At one point last week, the Dallas Stars had the chance to pull within one point of eighth place in the Western Conference, something that seemed a distant and unattainable goal halfway through January. Yet with another poor offensive effort on the road, the Stars failed to take advantage and have now fallen back to five points behind the Calgary Flames.
The Dallas Stars have four games remaining before the Olympic break, and just five before the March 3rd trade deadline. It's a tough schedule that forces many hard decisions, but that's the reality in the 2010 season. With the Stars on the cusp, seemingly all season long, of breaking out and making a jump, it's been frustrating to watch this team fall short time and time again.
The Dallas Stars have not won three games in a row since March, 2009.
Joe Nieuwendyk and Jeff Cogen have stated this past week that they are committed to making and maintaining this team competitive. We've known all season long that changes need to be made to get the Stars back to a higher level, yet financial restrictions have negated most of the options that the team has. Add to the equation the number of potential free agents on the team, as well as a wealth of young talent that will be tough to part with and you have a tough task ahead for the rookie General Manager.
The key to how the rest of the season plays out, both on the ice and in the front office, lies in the next four games.
It's simple really.
If the Dallas Stars don't make up any ground in the standings this week, then the chances of Nieuwendyk making big moves for a playoff run go down. Buyers.
If the Stars find themselves facing a near insurmountable deficit, then Joe is looking towards this summer and next season and focusing on building the team for the future. Sellers.
The first scenario means a Marty Turco trade is highly unlikely. The second one most likely leads to Turco leaving.
The first means that of the Big Seven (Richards, Morrow, Ribeiro, Eriksson, Neal, Benn, Robidas), none are gone, and most likely not leaving anyway. But a team going into firesale mode opens up many more options for themselves as to who they are willing to part with for high value return.
I understand that the majority of Stars fans want this team to change many of it's parts, to build for the future and are somewhat willing to part with major pieces of this current team to make that happen. It's the sad reality of how teams rebuild.
Yet the best thing that could happen for this Dallas Stars franchise is to win three of the next four, sit in 9th place heading into the break, and focus on making the playoffs. Why, you might ask?
For one, a team that at least plays in the first round of the playoffs finds their internal finances beefed with a sudden flow of new income. Every team budgets their season on NOT making the playoffs; anything extra is a bonus. This is extremely important for a franchise that is handcuffed by strict financial guidelines, one that has been forced to sit well below the salary cap all season long. There is no sign of the Stars lifting those restrictions this summer, no matter what Nieuwendyk or Cogen might say.
Tough to rebuild a team over the summer, through trade and free agency if you can't actually spend money.
The Dallas Stars NEED to make the playoffs, for the future well being of this franchise. Now, Nieuwendyk won't stand pat at the trade deadline if the Stars are contenders, but he's not going to be selling the farm either.
Which makes the next four games so important. And when you look at how tough these four games are going to be, then you realize just how big a hole the Stars have dug for themselves.
Home against Phoenix.
These four games, including three straight on the road, will determine the fate of this season.
The Stars have matched up surprisingly well against Chicago, and we all know what's been happening against the Coyotes. Let's be as optimistic as possible, and say the Stars win tonight at home against Phoenix and and in Chicago, but most likely lose in Arizona a week from now.
That makes the Calgary game that much more important, and this is a Flames team that has found new life after trading away Dion Phaneuf for a slew of goal scorers and a talented defenseman.
3-1-0 in the next four games would be as best we can hope for. Anything less could be devastating.
It all starts tonight.