3 years ago, I said the Stars would win the Cup in the 2009-10 season. What could be sweeter than winning the league championship in the last year of Mike Modano’s, Jere Lehtinen’s, and Marty Turco’s contracts? How nice would it have been for players like Modano and Lehtinen to go out with a bang and win the Cup in their last year?
That can’t be what happens this season because the Stars were eliminated from the playoffs when Colorado won their game Sunday night. In a way, I was relieved that the Stars were finally mathematically eliminated because I was tired of holding out that .02% chance that they would make the playoffs (by the way, thanks stat dudes for keeping the hope alive!), but I was still disappointed that my favorite team failed to make the postseason for the second year in a row.
The problem with the end of this season is that this is the end of an era in Dallas. At the end of 2008-09, it was disappointing that the Stars didn’t make the playoffs, but there were excuses due to injury, poor management, a coach who couldn’t control the team. Changes needed to be made.
But changes were made and that didn’t help. A new coach, a new manager, a few new players… still the same result. The Stars didn’t get what they needed in the offseason for budget reasons. Even now, the Stars are spending money signing Ott and Petersen to deals. Don’t get me wrong, I like Petersen as a person and wish him the best, but honestly, he’s not going to be an integral part of a future Cup-winning team. He’s a role player who’s good in the locker room, and I’m sure the Stars could call up a similar player from Cedar Park and pay him less money. Otter is a fan favorite, and the team would be different without him, but I don’t see the justification in paying $3 million a season for a guy who scores about 20 goals and takes a whole lot of penalties.
We’re still not in the playoffs, but feelings will be different when the Stars skate off the ice Saturday night against Minnesota. There aren’t the same injury excuses. Yes, this team isn’t good enough to win it all, but they’re not bad enough to go the whole season without stringing together a 3-game winning streak. Edmonton managed to have a 5-game winning streak and Toronto had two 3-game winning streaks. These teams barely made it to double digits in wins, but they can manage to be consistent enough to win a few games in a row.
The Stars have lost so many players from the 2008 playoff run, and there hasn’t been anyone to take their places. We lost Zubov, Norstrom, and Boucher. Niskanen, Grossman, Daley, and Fistric haven’t been able to fill those holes. Fistric has shown promise this season now that Tippett is no longer there to send him down to the AHL. Grossman has shown some signs of development, but he’s not as far along as I’d hoped, and he’s nowhere near the caliber of Norstrom in front of the net in the WCF against Detroit in a 6 on 4. Niskanen has been a developmental failure, and maybe it’s time to give up on him in a trade. Daley needs to go away. The announcers have said that he’s been “developing” for the last 6 years, and I haven’t seen any signs of progress. He’s as good as he’s ever going to be, and it’s nowhere near good enough to be worth something to the team in the long run.
These were your defensive pairs in the 1999 playoffs:
Hatcher – Matvichuk (both in their prime)
Zubov – Sydor (in their glory days)
Ludwig – Chambers (two stalwarts that were maybe the best “third” pair of defensemen ever)
I don’t see any of the Stars current defensemen breaking into this lineup, with the exception of Robidas. His heart allows him to play way beyond his capabilities, and he’d make a wonderful third pair defenseman who saw some time on the power play but wasn’t forced to play 25:00+ a game. If you’ve seen the Stars play, you know how hard he plays the game and you know he’s too small to play that way effectively 82 games a year.
That’s just the defensemen. The forwards we lost, including Hagman, Halpern, and Barnes, created holes. While the Stars haven’t replaced them with similar players, the play of young James Neal and Jamie Benn shows that the Stars have hope on the offensive end of things.
Overall, the Stars aren’t even as good as they were in 2008, and that wasn’t even one of their best years talent-wise.
And they are about to lose a lot more. Pieces that can’t be replaced, especially since the Stars have been unable to replace pieces lost in 2008.
One of the pieces will probably move on to another team:
Marty Turco: He hasn’t played well since the 2008 playoffs, but he’s been an integral part of the team. The first time I remember hearing him mentioned was when I saw footage of some crazy young goalie flopping around in the crease during practice in the 1999 playoffs to emulate Hasek and his odd style of playing the game. I can’t do justice to Marty leaving; maybe Sarah will conquer that task some day when she’s ready.
He never won a Cup for the team, and until 2007 and 2008 he was questionable at best in the playoffs. But that’s not to say he didn’t have a wonderful career in Dallas. While I can think of so many goals given up on first shots or from the faceoff dots, I can think of just as many ridiculous saves that never should have stayed out of the net. When I think of Marty, I think of his performance in the 2 playoff games I attended in 2008: Game 6 against San Jose and Game 4 against Detroit. He played out of his mind. He kept the Stars in the San Jose game long enough for Brenden to get the the series-winning goal at 1:24 am.
Off the ice, he is possibly the greatest human (term borrowed from Razor) to ever play for the Stars. His work with Stick with Reading/Writing, his visits to children’s hospitals, the M Club at every Stars home game… Marty has given so much back to countless individuals and families in the city of Dallas. There’s a reason why he’s nominated for so many humanitarian awards every year.
While we may get a new goalie or test the waters with Lehtonen as starter, Marty was a fan favorite and I know it will take everyone time to get used to seeing someone else in the pipes.
Jere Lehtinen: As Ralph so eloquently said in his article about Lehtinen, he played his whole career with very little recognition. Yes, he won 3 Selke trophies, but he deserved to win so many more. He is +177 in his career, and this season will be the only season he finishes with a – rating.
Since, like everyone else, I don’t know much about Lehtinen, I don’t have a lot to say about him. So here is my favorite Lehtinen memory: If you’ve gotten your picture taken with him at practice, you’ve probably noticed that he seems standoffish and rarely smiles for pictures. I’m sure he’s not mean or grouchy, that’s simply the way he is. He probably doesn’t understand why people care so much about him. In one of the pictures I have with him, he’s looking the other way, and it looks like I took an awkward picture with someone at a party who wasn’t even aware he was in the picture. But at this practice, in March of 2008, Sarah and I found a way to make him smile. We showed him both our “We <3 our Finns” sign and the “Leht’s Go” sign. He autographed them, smiling, and said our signs were “pretty cool”. This is the picture we got with him directly after:
I’ll always remember his ugly yellow skate laces and the way he always seemed to make lines better. He’s one of the biggest reasons I’ve become such a Finn fan and have a Finnish flag hanging on the wall in my bedroom. He scored the crazy 1st goal of Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals in 1999. I still don’t know how that puck managed to go into the net.
He’s been talked about more in the past couple seasons due to his injury problems, and I miss the days when he plugged along without gaining any media coverage.
Mike Modano: I don’t think I have words for this one. If this is his final season, there will be hundreds of articles written about his career and how important he was to the Dallas Stars and American hockey. I can’t write something to rival what they will write, so I’ll leave that to them. We all know he holds every valuable stat possible for the Dallas Stars, and that he’s the greatest American-born player in history.
Mikey was the first player I noticed at my first game in March of 1997. I was 8 years old the first time I saw him play. I remember grabbing the program from my mom to check the rosters to see who this #9 was in white who zoomed up and down the ice. He was the only one whose jersey actually flapped as he skated. Even though players now may be faster than he is, you don’t see that with anyone else.
As soon as I figured out who he was, my goal was to get a Mike Modano jersey. And on opening night of the 1998-99 season, I got my white authentic Modano jersey. It is still my favorite jersey – I’ve added a Cup Finals patch and it’s signed only by Mikey and Bob Gainey. The logo on the front is still wider than I am, I can’t imagine how it looked on me when I was 10. The first pictures I have with Mikey are from the days before digital cameras. I’ll have to find the originals so I can scan them into my computer.
I can’t imagine a Stars team without Mike Modano. He’s taken a reduced role in the last several years, and I’m sure there are many Stars fans/bloggers who appreciate what Mikey means to the team but really have no idea. They didn’t see him get an assist on the last 8 goals in the 1999 Finals. With a broken wrist. Maybe they saw Mikey break the American-born scoring records, but they didn’t see all of his goals from Sergei Zubov, Jere Lehtinen, and Brett Hull in the 90s.
I wish I could have seen him before Hitchcock came to Dallas and changed his game. Mikey was a much better player after learning some defensive responsibility, but I still wish I could have seen him skate through 4 or 5 guys by himself to get the puck in the net.
I have this great picture of Mikey and Brett Hull at the Cup parade in downtown Dallas. He and Hull are both leaning on a metal pole sticking out of their float. Neither of them could hold themselves up through the whole parade after the injuries they sustained in the playoffs. They both have huge smiles on their faces.
I just can’t write anything else about him until I hear for sure about his decision. Although, his actions and what he’s said in interviews make me think that this is the end for him.
The other two players won’t be so easily replaced. They are the only two members of the 1999 Cup Championship team. They are the only two team members who were playing in March 1997 when I went to my first Stars game. I know Modano’s number will be retired as soon as he hangs up his skates, and I hope Lehtinen will get the same treatment.
I’ll be making the drive up to Dallas from San Antonio Thursday for the final home game of the season. I don’t know how many Stars I’ll be seeing the last of, but I want to be sure to see them all before they leave. Feel free to come say hi and share some Stars memories with me. Or to give me a hug, because I’ll probably need it.