It's become akin to a four letter word for the Dallas Stars fanbase. The use of "patience" with die-hard fans generally elicits a very emotional and fervent response: "I've been patient for five playoff-less years, I've run out of patience!" Yes, the Stars haven't made the playoffs in five seasons straight. But what caused that streak is being turned around over the course of the last few seasons.
However, the kind of damage done up until Tom Gaglardi took over isn't going to be undone overnight.
During those five years, the Stars were run by Tom Hicks and then a group of banks as the team lingered through bankruptcy. As Hicks started to have finances go into decline, the amount of money spent on the roster was really reduced. Where Dallas had been a team that was in the top part of the league in spending to the cap, they all of a sudden found themselves near the bottom of the league.
They were finally sold to Tom Gaglardi about two years ago.
One of the first things Gaglardi did was to rebuild the front office -- both on the sales/admin side as well as hockey operations. The Stars worked to get a good staff in sales and customer service in place. Gaglardi then worked to keep all of those employees through the prolonged lockout, even as other teams laid off employees and reduced hours and salaries. He invested in the people.
The next focus was in making sure that the right people were hired to run the show. Jim Lites was brought in as the president (again.) He went out and hired Jim Nill, something many in the media felt was one of the biggest coups in hockey operations. They brought in a winning experienced coach in Lindy Ruff to coach the team and, along with Nill, to bring a winning pedigree to Dallas.
He's come in and rebuilt the team from the top down, establishing a firm foundation for the team to build from. Then it came time to focus on the on-ice product.
In Gaglardi, the Stars got a committed and passionate owner that isn't afraid to spend money on the team when it is warranted. They went out and offered contracts to free agents -- something they hadn't been able to do for a time. Trades were made to take on salary, which allowed the team to try to improve in the short term while not rushing the prospects and remain competitive in the NHL.
The farm system has been replenished. It had basically been depleted after Doug Armstrong had spent the previous seasons packaging up draft picks in trades. Coupled with not picking very high for seasons straight, the farm system was lacking the depth necessary to build a true consistent contender. They had to rely on free agency to plug holes in the roster. Through some shrewd trades, Joe Nieuwendyk did what he could for the team while he was general manager when he couldn't spend to the cap -- he amassed draft picks and prospects in deals.
The fruits of all of this ground work are starting to show. Young guys like Alex Chiasson are now contributing at the NHL level while guys like Jamie Oleksiak and Brett Ritchie are developing well down in Austin. The Stars now have a team where prospect depth is a position of strength that they can use to better their roster, by allowing for pieces to be traded without being detrimental to the organization. They've made key trades and free agency signings to help the team be right in the mix this season.
But they're still not there -- yet.
There are obvious holes in the roster: the defensive depth, while it is there, seems to hold a lot of redundancies in players that fit a certain mold. Goaltending depth has been tested at the lower levels due to injury already this season. Scoring wingers are needed for depth.
One thing the Stars have now, however, is a man with a plan. Nill has come from an organization where patience with prospect development and roster construction reign supreme. He's bringing that calming, patient presence to a team that has lacked it in seasons past.
Yes, the Stars haven't made the playoffs for five seasons straight. But I must say, the idea that this team is going to be built right excites me. I have more faith that Nill's plan will pay off in the long-term. Imagine a team that is a contender consistently instead of a flash-in-the-pan every few years. That dream is what keeps me patient, even when the Stars can be exasperating on some nights. They're going through some growing pains but I have every confidence that they'll get there at some point.
Patience -- a bittersweet word that brings so much hope. And the most important people running this ship -- Nill and Ruff -- seem to have it in spades.