Truth be told, the Stars put forth a solid performance Tuesday night in Toronto.
Yes, they lost 3-1. They gave up another powerplay goal. Their offense failed to capitalize on Curtis McElhinney’s numerous rebounds.
However, Tuesday may have been the best Dan Hamhuis has looked in Victory Green. Both Patrick Nemeth and Stephen Johns were solid on the backend and even Antti Niemi was solid between the pipes - until he wasn't. Dallas outshot Toronto (40-34), outhit Toronto (30-22), and caused 17 giveaways.
Tuesday’s loss drops Dallas’ road record to 7-14-4. Four of their next five are away from the American Airlines Center - Ottawa, Nashville, Winnipeg and Minnesota. The lone home game is a matinee matchup against the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday.
And with 28 games left, and now seven points back of a wild card spot and eight points behind Nashville for third in the Central Division, the outlook is grim. Only Colorado has fewer points in the Central than Dallas.
But is it all over?
The road has not been kind to Dallas.
Tuesday was vindication that maybe, just maybe, this season wasn’t meant to be. The parade of penalties in the third was highlighted by Cody Eakin trying to behead Mitch Marner. Also the Radek Faksa penalty, oh, that one...
Staying positive, Tyler Seguin unloaded a powerplay goal (where has that shot been?) and looked inspired once paired with Jamie Benn again.
So, the schedule.
The next 10 include Ottawa tonight, Carolina, Nashville, Winnipeg, Minnesota, Tampa Bay, Arizona, Boston, Pittsburgh and the Islanders.
The middle of that run through the Central Division will be key. Winnipeg has lost two straight, but Minnesota and Nashville are a combined 13-6-1 over their last 10.
Dallas needs to find ways to manufacture goals on the road. They cannot rely on the powerplay - scoring seven times in their last 29 chances in the last 10 games.
Dallas hasn't scored two or more goals on the man advantage since Nov. 19, a 5-2 loss to Edmonton.
Much has been made of the March 1 trade deadline.
What will Dallas and general manager Jim Nill do? Sell away assets or, if within striking distance, go for it and acquire pieces?
Last year Nill acquired defenseman Kris Russel from Calgary. While he played well during his time in Dallas, he didn't re-sign with the Stars following their second round loss to St. Louis.
Names such as Patrick Sharp, Patrick Eaves and Johnny Oduya have been floated as possible targets for contenders.
But who else could see their way out of Dallas?
Cody Eakin: Though a fan favorite, Eakin has struggled all season. Returning from a knee injury early in the year, he has 6 points and one goal in 33 games.
He is also minus-8 and has 36 penalty minutes. Eakin accumulated 42 penalty minutes in 82 games last season.
At this point, Eakin is becoming a liability. He has been in Dallas since the 2012-13 season and had his career season in 2014-15, when he scored 19 goals and racked up 40 points.
Kari Lehtonen, Antti Niemi: The goaltending in Dallas this season has been, well, bad. At times they have moments of brilliance, but have a combined record of 21-23-4 and a GAA of 3.04.
The issue with the prospects of trading either, or both, is their contracts.
Lehtonen has one year left on a five-year deal, where he makes $6 million this year and will make $5 million next year at age 33. Niemi, 33, also has one year left on a three year deal. He makes $4.5 million both this year and next. Both will be a free agent in 2018-19.
Dallas will need to address the goalie positon quickly, and very quickly. Maxim Lagace in Cedar Park is 11-10-3 on this year and had a 3.28 GAA in 27 games last year, his first in the AHL.
Phillippe Desrosiers has split time between Norfolk and Idaho of the ECHL. He is a combined 5-4 in the ECHL with a 3.83 GAA and .893 save percentage.
Fans have been clamoring for a Ben Bishop deal for what seems to be ages. But what does Dallas have that Tamp Bay wants, or needs? Would they entertain a swap of Niemi/Lehtonen for Bishop? Very unlikely.
The same could be said for any deal for Marc-Andre Fleury.
If Lindy Ruff was going to be fired mid-season, Nill would likely have already done it.
Has this all been Ruff’s fault? No. Does he deserve part of the blame? No doubt.
James Patrick and Curt Fraser should share in the brunt of the blame. Fraser leads the special teams, which is one of the worst in the league. Patrick heads the defense, which has been leaky all season.
The issue with letting go of Ruff is: who would take over? Does anyone really want to see Dallas led by Fraser or Patrick the final 28 games? The time has passed to fire Ruff, and the lack of internal candidates makes that prospect even less likely. Bringing in an outside coach to take over the final 28 games wouldn't solve the roster construction’s problems, either.
Ruff’s contract is up after the season. It is questionable whether he will lead Dallas next year. And now with a veteran crop of coaches available - Claude Julien, Ken Hitchcock, Gerrard Gallant and Jack Capuano - Ruff’s days in Dallas could be numbered.
A Dallas-Hitchcock reunion doesn’t seem likely, as he intended to leave St. Louis at the end of this season and retire from coaching altogether. A number of veteran head coaches on the free agency market this offseason could provide Nill with a reasonable replacement candidate that would not be seen as a lateral move.
The 2016-17 season has not been kind to Dallas and its fans. A year after finishing first in the Western Conference and making it to the second round, expectations were sky high in Dallas.
Injuries, poor play and bad luck has cost Dallas night after night. The final 28 games will determine a lot for Dallas moving forward.
But one thing that seems certain, barring a shocking turnaround, the Stars will likely hit the golf course early this spring.