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March 7, 2014
Is Dallas Done?
by Michael Menser Dell, Editor-in-Chief
What is going on in Dallas?
After 17 games, the Stars are floundering in the Pacific basement, boasting a 6-8-3 record and more issues than the graduates of Mike Keenanís Goaltending Academy. Sure, itís only November, but it gets late real early in the NHL.
Slow starts are nothing new in the Lone Star State. In 2003-04, Dallas stumbled to 11-15-3 but still managed a playoff appearance. Last season, the Stars opened 5-6-2 before rallying to reach the Campbell Conference Finals. Yet a third such performance is growing more and more unlikely by the day.
Dallas, led by the two-headed monster of general managers Brett Hull and Les Jackson, signed Sean Avery to a four-year, $15.5-million contract over the summer, making it the most money given to a cross-dressing pest since Jamie Farr signed on for ďAfter MASH.Ē
Lost in all the hoopla of the Avery signing were the significant departures of free agents Niklas Hagman and Antti Miettinen, two hard-working wingers who fit perfectly into Dallasí team-first, defensive system. Dallas also lost Mattias Norstrom and Stu Barnes to retirement, only further damaging team chemistry.
With valuable vets Sergei Zubov and Jere Lehtinen on the shelf to start the year, Dallas had to rely on youngsters like B.J. Crombeen, James Neal, and Mark Fistric to play roles they clearly werenít ready to handle. And it hasnít helped that the ridiculously hyped Fabian Brunnstrom has played like a 1950s teen crooner, except less physical, registering seven points and minus-8.
But no matter how bad things got, the Stars could always rely on Marty Turco in net. Well, not so much. Turco was positively brutal in October, surrendering five or more goals in five of his first 10 games. His spotty play in net has contributed to Dallas allowing 3.59 goals per game, tying them with the lowly Atlanta Thrashers for worst in the league.
Needless to say, the tough start has led to problems in the room, with coach Dave Tippett and others citing a lack of trust amongst the players. Of course, Avery is catching the most grief.
Signed to be a disruptive presence on the ice, Avery hasnít lived up to expectations, combining with the always abrasive Steve Ott to give Dallas too much of a good thing. Dallas was always known for discipline and defensive responsibility, but those days are solid gone. Avery and Ottís antics have the Stars averaging 19.7 penalty minutes per game, the third-highest number in the league. Thatís up from 14.3 minutes last season.
The penalty kill hasnít picked up the slack. A year ago, the Stars were the second-best in the league, murdering power plays at an 85.6-percent clip, but Norstrom, Barnes, and Hagman were all key components. Without those three around, and Zubov and Lehtinen out of the lineup, the Stars are at 77.7 percent on the kill, ranking them 25th in the league.
Philippe Boucher, another shorthanded stalwart, will now be killing penalties in Pittsburgh, having been swapped out for Darryl Sydor. This trade still doesnít make much sense from a Dallas perspective.
While Sydor won a Cup with the Stars, itís hard to imagine him logging 21 minutes a night like Boucher. This move reeks of desperation. The Stars are basically admitting their room is in shambles. They apparently see Sydor as Dr. Phil on skates. Good luck with that.
Boucher, who was a beloved member of the Stars family in his own right, says heís excited to be going to Pittsburgh. His little son Matthew is a big Penguins fan and already has Kid Crosby and Geno Malkin sweaters. Oddly enough, Sydorís wife is just as excited to return to Dallas. She has one of Averyís purses.
How bad is it in Dallas? The Stars actually signed Mark Parrish. To be fair, Parrish delivered a hat trick in his first game, but if your team is struggling with trust, discipline, and consistent effort, signing Parrish is like throwing an anchor to a drowning man.
But forget about Avery, Sydor, and Parrish. The true problem is the Stars have built their team around Brad Richards and Mike fín Ribeiro.
Richards is not a No. 1 center. Heís a complimentary player. But the Stars are locked into him for the next three years at $7.8 million. Usually you canít steal that much money without working for the Federal Reserve.
Ribeiro is inked for the next five years at $5 million per. Heís leading the Stars in scoring with 18 points, but heís got two goals, a minus-4, and female genitalia. Ribeiro is a clown. He couldnít win a game of checkers. His 27 goals last year were a complete sham, the product of scoring on 25.2 percent of his shots. Never gonna happen again.
Dallas gets back at it Thursday night at home against the Hawks. Sydor should be in the lineup and is expected to skate with Matt Niskanen. Iím sure other changes are afoot.
But take heart, Stars fan. All is not lost. Turco appears to be turning things around, allowing two or fewer goals in four of his last five. Brenden Morrow is as cool as it gets, so you know that dude wonít quit. Zubov and Lehtinen will stay healthy all year. Avery and Ott will settle down. Loui Eriksson will continue on his 40-goal pace. Ribeiro, Richards, Parrish, and Brunnstrom will start scoring like chimps. Sydor will be Ray Bourque.
Itís never too late to mend! Thereís nothing to it but toÖ aw, who am I kidding?