For the Dallas Stars, it was a tumultuous, up-and-down season. With only five games left in the schedule, it appears the Pacific Division ended almost exactly as most had predicted. Despite the Stars holding a firm lead on the Pacific Division 50 games into the season, after the dust settled, the Stars sit in the dungeon of the Pacific Division. Although Dallas is yet to be mathematically eliminated, with the eighth-seed Chicago Blackhawks having a five-point lead over the Stars, the end appears nigh.
What Caused the Collapse
Going into the the All-Star break the Stars had a commanding lead in the Pacific Division. With only 32 games left in the schedule, it seemed certain Dallas would at least make the playoffs. However, a slew of injuries at the end of January and around the beginning of February severely hindered the team. A 7-4 loss to Calgary followed by a 7-1 loss to Vancouver at the end of January seemed to set the tone for the Stars for the month of February. In the first days of February after the All-Star weekend, Dallas suffered a 4-1 loss to Vancouver followed by a 6-3 loss to Boston. In that Boston game, Adam Burish and Krys Barch broke bones in their faces from fights. Those injuries, as well as injuries to Brad Richards and Nicklas Grossman, depleted the already scant amount of depth in the roster. In February the team only won three of 12 games, allowing the other Pacific Division teams to climb back into the race for the division title. Although the Stars rebounded in early March with a 6-0-2 stretch, Dallas could not muster the efficient play it had known earlier in the season. In fact, from the All-Star weekend at the end of January through April 3rd, the Stars have posted a dismal 8-13-6 record. Catastrophically, during the months of February and March, Dallas only recorded eight wins. During that timespan, the Stars’ AHL call-ups were unable to deliver the same level of performance that the injured players had. Even after the starting unit fully returned, Dallas was unable to regain the composure it had known throughout most of the season.
2: Lack of Depth
Perhaps the obvious problem for the Stars in the 2010-2011 season was the lack of depth. The top-six forwards carried the team for much of the season, and patchy play by other forwards and defensemen seemed to fate the team’s outcome. Backup goaltender Andrew Raycroft, who posted some of the best numbers of his career through the first half of the season, fell apart in mid- to late January. After February 19th, the coaching staff had given up on starting him. In his last three starts he allowed 14 goals on 59 shots. Kari Lehtonen has started (and perhaps carried the team) in every game since that point.
The ownership fiasco that has tainted the team for the past two seasons is at the heart of the problem for the Stars. Although the management in Dallas tried adding players to fill the lack of depth, chemistry could not be created. Forwards Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Williams were brought in to quell the lack of depth on the front end, but neither performed to expectations. Defenseman Alex Goligoski was a great pickup by management, however did he come at too high a price? The team lost James Neal and Matt Niskanen for the defenseman, and more than anything, the loss of Neal for the acquisition of Goligoski seemed to simply transfer the lack of depth in the defense to the offense. If the Stars franchise hopes to become an actual contender in the hard-fought Pacific Division, management will need to be given the resources to build a deep team. With talented players like Jamie Benn, Steve Ott, Brad Richards, Loui Eriksson, Alex Goligoski and Stephane Robidas signed through next season, the foundation of the team is in place; but a few more high-quality players are needed to fill out the holes.
What Dallas can Take From the 2010-2011 Season
Perhaps the most important thing the team can take from the 2010-2011 season is the fact that the team’s young players continue to grow into promising NHL performers. Kari Lehtonen, Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson, Trevor Daley and Goligoski had career years and all are under the age of 28. Going forward, management should focus on building around its core of young players who are under contract through next season. Also, Brad Richards continues to be a key factor for the offense; despite missing ten games to injury, Richards tied his career high in goals and once again recorded more points than games played. In the offseason, management should make resigning Richards its top priority. If the team retains Richards as its first-line center, Dallas can build around him to become a playoff contender for next season. However, if Richards signs elsewhere, the Stars will have a difficult time designing a playoff-caliber team for 2011-2012.