For the Dallas Stars, the 2013-2014 season was, for a lack of a better cliche, a real rollercoaster ride.
The "rollercoaster" comparison is one of the most wildly overused phrases in all of sports reporting, almost as much as "giving 110%". But for the Dallas Stars last season you can't deny how accurate a description it is.
Since the Stars won the Stanley Cup in 1999, has there been a more thrilling, enthralling season of hockey for the franchise than last year? From the very start of the season, with all the sweeping changes from that summer, all the way to the heartbreaking oh-so-close Game 6 playoff loss against Anaheim, it was a wild ride from beginning to end.
The compelling storylines in between, both positive and negative, are numerous. The emergence of Tyler Seguin into a superstar, and his memorable first trip back to Boston. Stephane Robidas' broken leg. Jamie Benn making, and excelling for, Team Canada at the Winter Olympics. The season-threatening slump in January. Antoine Roussel's "are you not entertained?!" goal in Chicago. Mike Modano Tribute Night, which ended with a huge win over the Minnesota Wild. The terrifying Rich Peverley situation, and the beautifully emotional win the very next night over the St. Louis Blues.
Phew. That's a lot for one team to process, even over the course of an 82-game season.
Even more interesting, it might still be something that the team is processing now.
There's a sensation in the NHL called the "Stanley Cup Hangover." The concept is obvious enough: Cup-winning teams, after acquiring hockey's holiest of grails, take a step backwards the next season. As this graph from the website Sixteen Wins shows, there's actually some evidence to back up the phenomenon:
When thinking about it from a mental standpoint, the concept makes sense. After achieving so much success one season, how does a team motivate itself to dig deep, find that same level of intense dedication and enthusiasm, and do it all over again?
There's also the issue of pressure and expectations. As soon as any team wins the Cup they automatically become Public Enemy #1 for all 29 other NHL teams the next season.
Now, the Stars certainly didn't win the Stanley Cup last year, or even come close. However, it can't be denied that, all things considered, the season was a huge success for the franchise. The Stars adjusted to some huge changes from that offseason, overcame a myriad of obstacles, fought through a brutal Western Conference and made the playoffs for the first time since 2008. As fans, we all witnessed, and felt, how incredible it all was. That experience must have been enhanced tenfold for the players themselves.
Could the Stars' early season struggles be some form of emotional hangover, similar to a Stanley Cup Hangover?
The team, from the top to the bottom, hasn't looked nearly as sharp as they did last year. They've looked flat. They've lacked energy. And there hasn't been a lot of answer as to why. How could so many different players all be struggling so much at the same time?
Lovable underdogs all of last season, the Stars are now facing territory that they haven't been in since the days of Modano, Marty Turco and Sergei Zubov: that of a team with high expectations placed upon them. For some players, such as the captain Benn, this is almost new territory altogether.
"We’ve talked about the new car smell wearing off and the new-look Stars having to stand on their own...you have to raise the bar in the sports business, and the Stars’ bar is getting higher and higher. That means you can’t melt down at home, you can’t wade into the season like quicksand, you can’t let down your most loyal fans. It’s a really bad business model."
While the Stars' slow start is undeniably concerning, the bright side out of all of this is that the Stars have been through tough spots before. They've faced adversity and overcome it. For the team to correct their course and do it again they'll need to find a way to cure what ails them and rekindle the magic that they experienced last year.