Post Mortem & Predictions
For the fourth year in a row, there will be no playoffs in Big D. This was a huge year for the Stars to capitalize on the momentum of new ownership and increasing attendance due to lower ticket prices and a better product on the ice that included the emergence of a few big time players. Unfortunately, their opponents and their own demons killed them in the end.
A few problems contributed to the Stars' flat 3-7-0 stretch run which included a five game losing streak. The worst part is that those problems fell in the same time of year that killed the Stars the year prior against Minnesota. Here I thought the team was ready to overcome the obstacle that was the stretch run.
Last season, their record was 4-4-2 in the final ten games of last season, only to fall a point short behind Chicago.
ISSUE #1: THE MAN ADVANTAGE
Perhaps the largest issue behind the Stars' disappointing season may have been the power play. GM Joe Nieuwendyk made a brilliant move to sign Sheldon Souray to a very affordable contract. His albatross contract in Edmonton paired with a subpar performance from both him and the Oilers caused a rift. Techincalities buried him in Hershey, but he has risen from the ashes since.
Souray was supposed to be "the guy" that would turn the power play around. It looked like it would work early as Souray pumped shot after shot from the point, easily clocking over 100 mph on each. Souray ended the season with 2 power play goals and 4 power play assists. A pitiful total for an offensive defenseman looking to make a return to the NHL.
Let's not forget Alex Goligoski, who had a comparably horrible season as profiled in my earlier blog, "The Neal Deal: Revisited". He only scored 2 power play goals along with 7 power play assists, accounting for 9 of his 30 points this season.
13.5%. Last in the entire NHL behind Phoenix, just one-tenth of a percentage higher.
ISSUE #2: THE OFFSEASON
The Stars acquired a bevy of role-players like Adam Burish, Jake Dowell, Eric Godard, Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler, among others, and while they did their jobs, they were not gamebreakers. Too often they relied on Jamie Benn and Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder to score the goals.
For a time, Benn and Eriksson were the best tandem in the NHL over Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul of the Toronto Maple Leafs, but they were separated to try and spread out the scoring.
That didn't work. In fact, the Stars faltered even further.
Michael Ryder was easily the centerpiece of the summer for the Stars, and he panned out tremendously well. Counted on to be in the top six, Ryder answered the bell and scored goals left and right. He remains in Big D for another season at an affordable rate. Count your blessings.
So what's the plan? The big-name free agents have a huge price tag attached to them.
"We're the NHL bridesmaids two years in a row and it's tough to swallow," GM Joe Nieuwendyk said. "I think the good thing is we have an owner now that is committed to getting better and we're going to be aggressive at getting better, too."
The free agent class is pretty disappointing this year. Will this be the summer of the RFA offer sheet? We'll see.
ISSUE #3: BRENDEN MORROW & THE CAPTAINCY
The captain only played a quarter of the season and battled injury throughout. Is this Morrow's time to go? It's clearly Jamie Benn's team, followed in a close second by Stephane Robidas and Loui Eriksson. It's time for the young ones to take charge, because honestly, there are a lot more young'uns on this team than veterans, which can be a good thing.
Morrow is not the most effective player anymore, and if he can fetch a return for a solid forward or defenseman, then all the better. It will be sad to let him go, but it's possible that Morrow could go. He has only one year left on his contract at $4.1 million. His value is understated more often than not, but it's very possible that his time is up as a Dallas Star.
That's enough of the Stars, time to move on to Stanley Cup Quarterfinal predictions.
VAN vs. LAK - Canucks in 5
This series will come down to who plays a better all-around game. There's no question that the Vancouver Canucks are poised for another deep run for the Stanley Cup. The Kings can't score, even with the addition of forward Jeff Carter, and Jonathan Quick has had to be stellar for far too long.
Look for another first round exit for the Kings.
VAN: The goalie(s)
LA: Mike Richards
STL vs. SJS - Blues in 6
The San Jose Sharks underachieved throughout the season. With talent like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and the rest, you would think that this team would have had no problem making it into the playoffs. The Pacific Division ended up as the toughest to sort out, and the Sharks just barely made it. On the other hand, the Blues have had no problems since bringing in Ken Hitchcock to replace Davis Paine.
Simply put, the Blues are better, they play "playoff hockey", and they will win this series.
STL: Alex Pietrangelo
SJS: Joe Thornton
PHX vs. CHI - Blackhawks in 6
Another season in Phoenix with questions about their future. What else is new? Where's Jim Balsille when you need him? All kidding aside, this Phoenix team is good. They made a late push to win the Pacific Division behind the stellar goaltending of Mike Smith and the brilliant defensive systems that coach Dave Tippett implements. The Hawks have a ridiculous amount of offensive firepower behind Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, and young guys like Viktor Stalberg and Andrew Shaw.
Does Mike Smith continue his stellar play in round one, or does Corey Crawford hold the fort to lead the Hawks to victory?
PHX: Mike Smith
CHI: Corey Crawford
NSH vs. DET - Predators in 7
This may be the best playoff series we will have seen in a long time. Detroit has struggled a bit down the stretch dealing with injuries to key players, including Nicklas Lidstrom. The Red Wings have an amazing time at home, playing their style of perfect puck-moving hockey. The Wings have tons of playoff experience, including the aformentioned Lidstrom, who has never missed the playoffs since coming into the league in 1991. The Predators have been unbelievable this season behind a tremendous defensive system and amazing goaltending from Pekka Rinne. Their attack features not very well known names like Matt Halischuk, Patrik Hornqvist, the Kostitsyn brothers, among others. Where Nashville thrives is with their defense of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, who will likely see 30 minutes of ice time.
Will Detroit retain home dominance, or will Nashville make the Winged Wheel look flat?
NSH: Mike Fisher
DET: Nicklas Kronwall
NYR vs. OTT - Rangers in 5
This one is simple. Ottawa isn't even close to the Rangers. Craig Anderson is not capable of outdueling Henrik Lundqvist, who is possibly having the best season he'll ever have. The Rangers play a very disciplined game that includes blocking shots, suffocating the opposition's attack, and beating you in every facet.
The only way that the Senators can win is if the Rangers outright choke. Don't think that will happen.
NYR: Brad Richards
OTT: Erik Karlsson
BOS vs. WSH - Bruins in 5
Keith Jones stirred the pot when he said the Bruins would have no problem dispatching the Washington Capitals. Have to agree with him. This is a complete mismatch. The Bruins are looking to be the first team to repeat since the Detroit Red Wings did it back in the late 90s. The way they are built, they could easily do it, and the Capitals will be a road bump on their way there. The Bruins can put out four solid lines, three solid defensive pairs, and Tim Thomas in net. The Capitals need to band together to find a level of game they may not possess anymore as they aren't what they used to be.
The Capitals had their chance, and their chance is quickly fading. To win here would give them tremendous confidence.
BOS: Tyler Seguin
WSH: Braden Holtby
FLA vs. NJD - Devils in 4
No contest. The Panthers only got into the playoffs due to the pity point. The New Jersey Devils are better than a lot of people give them credit for. They will completely dominate the Panthers, who will be deer-in-headlights against the best goaltender in hockey history. It's just not their year. Look for an Atlanta-vs.-Rangers like performance from a couple years ago as a comparable.
The Panthers need to be ridiculously good to beat the Devils. Not happening.
FLA: Kris Versteeg
NJD: Martin Brodeur
PIT vs. PHI - Penguins in 6
The Battle of Pennsylvania will rage again. The Flyers won the season series 4-2, but everything changes in the playoffs. A stacked team in Pittsburgh will face a bevy of young blood in Philadelphia. The Penguins have Evgeni Malkin, a 50 goal scorer, James Neal, a 40 goal scorer, and...oh. Sidney Crosby, too. The Flyers rely solely on their rookies and young Claude Giroux to lead them forward. Experience will trump enthusiasm in this series, even if Marc-Andre Fleury has his worst stats against the Flyers this season.
The Flyers haven't defeated the Penguins in a playoff series since 2000. I don't think that's going to change this time either.
PHI: Ilya Bryzgalov
PIT: James Neal