Let's talk about what's ahead.
From this point forward, no more worrying about what has happened so far this season.
The reality of this season is what it is now. The Dallas Stars are no longer a team that is in a slump, or has just hit a bit of a rough patch; instead, the Stars are now firmly entrenched in the struggles of being a poor hockey team.
The Stars have the ability to pull out of this quicksand of suckitude in which they are now stuck, but there are no signs being given that this will happen anytime soon. The Stars have regressed mightily after showing signs of life on the homestand, allowing five goals per game across four straight losses that have brought all sorts of doubt and negativity on the shoulders of the coaches and the players.
On Thursday night the Stars had shown a brief flash of what they could be, a run of somewhat-decent hockey against an okay Detroit Red Wings team until a critical mistake was made at the worst time, and a one-goal game quickly became a blowout. While the Stars can say all they want about how one play may have changed the tide, and how it was close until that point, and dang-it if they'd just get a break -- this is what happens with bad teams, when this same scenario plays out night after night after night.
It's a crappy situation, especially when you consider the amount of hype that led into this season. The acquisitions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky, all of the raised expectations nationally about this team, that fed into a local buzz in Dallas not felt since the fall of 2008. The AAC has been alive and kicking with rather large crowds for early in the season and despite all of the struggles to start the year, sellouts were still occurring and big crowds were still showing up with faith that their team would eventually pull out of this freefall, that the fun and freewheeling team that won over the fans and the city of Dallas once more last season could still be there somewhere and all of these early losses were just bumps in the road to something bigger.
Except that hasn't happened, and reality is sinking in.
The Dallas Stars are technically very much in reach of still making the playoffs, but that option is fading rather quickly.
On the other hand, there's a name around the corner that could potentially change the entire makeup of this franchise.
The Dallas Stars are a team with the potential to be much better than what we've seen so far this season and yet so far, have not shown once that our faith this reality exists will eventually be paid off. Aside from two periods against the Chicago Blackhawks and a few games against the Los Angeles Kings, the Dallas Stars have not had any extended period of good hockey this season. Even in wins there have been major issues and concerns, and the problems lie in every aspect of the game right now.
So, moving forward and coming home from a disastrous road trip -- what should the plan be? What other changes might the Stars make that haven't been made yet, aside from a complete overhaul behind the bench that is not very likely to happen anytime soon? Lindy Ruff has put his lines through the blender so many times this season the blades are about worn out, so what else could change?
While the troubles of this season have almost nothing to do with Tyler Seguin, there is clearly something wrong with Jamie Benn and it's indicative of his team's struggles. When Benn is at his best is when he's taking over a game on his own, putting the team on his back with incredible individual effort and physicality up and down the ice.
When's the last time we saw Jamie Benn out in the open?
While the Benn and Seguin duo has been fantastic overall, and could still be in the future, splitting them up could be a way to help spark the team Captain. Perhaps something a little crazy....
Benn - Spezza - Hemsky
McKenzie - Seguin - Eakin
Roussel - Fiddler - Cole
Moen - Horcoff - Garbutt
Which brings me to my next point...
Here is where the pressure on Ruff's shoulders really starts to make itself known. The Stars have shown incredible preferential treatment this season to every veteran not named Ales Hemsky, with several older players kept in the lineup night after night despite the same struggles of the younger players. While salaries and veteran status and such will always affect these decisions, at this point there is nothing to lose than to actually let these kids play, and learn.
Curtis McKenzie should not be a healthy scratch night after night, and there's no reason at this point to continue playing Jordie Benn or giving Trevor Daley the most difficult minutes. Get Oleksiak and Jokipakka on the ice and continue to expand their role and their minutes and while mistakes will be made, there's more value to their making these mistakes and learning from them versus others in the same position.
The lack of right wings on this team is now starting to hurt as well, with the prolonged absences of Patrick Eaves, Valeri Nichushkin and Rich Peverley all affecting the balance on the team, especially in the top six. Brett Ritchie would conceivably be the next option, but he's been dealing with injury and illness most of this season and might need a bit more time, still.
The worst thing that can happen for this franchise is, once again, to finally figure it all out and make a late push for the playoffs and then fall short -- ending up with the No. 13 pick in the draft and no postseason appearance. If there were any, any year at all you'd want a rebuilding team to take a stumble and bottom out for a year it's this one -- the talent at the top of this draft is unbelievable, and would be one hell of a boost for a team conceivably in just a one-year slump.
That's not to say the Stars should not be trying for the postseason, or working to improve and start winning again -- I want my hockey team to have pride and to fight for everything they can. There's also something to the fact that losing, and continuing to lose when you expected so much more, can have a lasting negative effect on a franchise.
Perhaps it's time to look straight to the future and start giving more significant minutes to younger players; perhaps Jim Nill starts reconsidering the price he's willing to pay to acquire a top defenseman; perhaps a bigger shakeup is needed; perhaps the Stars have faith in themselves, and fix things internally and actually push for the playoffs.
The Dallas Stars stand at a crossroads, but no demon is going show up with a devilish promise of redemption.