Insofar as an elite team can be perplexing, the Stars are one of them. There are plenty of good stories. Pete DeBoer has maximized this roster in ways few thought was even possible. Jason Robertson belongs in the Hart conversation. Jake Oettinger belongs in the Vezina conversation. And Wyatt Johnston would belong in the Calder conversation if Dallas had another experienced winger next to time (well...and if Matty Beniers and Owen Power didn’t exist).
Unfortunately the negatives are starting to rack up. Mason Marchment can’t buy a goal. Ryan Suter’s decline has been more dramatic than anticipated. Denis Gurianov‘s time in Dallas is done, whether this year or next.
The last two games have become a linchpin for whether Dallas is a true contender. It’s fair to point out that Dallas wasn’t exactly blown out. Well, not really at least. The scoresheet was close in both games, but what the scoresheet didn’t show was how competitive Dallas was against Tampa.
And how uncompetitive they were against Boston.
Two losses in the regular season shouldn’t be a big deal. And in some ways, they aren’t. Let’s be real: who expected Dallas to be listed among the small group of contenders this season, not to mention the frontrunner in the West anyway? But results change expectations. They are (contenders), so they (regular season losses to two elite teams) do. You can count the increasing pressure by the extra sweat beads on Tom Gaglardi’s forehead as the deadline promises. Either Dallas adds a piece to put them over the top, or somebody else adds a piece to give them the edge over Dallas once the playoffs roll around.
Because of these new expectations, the losses are instructive. Of the four players who tallied points through these two games, only one wasn’t either Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, or Joe Pavelski. In the context of a legit contender, the problems are all around them. Their overtime problems are a direct consequence of not having another impact defensemen. And while secondary scoring looks like it’s back, it’s slowing down because the secondary scorers don’t drive play.
If you read Nill’s interview with Pierre LeBrun, then you know the score. Nill talks about “nibbling” around the edges to improve the team. And that’s what Nill does, and really what he’s always done post-Jason Spezza; nibbled. Like all armchair GM’s, I have grand designs from the comfort of my barcalounger. I think Kevin LeBanc would be a great fit next to Wyatt Johnston or Tyler Seguin. And I’m with Sean that Dallas should move heaven and earth to get Jakob Chychrun if they knew what’s good for them.
But Nill doesn’t nibble because he doesn’t have the guts or the brains. He nibbles because he’s nourished Dallas’ future from the ground up. Those first and second round picks are not magic beans to him. They were once Wyatt Johnston, Jake Oettinger, Jason Robertson, and Logan Stankoven. It’s important to remember just how empty Dallas cupboards were when he came on board, and how radically that changed under Nill’s watch. Can you think of another GM who rebuilt a team without tanking? The draft, though far from perfect, is a big part of how Nill got here. He’s not gonna give that up for a human can of NOS.
And therein lies the rub. At what point do you stop chasing futures, and start chasing history? That’s the dilemma Dallas faces, whether explicitly in the war room, or inside Nill and Gaglardi’s brain. Is this team better with a future core of...
A young Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, and Jake Oettinger...with an aging Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Joe Pavelski?
Or a core of...
A young Wyatt Johnston, Logan Stankoven, Mavrik Bourque, and Lian Bichsel...with an “aging“ Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, and Jake Oettinger?
Benn, Seguin, Lindell, and Pavelski may not literally be out of the picture but functionally they will. I don’t think there’s an easy answer. As much as we love our prospects, there’s no guarantee they’re great instead of merely good. Conversely, is Dallas’ current group good enough to achieve greatness? The only way they get there is either help for the present, or patience for the future. They may be look like kings in the West for now. But for now, losses to Boston and Tampa showed they weren’t ready for the real ones.
It’s a sobering thought; unless they call in the right reinforcements. Luckily for Nill, no deadline has ever had a better source of them.
I want to thank everyone who contributed to Defending Big D’s fundraiser. DBD means a lot to me. I’ve always liked to write about things I myself would want to read. This is why my writing has always skewed towards analysis. For the most part, I’m not gonna learn anything from the soundboard of cliches players run their verbal wheel on. I won’t learn anything from coaches who have to be diplomats on the mic. And I’m not gonna learn anything from GMs who have a team to sell. The people who influenced me were the people who understood we could teach ourselves with the right tools—Jen LC, Eric Tulsky, Cam Charron, Tyler Dellow, Dmitri Filipovic—to cut through all the bullshit, stay away from shared fictions, and write about hockey in a way that’s transparent. (Although it’s worth noting that the Dallas Stars were kind enough to reach out to Taylor when news of the layoffs broke; for a site that pulls no punches, that’s a hell of a gesture, so yes; thank you too, Dallas Stars.)
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