Joe Nieuwendyk held a brief, impromptu media session in the press box before Saturday's season finale against the Blues Saturday night. With a pained expression matching those of season ticket holders, he spoke of the disappointment surrounding the team and a fourth consecutive off-season with no playoffs.
He did add, however, that this summer would be a bit different.
"We're the NHL bridesmaids two years in a row and it's tough to swallow. I think the good thing is we have an owner now that is committed to getting better and we're going to be aggressive at getting better, too."
That man, Stars' owner Tom Gaglardi, has not been shy around town as the season fizzled. He intends to implement change, and it appears as though all options will be on the table.
"You look at four straight years without the playoffs, and I definitely think you have to look at your leadership group," Gaglardi told the DMN this weekend. "I don't think our leaders were our best players down the stretch, and that's something that we need to look at to see if that was a common theme in the last four years."
That leadership core, by the way, is starting to get a little ticked off as well.
"It gets annoying," Stephane Robidas told Dallasstars.com. "I'm 35 now and there's not many years left. Every year that goes by and you don't make it, it's another year you don't make it to win the Cup and that's my goal. That's my dream. That's all we play for but every year that you miss it it's tough."
Robidas (35) is the most senior member of a dwindling group of veterans that have led this team on the ice since the last CBA negotiation. Brenden Morrow (33), Mike Ribeiro (32), Steve Ott (29) and Trevor Daley (28) remain while so many (Turco, Modano, Lehtinen, Boucher, etc) have moved on.
"It has to be looked at, because we have to make sure it doesn't happen again next year," finished Gaglardi of the leadership group.
Continued after the jump...
"I don't see a position that we don't need to get better at," Gaglardi told ESPN. "We need more scoring depth, clearly. Secondary scoring wasn't there when we needed it. Our top line carried us there for a while, but once it stopped we weren't able to muster up enough offense."
The Stars got depth scoring early in the year from their third line while Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson poured in the points from the top of the lineup, so to speak. The Ribeiro/Morrow combination struggled mightily to produce.
Later in the year, Ribeiro was placed very succesfully with Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder. When that trio connected times were good, but the diminished contributions from the Fiddler/Nystrom group meant some very lean nights. Jamie Benn's unit was stuck playing checking line more and more often down the stretch as the other trio's could not counter the West's top lines when the playoff race heated up.
That leaves the Stars with many paths they could take in reinforcing their forward lineup. Collect top six talent to bolster secondary scoring? Change the top six significantly so that key offensive players can be deployed in all areas and still be counted upon to generate positive scoring chance/shot differentials? (We've talked at length about where Ribeiro's line needs to be started to be succesful). Or else collect better defensive forwards for a true checking line (Vernon Fiddler , Steve Ott and a shiny new defensive-minded free agent?) that frees up Jamie Benn's group, whatever it may be?
We have so much to talk about this summer. Whatever the plan is, Mr. Gaglardi knows that the power play must figure into it.
"I think we've got to look at our power play, finished last in the league and broke a record for fewest goals as a franchise on the power play," he told ESPN Dallas. "That's a real concern. A lot of the power play starts at the backend."
It's not unfair to say that Alex Goligoski was not the revelation on the power play this season that the Stars hoped he would be. Is that because certain other players have the puck more with the extra man? Is he talking about Philip Larsen, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas as well? Again, all things we'll talk about as the summer rolls on.
This is all an indication that the Stars are willing to ask the right questions - the really hard questions, but it's not a guarantee of significant change.
Pulling the trigger on a blockbuster isn't easy. Letting known, comfortable commodities go in exchange for uncertain performance in new bodies is a tough thing for a GM to do in any sport, and playing the over-spending game on July 1st, as several teams demonstrated last year, can be a very crippling exercise.
"We're probably one forward and one defenseman away from being a contending team, but they need to be a very good forward and a very good defenseman," Gaglardi told Mike Heika, seemingly talking about what could be done in free agency in an ideal situation.
"I believe you have to draft and develop and manage well, and I believe that's more important than spending, but I also know that you don't see many floor teams who win a lot of rounds in the playoffs, and there really aren't all that many floor teams that make the playoffs at all. So, I do believe there is a correlation between spending and winning." [Dallas Morning News]
The only thing we can truly take from all of this on April 9th is how many more options the Stars have this year than the last.
There are genuinely exciting prospects pushing from down below that have a chance in camp. There is a man at the top who knows he needs to improve the product on the ice before he can have success off it. The power play (or whatever the issue of the day may be) matters to him more than it mattered to 40 banks last year. We do not have to frame every single payroll discussion with "$49 million" this summer. Bigger free agents are at least an option.
Joe Nieuwendyk seems free to explore the kind of change he desires, if these quotes from Mr. Gaglardi are any indication. Whether that's the addition of free agents, an influx of youth, fundamentally changing the makeup of the core of this team, or a little of all of the above - We'll just have to wait and see.
The true start of the Tom Gaglardi era is finally at hand. The on-ice product awaits his fingerprints.