In almost every sport, everybody knows those “Cinderella” teams. You know the ones that seem to just barely scrape by and turn something of a miracle into a playoff berth or tournament chance. While a lot of people will call them underdogs and by doing so expect somewhat of a miraculous run into the postseason, that won’t be the Stars this season. The “Cinderella story” from the Dallas Stars this season came to an unfortunate end in last night’s loss to the Minnesota Wild.
After that, I think the money question here is - even if they had won, did the Stars even deserve a playoff spot? If they had grabbed that illustrious wild-card slot, would Dallas have made any noise if given that chance?
First of all, lets take a look at what Dallas would have needed to do in order to get into the playoffs;
As of March 28, Dallas needed to win their last six games, which would earn them a total of 96 points.
And then the Stars needed to have pure luck on their side as two of four things need to happen:
- The Colorado Avalanche get five points or less in their last six games
- The St. Louis Blues get six points or less in their last seven games
- The Anaheim Ducks get four points or less in their last six games
- The Los Angeles Kings get four points or less in their last five games
Now, as of March 29, Dallas has won one out of the six they needed to win. Anaheim was beaten by Vancouver 4-1 and now have five games remaining. St. Louis beat out San Jose, which notched them two points and now have six remaining games. Colorado lost as well to Philadelphia 2-1 and now have five remaining games.
But all of that pure luck will do the Stars no more good as it was thrown away in last night’s brutal 5-2 loss in Minnesota.
Alright, now suppose if the Stars had been able to string that together and clinch a playoff berth, did they deserve it?
I’m not talking about if the fanbase and city deserves it, because well, I think that’s pretty obvious in our 25th anniversary season. What I mean by this question is that I do not think the Stars as a team have improved enough throughout the season to warrant a chance in the playoffs. I get it, it’s an honor to even clinch a playoff berth, whether it’s a high seed or a low seed. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but with the Stars’ recent play over the last ten games, I just don’t see the “Cinderella story” happening.
We simply are not in playoff form, nor are we playing playoff hockey, which is something that needs to happen this late in the season when they wanted to even look at entering the postseason. A big clue to this is the team being in an not ideal, but solid spot for the playoffs, and then going from fourth in the division to now sixth. Now, they need every point they can get to just obtain the second wild-card spot. Over the last ten games, 2-6-2 is not a great record to be looking at when trying to head to the postseason. Mainly, this is because it shows that the team are not in the mindset to be hitting the groove of the playoffs at this time, yet the playoffs are right around the corner.
That shows something significant within the team’s abilities and the coaching. People will blame Ben Bishop getting injured when they needed him the most and how Kari Lehtonen isn't primed for the limelight anymore. But hold on, at even strength Lehtonen has a higher save percentage (.9256%) and a lower goals-against average (2.01) than Bishop. On the road this season, Lehtonen has been a significantly better goaltender, and ranks in the top five in goals against.
Or the blame may shift toward the rough schedule at the end of the season that “lost us our groove,” as the players and staff said on multiple occasions. Yes, while it was rather unlucky that the team had such a long away stand toward the end of the season, that did not bode well for the playoffs when the Stars would have had to win on the road on more than one occasion in order to move past the first round.
Neither of those should crack the top three problems Dallas faced and ultimately caused for themselves this season. I believe that the Stars still need to figure out how to win on the road. Many commentators and analysts voiced this at the beginning of the season, yet it remains true almost six months later. It seems Dallas figured it out for a stretch of five games, but couldn’t sustain it in the second half of the season. (We’re not even going to mention the eight-game losing streak that the Stars could only pull two points out of on the road.) Dallas is 14-18-5, which is one of the worst away records in the Central Division, and are bottom ten in the league for away records as well.
I believe that the Stars don’t deserve a spot in the playoffs even if they were given the chance. That’s a rough statement, but its true. The playoffs are a completely different kind of game, and Dallas demonstrated that they weren’t ready for it, not when they couldn’t handle the pressure of maintaining a postseason spot in the standings through the final stretch of the season.
The Stars are, in a sense, the same team that stepped on the ice against the Las Vegas Golden Knights back in October, and I haven’t seen a significant amount of change that suggests otherwise. The Stars are still working with the same dump-and-chase offense that simply hasn’t gelled with the current roster. The lines have been shuffled in hopes of spreading goal-scoring offense, but the team demonstrates time and again either an issue of no secondary scoring from the bottom lines or no primary scoring from the top lines.
Many analysts say that “defense wins championships.” That can’t be the case when the offense does little scoring to back up that stellar defensive play, as has been the case for the Stars of late. In prior seasons, the Stars lacked a solid defensive unit that could stand their ground and, in a way, had nothing but offense. Now, however, it is the exact opposite in this era of Hitchcock’s new system for the Stars. Hitchcock has greatly improved the team’s defense to ninth in the league in goals against, but the offense in this dump-and-chase system has the team at only 21st in the league for goals per game. The Stars have shifted from one of the premier offensive teams in years past to a lack of scoring from the top to bottom lines despite key offensive additions in the offseason. Hitchcock was the defensive solution the Stars needed after last season, but it appears that system is too defensive for the offensive prowess the Stars have in their arsenal.
Here’s the thing - we can blame a lot of things for the Stars falling short at the end of this season, but something that should be taken into consider is the Central Division itself. Dallas has succumbed to the tight race in the Central Division, which has only become tighter as the seasons have progressed. The late resurgence of the Avalanche and the skyrocketing Nashville Predators have served to make the Central Division a constant battle for points in each game, from the first day of the season.
The Stars continue to underperform, especially on the road, and the latest road stand has been the biggest testament to that. When Dallas needed to come up big this season, they have fallen short. The Stars are not a young team age-wise, but they are a young team when it comes to cohesive play, and it shows. Maybe it will take another season for the core lineup to gel together. Maybe the addition of some other pieces of the puzzle in the offseason, whether personal or coaching, will help the Stars next season. In the meantime, I do believe that Dallas not only deserves a winning season, but desperately needs it. Just not this year apparently.
I believe in the organization as a whole and the players as a group, but something within the system obviously needs some fine-tuning so that they can get back to playing true playoff hockey. This is a new era in Dallas hockey and I think the analysts and fans, myself included, got too excited coming into the season with all of the offseason “bling”. We saw all the possibilities that the Stars could do absolutely great things this year. Now, I think it’s time to take a step back and give this organization a chance to see the improvements they’ve made, but also see the areas for improvement and start making some changes.