A slow, downward spiral evolved into steep free fall for the Dallas Stars, and it’s probably too late to pull out of it.
If you follow the Dallas Stars, you understand this franchise’s recent playoff fortunes. Simply put, there haven’t been many. Players, coaches, and front offices change, but the end result stays largely the same. In a league where over half its teams make the postseason, the Stars usually find themselves on the outside looking in.
Frustrating as that is, it’s also difficult to place blame on any one element. Sure, the standard gripes about defense and goaltending still hold water. But this year, they’re top-10 in goals allowed. Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov are posting career years. Jamie Benn, despite criticism on some fronts, is having a very solid year by any reasonable metric. The tone surrounding the hockey team this season should be one of celebration over an impending playoff berth.
Instead, we find ourselves here again. On the heels of a dumbfounding eight game losing streak, the Stars have gone from firmly in the playoff picture to almost completely out of it. The eyeball test suggests a team that is simply out of gas. It’d be one thing if they were at least beating the bad teams on their schedule. But as last night’s loss versus moribund Vancouver revealed, they plainly cannot get out of their own way.
Of course, when it goes so wrong so quickly, it’s natural to look for a scapegoat. Is it coach Ken Hitchcock’s insistence on a tight checking game? This is an especially pertinent question when you consider the style the Stars played in recent seasons under Lindy Ruff. Maybe the roster isn’t yet built to accommodate Hitchcock’s style.
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But no matter how much anyone wants to excoriate the coach, no aspect of this team’s game is exceptional right now. They haven’t quit, though. Far from it. In fact, if anything, they’re probably pressing too much. They’re all trying desperately in their efforts to pull it out of the ditch. The end result is the tight, tired-looking bunch we currently see on a nightly basis.
It’s exasperating when you consider that these guys looked like an elite, Cup-worthy squad for about half a season. In all my years following and covering this team, I can’t recall a year like this. This downturn absolutely came out of nowhere.
In short, I don’t know what to think about this organization right now.
Part of me feels like the stereotypical parent: “I’m not mad, I’m just disappointed.”
The fan in me wants the pound of flesh, but I know that’s probably not a realistic expectation, given the freshness of the new regime. In other words, I doubt Hitchcock’s gone unless he decides to leave. And I just don’t see that happening. A coaching change seems too rash a decision at this point, be it a decision by the front office or the man himself.
More than likely, we’ll be faced with a further retooling. Look for more pieces that suit the coach’s style via free agency. Look for the impending promotion of Stars’ draft pick Miro Heiskanen to shore up the defense corps. Scoring depth will also be a priority, given the way the second, third, and fourth lines disappeared down the stretch. The stench from this year should and will reverberate through this outfit for years to come.