Once again for the Dallas Stars, it's another season of coming up short. On Thursday, the Stars were officially eliminated from playoff contention after their 3-1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, making it five straight seasons of early summers.
After the game, head coach Glen Gulutzan had an eye toward the future. "There is a ton of optimism around this team," Gulutzan said. "The young players that are here, [Alex] Chaisson, Reilly Smith, [Matt] Fraser, and there’s more on the pipeline. It’s just a test to what they’ve been doing here the last three or four years. It’s not that easy to acquire the players that they’ve had. Now we’re seeing the fruits of those drafts. Young and hungry guys.”
You could take that same quote, dial it back to 2009, have it coming out of the mouth of Dave Tippett and switch the names of Chaisson, Smith and Fraser with those of Loui Eriksson, Matt Niskanen, James Neal and *gasp* Fabian Brunnstrom (17 goals that season).
The future was looking pretty promising then, too. But today Niskanen and Neal are playing postseason hockey for the second year in a row in Pittsburgh; Brunnstrom petered out the following season and is now back in Sweden. Only Eriksson remains and he's posted three straight 70-point seasons since 2009.
Now there's a new crop of up-and-comers in Dallas, but where will they be in five years time?
In the now-five seasons that the Stars have failed to get back to the playoffs, the only thing that has changed has been the roster. The results on the ice have remained stagnant. Despite a desperate push the last three weeks, it won't be enough ... again.
Over the last 11 games, they have been outshot 343-282. That works out to an average of 31.2 shots against per game and 25.6 for. The shots against is worse than Dallas’ season average of 30.8. The shots for would be worst in the league. And the shot differential of minus-5.6 per game would also be worse than the Stars’ season average of minus-4.5 and among the worst in the NHL.
Here’s another number that won’t pan out over a full season. Dallas scored the first goal three times in the last 11 games. The Stars showed a lot of grit coming back in many of those games, but a team that routinely is playing from behind early is not going to win much in the NHL.
What's significant about those 11 games? They were 11 of the 12 games after the NHL trade deadline that saw general manager Joe Nieuwendyk trade away captain Brenden Morrow, Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy. There was a 5-game win streak at the beginning that inspired playoff hope, but then things unraveled with three straight 1-goal losses before the Stars were finally finished off by the Blue Jackets.
Despite being in the top half of goals scored with three days left in the season, Dallas couldn't get those goals when they needed them. Dallas is currently ranked second in 1-goal losses with 10 and have posted a 6-16-2 record when giving up the first goal of the game.
So, now what? There has to be changes. Treading water and recycling prospects for five years is not part of a long-term vision. And now with owner Tom Gaglardi in place, the need for a playoff berth is what has made Nieuwendyk's seat white-hot. Gulutzan's contract expires after this season. That seems like an obvious start. Nieuwendyk gets a little more rope to get over that playoff hump, but his time is running out, as well.
The more things change, the more they've stayed the same in Dallas.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy