Photo Courtesy of CBS Sports
This time last month the Stars had a strong hold on a playoff berth, but now it looks like they won’t make it. What happened and what does it mean?
By Chris Yackel
The Dallas Stars coming into this season were a team that was considered to be a cup contender. They had a great free agency last year picking up both Alex Radulov and Martin Hanzal. They also finally got a number one goaltender when they signed Ben Bishop to a six year, $29.5-million-dollar contract. Dallas brought in a new head coach, Ken Hitchcock who was ready to implement a more defensive system for a Stars team that gave up way too many goals under there previous coach Lindy Ruff. Hitchcock was determined to take the run and gun game the Stars played with out. That style may have gotten the Stars the best record in the west in 2015-16, but it brought a painful game 7 loss to the Blues in round 2 and a frustrating playoff-less, 2016-17 campaign.
Things were looking up for the Stars coming into this season, as even with the offseason additions they still had Captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Dallas however, did not get off to a great start as they struggled to an 11-10-1 record just prior to Thanksgiving. The growing pains of playing a more structured game in the defensive zone were evident and it was hurting Dallas’s offense as well. There were some bright spots though as the line of Benn, Seguin and free agent signing Alex Radulov were playing really well together. Defenseman John Klingberg who is among one of the best young rising defenseman in the league was also playing like a Norris trophy candidate after a rough 2016-17 season.
After Thanksgiving the Stars began to turn their game around as they began scoring more and allowing less. The team looked like they were playing a more committed game in their own zone and correcting the mistakes that plagued them the previous couple of seasons. Going into a November 28th against Vegas, Dallas had a 12-10-1 record. From November 28th until March 5th Dallas cemented that they were a legit threat in the Western Conference as they boasted a 24-13-4 record. Everything was looking great in Dallas. This team looked like a lock for the playoffs as their top players were all playing great hockey, they were finally getting goaltending and defense and they had a physical bite to their game. What happened after March 5th no one would have predicted what would happen.
Injuries and collapse
After March 5th when the Stars lost to Ottawa in overtime Ben Bishop was injured due to a lower-body injury. The starting net minder for Dallas was having a solid season as he was, 26-17-5 with a 2.49 goals against average and a .916 save percentage. Then on March 9th it was announced that center Martin Hanzal who has a history of back problems would miss the rest of the season due to back surgery. The injury might end up being career-ending as Hanzal’s future status is up in the air. The team would struggle mightily after March 5th as the Stars have amassed a 2-8-3 record since then, which included an eight game losing streak. The most recent loss was last night as Dallas lost to a playoff bound Minnesota team. The Stars looked lifeless to say the least. Tyler Seguin showed his frustration by breaking his stick over a goal post after Minnesota potted the empty netter to seal a 5-2 victory.
How did this happen?
How could this all have happened? In a span of less than a month Dallas was a playoff contender to a team that will pack their bags next week. Yes, injuries do play a role, but that isn’t the best excuse. The Boston Bruins have had many injuries to key players in their lineup over the past month and a half and although are healthy now, just took first place in the Atlantic division. When Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and John Klingberg are all still in the lineup, then there shouldn’t be any excuse to go 2-8-3 down the stretch run. The real reason why Dallas collapsed and aren’t making the playoffs is there depth. Dallas had one line that could score and that was the Benn-Seguin-Radulov line. After that its slim pickings. Jason Spezza a guy who a was key contributor for Dallas last year is not the player he once was at all. Spezza only has 7 goals and 18 assists this season. There is practically no secondary scoring on this team. John Klingberg is fourth on this team in scoring with 62 points. The next closest guy is Mattias Janmark with 34. That just isn’t good enough. This was a problem Dallas was able to mask all season…. until now.
What happens next may be scary.
What’s going to happen next? Well that’s a question that will be answered over the coming months, but one could speculate that scary times may be ahead in Dallas. Will the Stars fire Ken Hitchcock after just one season? Its unlikely, but Hitchcock should be held somewhat accountable for the Stars collapse. The man that might be getting the axe though is General Manager Jim Nill. Yes, Nill did have a great free agency this past summer and was able to get the Stars some great long term pieces, but he was unable to give this team any depth on its roster. Lines 2-4 in Dallas were not great and their defense wasn’t awfully deep. Even with the addition of Marc Methot on the backend the team didn’t have enough to cover for him when he eventually got injured. The murky future could get even murkier however. The teams top scorer Tyler Seguin is set to become an unrestricted free agent after next season, the 2018-19 campaign. One has to wonder after two straight seasons without the playoffs if Seguin might want to jump ship. It will be the Stars top priority this offseason to get Seguin signed to an extension, which he can do after July 1st. Overall, the season may have been rough for Dallas, but how rough the future is will be totally dependent on Tyler Seguin re-signing. Will he? Only time will tell.
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