A group of Dallas Stars fans are sitting around a dinner table. The linens are snow white, the napkins a lovely shade of emerald green, and the centerpieces of cranberry and pine branches dappled in sunshine emit the perfect scent to accent the Festivus dinner about to be consumed.
The turkey comes out of the kitchen, and Victor E. Green appears at the head of the table to carve slices for those in attendance. The mashed potatoes are passed, the sweet potato casserole spooned onto dishes, and every adult keeps one eye peeled for those that would sneak pieces of chocolate meringue pie before the dessert course is served.
Conversation meanders between the weather, the upcoming New Years plans each have, and how Christmas went for everyone (and the agreement that moving Festivus dinner back to accommodate everyone’s travel plans and family commitments was a good call).
Now, the Festivus dinner has been served, and we are ready for the (first) annual Airing of Grievances.
Grievance #1: Jordie Benn is only on the roster because of his brother Jamie.
The reason we hate this particular theory is twofold: (1) it’s rude to presume someone got something just because of their name; and, (2) it discounts the hard work Jordie Benn put in to get to the NHL level.
So, for the final time (we hope): Jamie Benn did not sign a contract with some stipulation that Jordie Benn has to be on the roster. Both players are professionals, and each are here on their own merits.
Jordie Benn has shown that he has NHL talent. The grievance I believe most have with him is his usage moreso than the fact that he is on the Dallas Stars roster. He’s the perfect third pairing/7th D player that NHL teams need on their team. Jordie Benn can slot up when injuries may dictate it because he has the veteran play at this level that coaches can trust. He isn’t without his flaws, though — but then again, most players aren’t perfect either.
I’d be really happy if Stars fans would complain about whatever shortcomings he may have in his game or the way in which he is deployed rather than tossing this nonsensical theory from here on out.
Grievance #2: The defensive logjam.
Yes, the Dallas Stars have 8 defensemen on the roster. No, that is not ideal. However, general manager Jim Nill is keeping the long game in mind with this particular roster construction decision. He has to ensure that he can protect the assets he wants to protect in the expansion draft this summer. With a certain amount of veteran players required to be exposed as well as a limited number of protections that can be deployed, Nill is doing what he thinks is best to protect players like Julius Honka — the future of the Dallas Stars.
Also, with many teams needing defense and each team having predicaments of their own to consider for the expansion draft, having a plethora of players at a position that are controllable, cheap assets allows Nill to have a position of strength that could be tapped into for potential trades this summer.
I’d be happy to discuss the defensive logjam after this summer’s transactions. If the Stars continue to carry 8 blueliners next fall, I’ll lead the banging of the drum that it is a terrible decision. For now, I’m willing to just accept that this is where the team is at and see if the long term plan becomes clearer after the dust settles next August. But can Stars fans take the same approach for the remainder of this season?
My guess is that will depend on how the team performs on the ice.
Grievance #3: Goaltending.
The Dallas Stars have spent over $10 million on two goaltenders that have been sub-par at best the last several seasons. When faced with a Game 7 in the playoffs last year, the goaltending was exposed as the Achilles heel that it is for this team at times.
But what about that Game 6? There’d be no Game 7 without the performance Kari Lehtonen put in that game. This season, Antti Niemi has an even strength save percentage that is slightly higher than league average (.926% vs .922%, respectively) among goaltenders with at least 10 games played. Kari Lehtonen is only slightly lower (.916%).
The team as a whole has played worse defense this year, and it has exaggerated the shortcomings of the goaltending. However, it seems that the team as a whole has improved over the last month of play, and the goaltending stats have looked much improved accordingly. It feels a little like the chicken and egg question on this team: is the goaltending that bad or is the team defense in front of the goaltending making it look worse?
Until the trade deadline or this summer, the goaltending isn’t going to change. It is what it is today, and no amount of griping will change it. So let’s just accept where the goaltending is, and see if the recent improved play is sustainable — for both the goaltending and the team defense in front of the net.
Grievance #4: The Stars aren’t winning because they aren’t big/tough enough.
This generally harkens back to the glory days of the Dallas Stars when the Hatchers of the world were out there to lay out the pain first and play hockey second. The fact of the matter is that the game has evolved, and it’s a speedier game. It’s more about hockey IQ and quick transitions than having guys on the roster that are big bruisers that are not as mobile.
Also, this particular gripe ignores the fact that the Dallas Stars have gotten bigger over the last few years and have drafted players both with skill and size.
And for those waiting for Jamie Oleksiak to become the next Derrian Hatcher with explosive hits and fights every shift: he has been known as a player more likely to use his long (LONG) stick reach to defend and not necessarily bring a physical style of play in the lower levels of hockey. So why would he become that overnight at the NHL level? The flashes of it are brilliant, no doubt. But he’s still learning the NHL game, and expecting him to change his style completely is a little unfair.
Grievance #5: Dallas needs to trade every veteran player right now.
How about we let the season play out a little bit more and see where they stand at the trade deadline before we shovel dirt on the entirety of the season? Deal? Deal. After all, the Stars are only three points out of the first wild card spot in the West. The Stars play 26 more games before the trade deadline on February 28th (with another game just that night, too). Let’s see how it shakes out between now and then.
There are some people that believe that watching all of the youth play at the NHL level is exciting because you get to watch them develop. For others, that just means watching a whole lot of losses while a team of inexperienced players try to figure out the game against the fastest and most talented opposition, and that is not going to make the season any more “fun” to watch for them.
Whether you agree with it or not, the team needs to win to sell tickets, keep a fun atmosphere at games, and make the money they need in order to be able to attract top tier free agents and trade targets. Not many of the occasional fan are going to understand tanking a season for a top draft pick
Grievance #6: Lindy Ruff should be fired.
Any coach that steered his team to a sub-.500 record with the Dallas Stars of August would surely find their seat getting quite warm. However, the injuries sustained beginning in training camp and continuing to persist this far into the season are mitigating circumstances that must be taken into consideration when discussing Ruff’s future in Dallas.
Would the team have struggled as much if they hadn’t lost two top six forwards for the season? If the likes of Jason Spezza and Patrick Sharp and Johnny Oduya hadn’t missed stretches of time?
It’s not on Ruff that the team didn’t improve their goaltending in the offseason. It’s also not his job to ensure the team doesn’t carry 8 blueliners that have to be given playing time. How much of the frustration with Ruff is a product of the roster? Can you separate that from his decisions on usage?
The last thing to consider with this particular grievance: who would be an upgrade? What coach is available in the middle of the season that would bring in pixie dust magic and make the team better instantly? I’ve looked, and I’m not sure any are there.
The group sighs with relief that their grievances have been aired as Victor E. Green sheds his Stars jersey and shouts out “LET’S RUMBLE”. A laugh is shared as the group realizes that Victor forgot to name his opponent for the Feats of Strength.