is a young nucleus to build around yet it will take sacrifice to do so and it's doubtful the ownership is willing to wait through any more down years.

Patience is needed when times get the toughest; be sure not to rush to hit the panic button.