December 31, 2011

It's time for Dallas Stars to put up or shut up

The Stars need to make a bold move before the trade deadline.

DALLAS -- A new owner, a new team president, cheaper tickets, a healthy No. 1 goalie, and pretty much all looks like it did before.

No franchise in the greater FW/d wants to flush 2011 down the toilet any more than the local ice hockey team.

Losing to Columbus? At home? By three goals? In case you didn't know, the Blue Jackets are not only still in the NHL, but its worst team.

The Stars followed that stink bomb Thursday against the Blue Jackets with a 4-2 victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Bruins to finish the year.

We are months away from the playoffs, but once again the Stars are on the fringe. Granted, third place in the Western Conference is separated from 15th place by approximately 0.3 points, but for once it would be nice if the Stars had semi-secure footing for a playoff spot.

The reasonable explanations why this team has been playoff-less for three consecutive seasons are pretty much gone.

For the sake of their fan base, and primarily the morale of their own players, new Stars owner Tom Gagliardi must give general manager Joe Nieuwendyk the go-ahead to make a deal, take on some salary, and add a player who will push this team into the playoffs.

"This group of 23, we can get there if we are healthy," Stars captain Brenden Morrow said. "If we wanted to shock the hockey world with an acquisition, I guess we could do that. The last few years around the deadline it's been whether Joe is going to move [goalie] Marty Turco or [center Brad] Richards. When you add someone it can be a shot of confidence from management. When you don't do anything, or you unload a guy, it can be kind of a Debbie Downer type of deal."

The NHL's salary cap is $64 million, and the Stars' payroll is $51 million. They are 26th in the league in payroll. If my math is right, this is enough room to add a goalie, a defenseman, a center, a winger, a caterer, a massage therapist and, because the GM is a dog guy, he can add a rescue puppy, too.

The trade deadline is about two months away, so there is plenty of time to do this without it being a panic-button move. To think this team can get to the playoffs sans an acquisition is a risk not worth taking. The team is well aware of the perception battle that remains a daily fight.

"Not making the playoffs wears on everybody," Morrow said. "We need to do it. We need to get the Dallas Stars back in the sports pages again."

The Stars are better than they were this time one year ago. But goalie Kari Lehtonen is not God, and he can't be asked to cover this team's weaknesses every night.

Nieuwendyk should be commended for keeping this team competitive despite the lack of an owner until recently, and despite the loss of Richards the team is deeper at forward and defense. But coach Glen Gulutzan badly needs a top-six forward, preferably a winger who can score for a power play that is approximately 1 for 342 this season (I may have made up that stat).

Perhaps it is finally time to move center Mike Ribeiro for ...something. They have been trying to move him for years, and it appears that no one wants him.

The Stars have assets to deal, primarily in net in Richard Bachman and a few prospects in the minors.

But while I sit here and play God and move both players and money that are not mine, Nieuwendyk does have a serious problem when trying to land Rick Nash or Jarome Iginla, or 90 percent of the Anaheim roster.

Maybe only four teams -- one is Columbus -- are under the impression they are already merely planning for next season, meaning no one player of note is available. As much as GM Joe may want to do a deal now, this is going to be a last-second acquisition.

But unlike last season, or the one before that, or the one before that one, he can actually acquire someone.

Read between the lines on what Morrow says, "If we're healthy."

No way is this team going to be healthy in two days, let alone two months, or three and a half months when the playoffs finally begin.

But GM Joe has to get a player. Morale insists that it be done.

We are in a new year, and the excuses are gone.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @MacEngelProf

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