Thursday, January 31, 2013
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - Top 5 Reasons the Dallas Stars Will/Won’t Make the Playoffs
There are bold prognosticators and old prognosticators, but no bold, old prognosticators.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we may have overreacted a bit to the first week of the 2013 NHL season. Fortunately, with the benefit of hindsight, it turns out we are already 100% correct on all of those. Our Internet Award for Being Right should be in the mail, I can't figure out why it hasn't got here yet. Damn FedEx.
At any rate, this week we decided to go in a different direction: forward. With two weeks and seven games in eleven days under their belt, the Stars have shown quite enough for us to gauge what kind of team they will be over the next 41 games. Looking over the evidence, any astute observer of the game can only come to one conclusion. We're going out on a limb here, but the data seems to back us up on this, so here it goes: The Dallas Stars Will/Won't Make the Playoffs This Season.
Now hold up there kemosabe: take that lampshade/noose off your d**med head, stop writing that ticket to Vegas/goth poetry and put down that gun/gun. Let us explain a few of the reasons why we came to this bold conclusion, using the centuries-old art form of the List-Based Internet Column.
#5. Why They Will: An Influx of Top-End Talent - Following the Great Oldening of the summer of '12, the Stars put together a top six crew that, on the backs of hockey cards, looks dang impressive. Jagr, Whitney, Roy, Eriksson, Ryder and Benn. The only one of those guys who hasn't scored 30+ goals in a season is Benn, and he's arguably got the most offensive upside in the bunch. The days of icing Steve Ott and Adam Burish on the top line appear to be over, and with a hobbled Brenden Morrow stewing on the fourth line, the top six looks decidedly better than it has in over a decade. Provided they can ever all get on the ice in the same game, of course.
#5. Why They Won't: An Influx of Top-End Talent - As any fan of the Philadelphia Eagles or Los Angeles Lakers can tell you while crying, the accumulation of talent does not guarantee anything. Well, anything other than preseason sportswriters anointing you champions before you ever played a single game. The reason is obvious to anyone who's ever worked in a team environment: too many chiefs and not enough Indians spoils the brew. Also, highly talented players seem to always live in glass houses, and all it takes is one stitch in time and the house of cards falls like a rock in a hard place. Without "glue" guys like Adam Burish and Steve Ott in the top six, this team just doesn't have the cajones to do the dirty work necessary to win puck battles in the corners.
#4. Why They Will: The Shortened Season - A 48-game season is the great equalizer: over 82 games, the wheat tends to separate from the chaff, so to speak, but after 48 games last season the Wild and the Stars were sitting pretty and looking like fearsome playoff contenders. Little did we know that both teams could out-suck a black hole. And that means one thing: one or two undeserved teams will make the playoffs in each conference.
#4. Why They Won't: The Shortened Season - A 48-game season magnifies every flaw ten-fold: over 82 games, you can hide a lot of your team's problems, but after 48 games last season the huge, glaring deficiencies of the Wild and the Stars were obvious for all to see and no one took them seriously despite their unexpectedly gaudy point totals. One or two extended losing streaks, a few key injuries to top-line players and a single brainfart by a fourth-liner in a tight third period will put a bad team out of contention. And that means one thing: you're going to have to deserve to win if you want to make the postseason cut this year.
#3. Why They Will: No Clear-Cut #1 Defenseman - They say professional hockey is like Socialism on Skates: if everyone puts the interests of the team ahead of individual glory, then and only then will everyone get what they want. Putting all your eggs in one hulking basket is what doomed the Flyers with Chris Pronger and the Red Wings with Nick Lidstrom. Meanwhile, teams that smartly have six "good" defensemen rather than 1 "great", 1 "good" and 4 "pretty sh***y" d-men --like the Canucks or Blues-- seem to be thriving in the New NHL. You are only as strong as your weakest link, and even though Stephane Robidas wouldn't make the top pairing on half the teams in the league, it's not that important because our third pairing guys, Jordie Benn and Brendan Dillon, are actually pretty serviceable. With no Niskanen-like Gaping Holes of Suck, the Dallas D can spread the wealth around, making it more difficult for opposing teams to game-plan against them.
#3. Why They Won't: No Clear-Cut #1 Defenseman - They say professional hockey is a dog-eat-dog world, and whoever's standing on top of the hill of corpses at the whistle is the King of the Mountain. No team with a clear-cut #1 bad-a** mofo defenseman misses the playoffs: even if Chara or Weber or Lidstrom has an off-year, their teams are still going to challenge for the division. A great defenseman is worth more than two and a half great goaltenders, and just as rare. When you have a physically imposing d-man who can score bunches on the powerplay, opposing teams simply can't game-plan against you.
#2. Why They Will: The Youth Movement - After calling up James Oleksiak up yesterday, the Stars are now icing three rookie defensemen and one sophomore in their top seven. 21 year-old Cody Eakin is centering the second line, while AHL call-ups Reilly Smith, Tomas Vincour and Ryan Garbutt have all played well --even scored-- in limited roles. On top of that, our backup goalie position is clogged to the max with hungry young goaltenders that have proven they belong on the NHL level (Bachman, Nilstorp) or are just a year or two away (Campbell). The last time the Stars leaned so heavily on rookies was 2008, when they rode a defense half-composed of Mark Fistric, Nick GrossmanN and Matt Niskanen to the Western Conference Finals. This year, with the shortened season, the rookies will have a chance to shine.
#2: Why They Won't: The Youth Movement - An influx of rookies means an influx of rookie mistakes, and when six of your first six games are decided by just one goal, that could mean the difference between a comfortable 5-seed come May and a rough 5-par on the back nine. Our three young defensemen (Larsen, Benn and Dillon) have combined for all of one goal and zero assists over 20 total games, skating to a -7 +/-. Meanwhile, ancient grizzled vets like Robidas and Goligoski have combined for five assists and a +8 over that same period. The last time the Stars leaned on rookies this heavily was in 2008, when they squeaked into the playoffs and were eventually dispatched in embarrassing fashion by the eventual Cup champion Red Wings, who easily manhandled the Dallas rookies en route to taking a 3-0 lead in the Western Conference Finals. This year, with the shortened season, every rookie mistake will push the Stars that much further from the playoffs.
#1 Why They Will: Injuries - With so many games compressed into such a tight schedule, injuries will decimate every single team in the NHL. By early April, teams will be scrambling to update their websites quick enough for all the Swiss league C-listers filling their top powerplay units. No team that hasn't explicitly made a pact with the devil will be immune. It's no secret why the current cream of the crop --Chicago, Boston, San Jose and St. Louis-- are playing so far above the rest of the league: they've got a core group of guys who have been together for 6+ years playing at the top of their games while everyone else is still in preseason mode trying to figure things out. But those core groups will get the injury plague at one point, and when that happens, the teams with the deepest rosters will start gobbling up points like Pac-men on bath salts. The Stars, with basically half a roster of potential NHL players sitting on their AHL team waiting for a try-out, have an advantage that other teams simply don't.
#1 Why They Won't: Injuries - Of the Stars' top six forwards, only two, Eriksson and Ryder, have proven to be consistently healthy. And that's without projecting any freak injuries caused by a condensed schedule. Jagr and Whitney are too old for this s**t, and Derek Roy is... well, Derek Roy. Benn is still young, but has not yet played a full season, missing time with an appendectomy and a skate cut last season. Seven games in, and Dallas has yet to see their top six in the same game. With this group of guys in this schedule, there's a chance that might not happen even once: take away one or two point-per-game players, and you start ending up on the wrong end of a whole lot of one-goal games. Constantly having to work with new linemates also means missed passes, missed defensive assignments and missing the postseason for the fifth straight year. The Stars, with basically half a roster of old players prone to injury, have a disadvantage that other teams simply don't.
Ultimate prognosis: Start planning the parade/resumes, because this Stars team is going all the way/to blow chunk!