For the second year in a row, the Dallas Stars simply weren't good enough in the most critical games in the season. Last season, the Stars fell in a must-win game to the lost cause Minnesota Wild in the last game of the season for the rights to the playoffs in the 8th seed. This season, the Stars dropped a beyond critical home-and-home with the San Jose Sharks.
The Stars now stand 3 points behind the Sharks for the 8th seed with two games to go. It would take a complete collapse by them against the Los Angeles Kings, and the Stars defeating Western powerhouses Nashville (away) and St. Louis (home) to be invited to the postseason dance.
That is a tall order. All it takes is one loss by the Stars, and it's game over. If that's not desperation, I don't know what is.
We have seen many steps forward for the franchise this season, including depth, role players, and getting young guys in the lineup. Unfortunately, some really key injuries, including several to Kari Lehtonen, hurt them the most. In my blog, "Uphill Climb", I said that Lehtonen needed to avoid his injury-prone nature. He didn't.
It will be assumed that the season rides on his shoulders to get wins against two of the best teams in the entire league. Let's take a look at each scenario, if they get in, or if they don't.
IF THEY GET IN:
It will have taken a miraculous collapse by the Sharks, and an even more miraculous show of desperation by the Stars. Now they face either Vancouver or St. Louis in the first round. That's just wonderful.
These are two teams considered the class of the NHL. They have star power, amazing goaltending, and the ability to go deep in the playoffs. Even if the Stars make it, how far could they get? Are they good enough to get past the first round? Not against either one of those opponents. To be honest, they're not even close.
It's a painful end of the season either way, but the Stars are not Stanley Cup contenders, when matched up against any other team in the mix. The Stars just aren't good enough yet to make any noise.
IF THEY DON'T:
GM Joe Nieuwendyk has some pretty monumental decisions to make in terms of personnel this summer. The Stars own the third lowest payroll in the entire league, but a lot of that had to do with an unstable ownership situation. Now that Tom Gaglardi is in charge, they have more money to spend.
The signings over the summer were trial runs. Souray, Dvorak, Burish, and Dowell were all one-year signings, and are all unrestricted free agents (UFA). Who comes back? Do any of them?
Additionally, Jamie Benn has now reached restricted free agent (RFA) status. He will desire (and deserve) a large raise from his $821,667 annual payment. His 63 points this season and commitment at both ends of the ice will garner the millions. If Nieuwendyk is smart, he'll lock him up for the next five years or so.
Additionally, key contributors like defensemen Mark Fistric, Philip Larsen and goaltender Richard Bachman are all RFAs. All of them want and will likely get raises. Fistric has become an outstanding defensive defenseman, Larsen has continued to develop, and Bachman has proven to be leagues better than Andrew Raycroft ever was in the black and green.
The Stars won't spend to the cap since they don't have the money, but they will need to be smart about who they pursue in the offseason. The free agent class is nothing to sing home about. There are the gamebreaking free agents like Shea Weber, Ryan Suter and Zach Parise, and then there are the middle-level free agents like Daymond Langkow, Alex Semin, and even former Stars defenseman Nicklas Grossmann.
More to come as it happens.
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