Thursday, January 26, 2012
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Trade! Madness!
Pretty soon the Stars' roster will closely resemble the markets of Damascus.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we pumped a little sunshine and rainbows up the collective tuckus of a troubled Dallas Stars fanbase. Since then, they've gotten their butts handed to them on a silver tray with a white napkin over it by the Minnesota Wild, then went out and stuffed a ridiculously hot Ducks team with a well-earned shutout.
This week, rather than go with our thrice-annual Cupcheck 70s Porn Name Column (starring Richard "I'm More Of A" Bachman and Vernon "Twiddle 'er n'" Fiddler) we're heading into meatier waters: the upcoming Trade Deadline.
Without actually looking it up, we can correctly assume that it's probably in less than an hour, judging from most Stars fans' reactions after that horrid second period in Minnesota. Fans were understandably angry: losing our fifth straight game, giving up three goals from in and around the crease in a 59-second span, spilling our 1947 Château Cheval Blanc all over our acid-washed jorts in red-faced rage.
Fortunately, none of us are GMs —except you, Brian, I have it on good word that your soul mate Vanquisha reads this column to you while you bathe in a tub of centuries-old Visigoth blood— because the right decisions are hardly ever made in a barbaric, bottle-throwing rage.
Fans clamored for the heads of Dallas' leaders: Brenden Morrow, Stephane Robidas and Mike Ribeiro (who wasn't even on the ice, of course). Some had wisely made untouchable lists of "all our good players" even while demanding we sell the farm for Zach Parise or Shea Weber (both of whom will be available for zero prospects/picks in about three months). Less reputable sorts even offered Jamie Benn and two 1sts for Calgary third-liners and the musty buttocks of a rat.
Here's the thing: those 59 seconds were not an accurate microcosm of this roster's ability to play hockey. Missing their top two centers, yes, they lost five straight games —by a combined total of six goals (or seven, if you want to count a shootout goal as a "real" goal... you horse's ass). That includes the 5-2 loss to the Wild, which was the only one of the five losses that wasn't by a single goal.
And if you think that maybe having two guys out who between them average 1.88 PPG while playing on different lines might have affected the outcomes of one or two of those one-goal losses... well, you'd be right. And probably a lot less frothy at the mouth.
The truth is, following the All Star break, Dallas will (knocks on wood) have their opening day roster together and healthy for the first time since October, when an 8-3-0 Stars team lost Steve Ott. That roster —being as it had the lowest payroll in hockey— didn't even have 14-goal scorer Eric Nystrom on it, nor did it have Richard Bachman, both significant midseason upgrades.
In other words, the roster that is coming out of the break should be the best on-ice product Dallas can offer. At least give the real roster half a period or so before making franchise-altering decisions on who lives and who dies.
Not to mention the fact that no good team trades key pieces for picks at the deadline. Mediocre teams do that sometimes, and absolutely terrible teams do it more often than you've had hot meals. It's exciting for fans and hockey journalists, and absolute death for desperate GMs and their soon-to-be-massively-disappointed bosses.
That said, if this team remains relatively healthy and still floats around the defensive zone like Grandpa Joe in Willy Wonka's bubble room, it will be time to make a few changes. Here are the most reasonable, in mandatory list form.
#1: Trade Sheldon Souray - When he was signed in the offseason, it was looked at as a low-risk move: for just one year and $1.65 million, Souray would either prove to the rest of the NHL that he could still play, or he would be a relatively inexpensive healthy scratch. As it turns out, the guy still has it, putting up 17 points and a +8 with a cannon shot and a nasty streak in the crease.
From the Stars' point of view, however, he's slowed down considerably since storming out of the gate with something to prove (just four points in his last 28 games), is not the pure physical defender that Mark Fistric and Nick Grossman are, and is taking up a valuable roster spot from any one of the four or five guys down in the minors who are hungry for a spot in the big leagues. There are perhaps only two or three playoff teams that couldn't use a guy like Souray in their playoff push, and GM Joe should already be fielding calls on possible trades.
#2: Trade Brenden Morrow - Again, a captain, a hard-checking physical force on the ice who can put up his dukes as well as 30+ goal seasons, Morrow would be a valuable commodity for any team looking for some toughness up front.
From Dallas' vantage point, Morrow is simply not the same player he was even last season, as neck, back, knee and torso injuries seem to have hobbled him into fourth-line effectiveness despite second-line ice time. He's not good defensively, he doesn't crash the net like he used to, he can't hold his ground screening the goalie as he once did... in short, all the impressive physical feats that define his career are disappearing, most likely due to his body simply breaking down after so many years of just that. And his effectiveness as a captain is also in question. But the Canucks don't need to know that, if the right package is coming back our way (and he agrees to waive his no-trade clause, which is another matter altogether).
#3: Trade Stephane Robidas - Robidas is every coach's wet dream: a smallish guy who overcame tremendous odds by sheer force of will and determination to become a #1 defenseman, a powerplay point man and top-notch penalty killer. He's routinely listed by players as one of the most underrated d-men in the league, and even made the All Star team as a sub a few years back. He's a consummate professional, a cagey vet that can take and deliver hits with the best of 'em, playing far bigger than his actual frame.
Yet... he's 34 years old and clearly in decline. Even when he was putting up 40+ point seasons, he was still a #3 or #4 d-man forced into a #1 role by a team that could not afford to bring in a more traditional option and had nothing in the pipes ready to fill that role from the minors. Robidas is facing the top opposition every night, along with Souray, and often the results are simply unwatchable. That said, a young team with even less defense ... like Ottawa... would be a perfect fit for Robidas, provided they plan on not flaming out in the first round. It would be rough to see him go, but again, there's plenty of guys in Austin who desperately want that roster spot —not to mention some pretty big UFA names in the offseason— and if the Stars can't get it going on the ice in the next few weeks, it might be time for Robidas to pack his bags for the betterment of his old team.
There you have it: naturally, you don't want to see anyone traded but hey, if the return is worth it, you pull that trigger hard and fast. Considering GM Joe's previous record on trades (Lehtonen for Vishnevskiy, Goligoski for Neal and Niskanen, Nystrom for Nada), I'm pretty confident he can turn dogs**t into gold at this point. I guess we'll find out in about an hour.