Mac Engel

July 8, 2014

Big Four in title slump, but one team ready to break out

The Dallas Stars seem to be in the best position to the end the championship drought.

This will not be remembered as “The Golden Age” of sports in these here parts.

Since DFW became a four-sport town in 1993, when the Stars arrived from Minnesota, success has never been perfectly aligned for all four teams.

The Cowboys were up. The Mavericks were buried in a layer of irrelevance that would be unfathomable to any soul born after 2000. The Stars were building. The Rangers were competitive but had the great misfortune of playing (and losing to) the Yankees every time they made the playoffs.

Since 1993, all four have had their chance to win a title, and only the Rangers remain without the big trophy.

Although the Rangers made off-season moves to “go for it,” our best bet for a big-boy title is hockey. To win a title in the other sports will, for the time being, require great fortune, even better health, and one hell of a lot of prayer.

Here is a look at the overall state of health of our four favorites along with their championship chances:

1. Dallas Stars

Even if you are not a hockey fan or only pay attention during the playoffs, start by looking now. The Stars lost to the Anaheim Ducks in six games in the first round of the postseason, but this team is loaded for a run.

Players such as Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Valeri Nichushkin, Cody Eakin and Antoine Roussel are not even 25. Defenseman Alex Goligoski finally looks like he can at least semi-justify the trade that saw the Stars send James Neal and Matt Niskanen to Pittsburgh. Stars GM Jim Nill already has had one of the best off-seasons when he acquired top-line center Jason Spezza in a trade with Ottawa and then signed his winger, Ales Hemsky, to be his linemate on the Stars’ second line.

Benn is one of the best two-way players in the game, and Nichushkin has as much pure offensive skill as Mike Modano. Maybe more. He’s only 19.

They are still in need of an upgrade on their blue line, and goalie Kari Lehtonen still has yet to win a playoff series in his career. The Stars’ top minor league affiliate won the Calder Trophy, and the team is stacked with prospects. The Stars’ window, much the way it was in 1997, is open now.

Title chances: 2015

2. Dallas Mavericks

The Mavs’ title chances are more about LeBron James than Dirk Nowitzki.

The Mavs blew up their 2011 NBA title team because management was convinced that “bringing the band back together” would not work. The end result has been predictable — a pair of first-round playoff defeats and one season with no playoffs.

They continue to bank on building through trades and free agency, which has left superstar Dirk Nowitzki with a roster that can compete for the eighth seed in the Western Conference. The addition of Monta Ellis last season gives this team a reliable scorer for Dirk, but it needs a point guard now that Jose Calderon was dealt to the Knicks as part of the deal to bring back Tyson Chandler.

Coach Rick Carlisle is good enough to make sure just about any team remains competitive forever, and Chandler already makes this team better defensively. The Mavs need a competent wing that can score and a decent sixth man. Dirk turned 36 in June, and this will be his last season as a top player. That alone makes this team a threat.

Title chances: 2015

3. Texas Rangers

This team’s window, built through young players that resulted in consecutive World Series appearances, is closed. To think it could remain open by paying fat contracts for free agents is a move that, thus far, looks terrible. Rather than contend, the team is in a fight with Nolan Ryan’s Houston Astros for last place in the American League West.

In defense of Rangers general manager Jon Daniels, the starting rotation that was projected in January was good enough to contend: Yu Darvish, Derek Holland, Matt Harrison, Martin Perez and Colby Lewis. But injuries have wrecked this rotation, forcing the team to reshuffle every pitcher on the roster.

No team with the types of injuries this rotation has suffered — season-ending departures of Harrison and Perez plus a long absence for Holland — can expect to do much.

Daniels, however, may have panicked in his effort to rebuild an offense that in hindsight looks better on paper. The off-season additions of outfielder Shin-Soo Choo and Prince Fielder — and their seven-year contracts — were enormous gambles that may not have been worth it.

The best way for the Rangers to reopen their window is through a scouting and player development system that had been producing quality players. Joey Gallo will be in right field for the Rangers in 2015.

Because of injury, JD gets a pass in his first year sans Nolan. But if this team does not win next season, this mess is on him.

Title chances: 2016

4. Dallas Cowboys

No team sells “We are championship-caliber” any harder than the Dallas Cowboys, but at this point only the most diehard fan and Cowboys supporter not named Jones could believe what they are selling.

The Cowboys did indeed have a title window in the post-Jimmy Johnson era — 2007-09 — but all they delivered was one NFC East title and one playoff win.

Under coach Jason Garrett, the team has drafted better but has been 8-8 in each of the last three years. And no playoffs.

A team that once was defined by championships is now OK with contending for playoff spots.

The offense is competent but is led by a QB who had two back surgeries last season. If Tony Romo holds up and the defense improves at all, the Cowboys can contend for the playoffs.

Title chances: Don’t ask.

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