Dealing with the Darkest Timeline of the 2015-16 Dallas Stars
If the Stars roll multiple snake eyes again this year, will they be able to cope?
If fortune favors the bold, then last year's Dallas Stars team must have been breaking like forty mirrors a day to negate that effect. Here you had a team that was about as courageous as it gets when it comes to risking everything for the sake of goals, and what was their reward? An early summer. Granted, a trip to the IIHF World Championships wasn't a bad way to ease the pain for Seguin, Eakin and Spezza, but even a gold medal loses its allure when it's earned while the Stanley Cup Playoffs are going on back home.
A friend of mine who follows hockey sporadically asked me about the Stars the other day. His comment was something along the lines of, "So, from what I've seen on Twitter, are they kind of not expected to be good next year?" I laughed, because he clearly had picked up on the ennui adopted by fans like myself as a coping mechanism last season. From his perspective, most Stars fans have been saying things to the effect of, "Well, we might be good, but we kind of thought that last year, so, uh, fool me twice..."
I get where he's coming from, even if I did quickly correct his perception. I even believed most of the optimistic things I said, too, because how can one not be a bit rosy when looking at this team as it's constructed? Well, I'll tell you how: by envisioning things going terribly wrong (again). This is what some call the Darkest Timeline, and I figured it's best to get this out in the open so the, erm, community doesn't devolve into a crazed panic should the unthinkable happen and the worst be realized.
Sounds fun, right? Okay, let's get started on our quite literal* recipe for disaster.
*Not literal. It's never literal when people use it these days. We should all just stop using the word "literal" for ten years to allow its definition to normalize before the word becomes literally useless.
1. What if Ales Hemsky struggles again?
Let's be real for a second. I'll be FDR,* and this web page will be your fireside. Ready? Here goes: Ales Hemsky's hip might not have been the problem last year. Phew, feels good to get that out in the open. I mean, we know that Hemsky would have games early on where he looked fantastic (e.g. @NYI and NJD), but there would be other times where his game just didn't seem to translate. Yes, there are myriad reasons for his scuffling being just a product of isolated factors that won't recur, but what if he can't turn into the $4 million player the Stars are paying for?
I don't want this to happen, of course, and I still have some residual confidence left from my ample store back from October 2014. But It's best to acknowledge that this isn't not possible, at least. Ales Hemsky might have a good, bounce back season that approximates our expectations from when he was signed. Ales Hemsky might also not do that at all, in which case Dallas will have a suddenly not-so-great $4 AAV contract to deal with.
Hang on though, because believe that's where Patrick Sharp comes in. Last year's Stars ended up trying Eaves, Ritchie, Roussel and Eakin (among others) in the top six to compensate for Hemsky's lagging production (and Nichushkin's absence). This year, the Stars have doubled down on 30+-year-old right-handed wingers. So if Hemsky once again finds himself not fitting in, the Stars have provided themselves with one of the best** outs available.
*my mistress will be Juicy Haribo Gummy Bears. I guarantee you'll find them at my deathbed, too.
2. Say one or more of the kids gets hurt for most of the season again like Nichushkin or Nemeth did. Are the Stars prepared for that?
This is not meant to express doubt that Brett Ritchie will still have a notable impact this year, but his absence does illustrate the very real possibility of losing one of the more significant contributors among the junior club. Things happen, Matt Martins and Dmitry Kulikovs exist, and playing hockey is kind of rough on the body, turns out. So if the Darkest Timeline has its way with a Ritchie or a Klin-CENSORED or even Nemeth/Nichushkin again, what will that mean for Dallas?
Well, once again, you can't help but notice that the Stars have gotten a bit deeper over the last year. Brendan Ranford played hockey for the big club last year—which was great for him, by the way—but that's not really how the Stars have drawn things up this year. On defense, for instance, the Stars are almost daring fate to grab hold of a defenseman for any length of time. If Johns is as NHL-ready as it's starting to sound like he might be, then there are nine blueliners that the Stars wouldn't be afraid to dress for a game on any given night. That's a far cry from the days of Cameron Gaunce and Andrew Hutchinson. Besides, the Stars have traded Daley's offense for Oduya's defense, and we know now that Demers and Benn can acquit themselves quite well in the tough defensive minutes. The Stars' blueline is finally starting to look more like a strength than a weakness for the first time in a while.
As far as losing a useful youth from the forward corps, Curtis McKenzie will probably take what minutes Ritchie might have gotten for the time being. If someone else goes down for longer? Well, Mattias Janmark is already starting to suggest that the Erik Cole trade may have been quite all right. (Imagine that: Jim Nill looking at Detroit's prospect group and making a good choice. Huh.) And even though Radek Faksa's contributions will likely require an amount of warmup time, we are another year closer to folks like Devin Shore and Jason Dickinson in Dallas Stars sweaters. Elie and Ully don't look like bad options either, and by the way, there's always a certain recent AHL MVP down there who can be recalled in extreme circumstances.
Of course you don't necessarily want to call up one of the kids too early if you don't have to, but after seeing both Dickinson and Shore's progress over the last year, it really does feel like the Stars have quality reserves on a level unlike we've seen in recent times.
That said, PLEASE NOBODY ELSE GET HURT AND COME BACK SOON BRETT RITCHIE PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE
3. THE GOALTENDING IS ON FIRE, SOMEBODY, ANYBODY, PLEASE HELP, WHAT DO WE DO
There were many issues with the Stars in the first couple months of the season last year. Their defense wasn't shutting the other team down, their "Supernova" power play was decidedly non-stellar until the arrival of Klingberg, and then there was the goaltending. Or rather, there wasn't.
This was the biggest problem last year, so it makes sense that Jim Nill made the biggest move in hopes of solving it. Committing more money to the crease than any other team in the NHL is as bold a move as there is, and it's made even more so by virtue of the Finn Twins' ages.
But if one of these money-makin', pillow-wearin' loony toonies has a down year? Or in other words, if one of Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi has a 2014-15 Kari Lehtonen sort of year? Well, that'll make things interesting. Because on the one hand, having two starting-caliber goalies is a safety net to beat all safety nets. Conversely, however, if one of the goalies goes down--a not-unthinkable circumstance for netminders whose ages begin with the number three--then suddenly you have yourself a lot of money on the shelf, and very, very limited options for backups. Like, Campbell-or-Bust options for backups. There will be no Enroth or Thomas to swoop in for a late-season victory this time, not with $10 million locked up in net for three years.
The optimist in me says that the Stars are almost surely going to hit on one of their goalie picks for this season, and surely the other one will at least be average if the better-playing end of the tandem has to miss a few starts. But if the pessimist--that is, the one who watched last season--is indulged? Well, that fellow finds it not too difficult to imagine a Stars team that scores more than ever, a defense that shores itself up with impressive alacrity, and a team that is still irreparably hamstrung by leaky goaltending for the second year in a row. That's about as dark a timeline as I can imagine, in a horrifyingly ironic and/or sordid sort of way.
They'll probably be fine, though. Really, I wouldn't worry about it.