Thursday, October 24, 2013
Thursday Morning Cupcheck - The Curse of the Dallas Stars
The Stars have not sniffed the playoffs ever since Modano bodychecked that old Gypsy woman at Ghostbar.
Good morning, hockey fans! Last week we exposed the intimate details of both sides of the fighting debate. This week, rather than pen the heartfelt country Ballad of Aaron Rome, we're going to take a big honkin' step back from the Stars' mediocre start, in order to look at the Big Picture.
Namely, why do the Stars continue to suck on the second night of back-to-backs?
After all, this has been a problem for half a decade now —by total coincidence, the same half-decade that has seen Dallas miss the postseason. Three very different coaches, two owners, two captains, two jerseys, and an incredible amount of roster turnover, so much that only two members of the 2008 team, Trevor Daley and Stephane Robidas, are still on the 2013 roster.
Yet the same problem plagues the Stars: not only can they not win on these second games, but they get blown the f**k out. It's gotten to the point where these games are basically free-for-all shooting galleries for the opposing team, regardless of their record, offensive ability or long-running powerplay drought.
Being sentimental fellows, we at the Cupcheck seem to recall better days, when the Stars were actually pretty good on these back to backs, and when a postseason berth was inevitable. Of course, since we're talking about something that happened many moons ago, and our memory is getting less sharp as the years go by, it stands to reason that we may be viewing the team's Past Glories through rose-colored lenses.
So we did what any Pulitzer-winning team would do: we went to hockeyreference.com and wrote down a bunch of numbers on the back of our electric bill. Nothing too fancy: just W-L-T-OT records of those second games, goal differentials, shutouts for/against and blowouts (a win/loss by three or more goals) for/against.
As these are very difficult games for any NHL team to play, we expected a record of maybe .500 back when the Stars were Cup contending juggernauts, and significantly lower elsewhere, particularly in the mid-90s when this team was as directionless as it is now.
Then we looked at the numbers, and the results were astounding.
Here is Dallas' complete record on the second night of a back-to-back, going all the way back to when they first came to Dallas. This was all done by pen and paper rather than fancy spreadsheet, so there may be some numbers off here and there, but overall the picture is quite clear:
1993-94: 8-5-1, with a -3 goal differential, 2 shutouts and 4 blowouts against; 2 blowouts for
1994-95: 8-1-1, with a +19 goal differential, zero so/bo against; 1 shutout and 3 blowouts for
1995-96: 4-6-3, with a -5 goal differential, 1 blowout against; 1 blowout for
1996-97: 7-5-1, with a +7 goal differential, zero so/bo against; 2 blowouts for
1997-98: 11-5-2, with a +18 goal differential, zero so/bo against; 2 shutouts and 4 blowouts for
1998-99: 7-5-3, with a +1 goal differential, 1 shutout and 2 blowouts against; 1 blowout for
1999-00: 9-5-2-1, with a +7 goal differential, 1 blowout against; 2 shutouts and 2 blowouts for
2000-01: 8-5-1-1, with a +5 goal differential, 1 shutout and 2 blowouts against; 1 shutout and 2 blowouts for
2001-02: 8-4-0-0, with a +10 goal differential, 1 shutout and 2 blowouts against; 3 blowouts for
2002-03: 6-5-1-0, with a +9 goal differential, 2 shutouts and 1 blowout against; 4 blowouts for
2003-04: 7-4-1-1, with a +1 goal differential, 3 shutouts and 3 blowouts against; 1 shutout and 2 blowouts for
2005-06: 10-5-1, with a +4 goal differential, 1 shutout and 3 blowouts against; 1 shutout and 1 blowout for
2006-07: 14-3-1, with a +16 goal differential, 0 blowouts/shutouts against; 3 shutouts and 3 blowouts for
2007-08: 8-6-2, with a 0 goal differential, 3 blowouts against; 1 shutout and 4 blowouts for
2008-09: 4-10-0, with a -14 goal differential, 1 shutout and 6 blowouts against; 1 10-2 blowout for
2009-10: 3-5-4, with a -8 goal differential, 2 blowouts against
2010-11: 6-6-0, with a -14 goal differential, 1 shutout and 4 blowouts against
2011-12: 1-11-1, with a -26 goal differential, 3 shutouts and 9 blowouts against; 1 blowout for
2012-13: 3-6-0, with a -10 goal differential, 3 shutouts and 3 blowouts against; 1 shutout for
2013-14: 0-2-0, with a -7 goal differential, 2 blowouts against
Now for those of you whose eyes have not glazed over and who are still conscious after all those bad numbers, the trend is pretty remarkable: from 1993 to 2008, the Stars were flat-out amazing on these back-to-backs. That holds true regardless of whether the coach was Bob Gainey, Ken Hitchcock or Dave Tippett. It was true whether they were winning Cups in 98-99 or missing the playoffs entirely in 2001-02. And the Stars were not just barely squeaking by in these games: a full sixth of these games were blowouts in the Stars' favor.
Similarly, the sudden drop-off after 2008 is just as drastic: other than 2010-11 where they were lucky to be mediocre (provided you ignore their -14 goal differential in those games), they have looked like ten pounds of s**t in a five-pound bag. Their W-L record is atrocious, and more tellingly, in nearly half of all of these second games (26 out of 62), the Stars have lost by three or more goals. And that's regardless of whether the coach was Dave Tippett, Marc Crawford, Glen Gulutzan or Lindy Ruff.
So what's really going on here? What happened in 2008 to cause such a huge swing in the results? Dallas used to be one of the best teams in the league in these games, with a .631 winning percentage; the last five seasons that fell to .318. That's a bigger drop-off than Tippett's regular season-to-postseason winning percentage. Hell, that's even worse than Barry Trotz' playoff dropoff. Considering the team plays about 12-16 of these games a year, that's a ten point swing in the standings very season: ten points that would have easily put the Stars in the postseason in all five of those seasons, and possibly given them two more division titles in 2011 and 2012.
Our theory on the culprit? Conditioning.
There was one constant among those Stars teams from 1993 to 2008, one factor that held steady regardless of the multiple changes of coaches, ownership, GMs, players, and even states. One factor that was abruptly removed in 2008: specifically, on March 1st, 2008.
That one constant? Head trainer Dave Surprenant.
Surprenant had been the Stars' trainer for 20 years, going back to their days in Minnesota. He was there when Bob Gainey couldn't coach his way out of a wet paper bag in the mid-90s, he was there when Hitchcock was winning division titles and contending for the Cup with regularity, he was there when Tippett was posting insane regular season records. Surprenant was there before Zubov, before Lehtinen, before Turco. And that entire time, the Stars dominated on these difficult games. They were simply better-conditioned to play. To break down 2007-08 even further:
2007-08 Before Surprenant was Fired: 7-4-1, with a +1 goal differential, 3 blowouts against; 3 blowouts for
2007-08 post-firing: 1-2-1, with a -1 goal differential; 1 blowout and 1 shutout for
(Incidentally, in those 2008 playoffs --sans Surprenant-- the Stars went 0-2 in the second game of back-to-backs. We didn't know it then, but It Had Already Begun.)
The results don't lie. With Surprenant as their head trainer, Dallas went 114-62-16-6 for a .631 winning percentage, had a +90 goal differential, was shutout 11 times and blown out 22 times, while posting 11 shutouts and 33 blowouts themselves. They owned these second games.
Without him, they've gone 18-42-6 for a .318 winning percentage, sport a -80 goal differential, were shutout 8 times and blown out 26 times. They also managed to heroically overcome all odds to post 2 shutouts and 3 blowouts in their favor.
Point being, conditioning is killing the Stars. From opening faceoff, they look beaten. Slow. They make mental mistakes. They get caught up ice. They stand around. These are just the results of the Eyeball Test: the advanced stats, the Corsi and Fenwick and Shots Against, are probably horrifying.
Surprenant was fired under mysterious circumstances, and his official, very curt response of "wanting to take the high road" implies it was because of personality issues rather than performance-related ones. We may never know exactly why he was canned, or more importantly, why his athletes consistently performed at an extremely high level when he was here. Ancient Chinese secrets? Experimental surgery? Steroids? HGH? Unicorn blood? A pact with Ba'al? Adamantium endoskeletons?
Unfortunately, Surprenant has not worked in the NHL since the firing, so we don't have another rags-to-riches-and/or-rags set of data to compare Dallas' with. But the evidence is clear: until the Stars improve their conditioning, massive sweeping changes in coaching staff, player roster, ownership and jerseys won' translate into jack squat on the ice.