Imagine for a moment that you are driving to work on a Monday morning, tuning into any of the number of sports radio stations in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. The previous day, a Sunday, the local football team had just dropped their fourth consecutive game, produced little to nothing on offense, and the defense to boot looked invisible.
If you are a fan of the Dallas Cowboys this scene is nothing new to the throngs of us who maddening love this football team. What is also familiar is the utter and uncensored pounding that emanates from the radio, directed at every facet of the Cowboys organization. Everything from the owner/general manager, to the coaches, to the coordinators, to the players, down to the very culture is dissected, thrashed about like a pack of wolves surrounding prey.
Let’s leave our scenario and look not to Arlington, but to Dallas and there we will find the Dallas Stars worthy of the same type of dissection.
At what point do the local media, fans, and upper reaches of the organization have to reconcile with the culture of mediocrity that has reached across four head coaches?
For all intents and purposes, the time was well before now, but here the Stars are and it’s about time the franchise is held accountable by everyone. This also isn’t to say that there doesn’t exist some very glaring coaching issues for the team. There is and those will be sorted out because, as is it goes in professional sports, the fault is always first laid at the feet of the man behind the bench (or on the sideline).
However, another head coach will have to sort out how to go about rooting out a culture that is so tinged with mediocrity that all else has to come secondary. That includes having to work out how to better use an aging Jamie Benn and properly deploying Tyler Seguin.
To his credit former head coach Jim Montgomery pointed to this issue very matter of factly after a loss last season.
"I’m very frustrated that I have not been able to gain consistency in our performance, and I haven’t been able to change the culture of mediocrity.” pic.twitter.com/QINUwAaVOr— Dallas Stars (@DallasStars) January 13, 2019
What Montgomery recognized in that moment was the same issue that existed in the Ken Hitchcock administration, and the Lindy Ruff administration before him. When the Stars as a team have even a small amount of success, it seems that the next ditch is just around the corner.
After Ruff guided the Stars to a first place finish in the Western Conference, the club’s first since 2003, the Stars seemed primed to take that massive step forward. The Stars were young — Seguin was just 24 — and a game away from the Western Conference final was reason for optimism.
Then, in 2016-17, the team cratered (for a number of reasons, including starting the year off with major injuries they never quite recovered from) and it was back to the drawing board.
Enter Ken Hitchcock, who would guide the 2017-2018 team to a near certain playoff spot as the team entered the month of March. A famous eight game losing streak, aided by the Ben Bishop injury, doomed any dream of a return to the playoffs, and ushered Hitchcock out the door.
We are all familiar with the story of Montgomery and the 2018-19 season, which by most accounts was a successful campaign. After all, the Stars literally came within an inch on Jamie Benn’s stick to reaching the Western Conference Final. That is no small thing, but the common thread here is that they came up short.
How would the club respond?
The Stars had an entertaining off season that included signing Joe Pavelski, and the continuous hype of the Stars being a Game 7 overtime loss away from the Western Conference final. Only this time, the narrative was that if the Stars win that game, are they the Stanley Cup finalists and possible champions? It seemed to be the easiest pathway to the Cup last season, if it weren’t for those pesky St. Louis Blues.
I’m not going to harp on the start to the season and the nine game losing streak the team finds themselves amidst now. There has been much ink, err, words typed to accurately portray the misery that are those two bookends to this season. However, the Stars as a team has wrapped itself in the comfortable blanket of near misses in the second round to justify that this franchise is on the right track.
Remember when the second round for this franchise was a birth right, and anything short of a conference finals appearance was almost counted as a failure?
That standard has lowered for this franchise in terms of on ice play. It’s okay to admit that. Second round playoff runs are fun, but they are still short of the ultimate goal of a Stanley Cup that this franchise likes to say they are oh-so-close to.
For how close the Stars like to say they were last spring to a possible run to a championship, it seems that they have followed that up with another rut. In a ramp up that sounded a lot like a team that had every intention of reinventing themselves to go win that elusive Stanley Cup, the bubble version of the Dallas Stars has fallen well short.
The season is not over — yet, anyway. The Stars still have a round robin tilt with the St. Louis Blues and at least four more first round games after that. That means the team has one game to try and figure out how to win games again before they really start the fight to stay in Edmonton against a team that has been playing high level hockey for a week.
The Stars are in tough shape right now. They can’t seem to score consistently, the defense has looked shaky, and beyond the clichés, the answers to what ails them pale in comparison to the mounting questions. If the Stars are unable to find the answers, then their stay in Edmonton could be significantly shorter than planned, and have ramifications to the coaching staff.
While changes to the coaching staff are what fans and people on Twitter rush to time and again, is it really that simple?
The team has changed the coach four times and the results have not deviated from the results of the past. Changing the coach yet again may be a superficial move to slap a bandaid on the larger wound if there is not a wholesale culture change that comes with the new regime. Without addressing the culture of mediocrity that seems to be permeating the Stars the last eight years, the results under a new administration might look like the results we are watching unfold — again — in front of our eyes today.