In the end, they just weren't good enough.
This past season was perhaps one of the toughest for Dallas Stars fans, a juxtaposition between the hope and joy of the team finally being sold to an enthusiastic owner and the disappointment and frustration of the team falling just short of the postseason once more. We have the optimism of momentum finally being able to build for this franchise yet we are stuck in the anger and sadness of yet another long summer, with the Stars entering the longest postseason drought in franchise history.
It's amazing to think of how close they came despite so much being stacked against this team. I know there are frustrations about effort, will, heart or any other intangibles you could think of but in reality, this was a hockey team that just didn't have enough firepower and talent to really compete when it mattered most.
There is anger over just what happened down the stretch to leave them out of the playoffs again but no matter what, I don't think we should look back at this season as complete and utter disappointment about some "epic collapse." Instead, we should look back at how a team that probably had no right to be in the position in which they ultimately found themselves because of overachievement and two stretches of incredible, insanely fun hockey.
As we get ready to move into the offseason schedule here at DBD (we have some grand plans), I wanted to offer some personal thoughts on this past season as well a reflection on what is likely coming in the very near future...I've said it a few times this season but this was perhaps the easiest Stars team to love since 2008 and it's easy to see why the fans became so emotionally connected to the outcome of this season. Fans fell in love with Eric Nystrom, Ryan Garbutt, Tomas Vincour, Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler and all the other players on this team that went to work with not the most talent in the NHL, yet relied on "hustle" to accomplish their goals.
It helps that most of these players are also extremely likable as regular people and are generally approachable by the public, always willing to interact with fans and show off their personalities on Twitter and elsewhere. We felt a personal connection to this team like we haven't to a Stars team for a very, very long time and I think that's a big reason for the showing of frustration, anger, disappointment and outright rage that was expressed by many fans after the struggles of this team down the stretch.
That's really the story of this season, though, a hockey team that couldn't work hard enough for long enough in order to make it to the playoffs. There were all sorts of issues with this team, from personnel and chemistry issues to the historic struggles of the power play but what it ultimately boils down to is this team just wasn't able to work hard enough to overcome these issues.
Is that something we should be concerned about? Is that an endemic issue that speaks to just what sort of core the Stars currently have in place, that when a hockey team can't outwork their own inadequacies that we instantly call them a failure of a team? It's an interesting debate, especially when you consider that we've seen this team follow a similar pattern for three straight years -- where when the chips were on the table and the season was on the line, they were unable to truly step up when it mattered the most.
This is an issue that we will be exploring over the coming months and will be analyzing heading into this next season; just what sort of improvement and change is required in order for this team to change this pattern? Is this purely about talent level and payroll or is this about needing absolute change and restructuring of the core of players that are already in place?
From what we can tell, we should expect some interesting changes to be made this summer. The coach and general manager are staying, but indications suggest that the hockey team that took the ice this past season will in now way resemble the one that we'll see next October in training camp. There are some very tough choices to be made, especially when you consider the development of a number of these young prospects, and I have a feeling that not every choice that will be made will be very popular.
One thing is for certain: fans should not expect this team to be molded into a Cup contending team in just one summer. It's not going to happen; this hockey team just isn't good enough for that to realistically happen.
Instead, we're starting the process of what is essentially the actual beginning of the building process that should have started two years ago yet never was started because of the complete lack of support from ownership. I know that is frustrating to many but it's impossible for a general manager to complete a rebuild when there is little to no support from those above him.
The only thing the Stars had going for them at the time were the players on the ice and any momentum they could generate; scrapping it all and starting over, especially considering the ownership situation, would have been a big risk to take and could have resulted in even more fans abandoning this franchise that what we ultimately witnessed.
No, that building process will start this summer and while we may expect some possibly big changes to be made we should not expect for a contending team to suddenly be built out of thin air just because we have an owner that is willing to spend money. Rome was not built in a day, the saying goes, and this has never been more true than now -- especially with this hockey team.
There's no doubt that a good, young core is in place. The Stars are going to have some difficult decisions to in regards to a number of veterans but this is the beauty of how Nieuwendyk built this past season's team last summer -- he knew an ownership change was coming and he set himself up to be able to make these changes without being locked into prohibitive contracts.
We must temper our enthusiasm in some ways, however, and remember that the pipe dreams of building a championship team in just one summer likely won't happen. We'll explore all options and scenarios but it's important to remember just what sort of expectations we need to place on this building process; while missing the postseason has been tough, just because we now have an owner does not mean the Stars have suddenly become a team capable of hanging with the very best the NHL has to offer.
If nothing else, this past season taught us just how far the Stars truly have to go and how much building is truly needed. It's frustrating in some ways but it's exciting in that we have the opportunity to be along for the ride, to be there with this team as they are rebuilt from the ground up -- and they already have a head start on the process, with a franchise goaltender and good, young core of players in place.
This past season was all about transition and anything positive was always going to be a bonus. We had our hopes and our dreams of what could happen and we were teased with a near-miracle, but in the end the Stars were who they were all along.
Making the playoffs is going to be the expectation and the goal next season, that much is certain. The Stars have an owner that is obviously going to be very involved and very opinionated in how that goal is accomplished and the hope is that the troubles of this past season serve as learning tools for a young coaching staff that is only going to get better.
I've said for the past year that I'm extremely excited about the future of this team and that still holds true today. I am saddened and frustrated over the thought of another long summer, one that I've worked through three times already as the Editor for this website and one that I am much too familiar with as a Dallas Stars writer.
But there is momentum building with this franchise and we saw how when a team is exciting and the hockey is meaningful, Dallas is more than willing to become a crazed hockey-town once again. I am excited to see the fanbase being built back up and I'm extremely excited to see just what moves will be made this summer not because I'm looking forward to those moves being made...but because the possibility of change even exists.
This is another frustrating end to a too-short season but this summer is much, much different than others we've experienced these past few years. Change is coming and change is needed and for that...I am hopeful.