Mac Engel

Dallas Stars continue their parade to nowhere

The Stars have a lot of money tied up in goalie Kari Lehtonen and defensemen Trevor Daley, left, among others. Both players are leftovers from Joe Nieuwendyk’s days as general manager.
The Stars have a lot of money tied up in goalie Kari Lehtonen and defensemen Trevor Daley, left, among others. Both players are leftovers from Joe Nieuwendyk’s days as general manager. TNS

For the ever-decreasing few of us who still care, April is no longer a time of hope but rather a moment of despair.

What should be the most enjoyable time of a hockey season locally, and the time when the bandwagon doors are wide open, instead is once again the point when it all crashes into a wall of apathy and resignation.

There are five games remaining in the season, and barring the most divine of interventions, the local hockey team will miss the playoffs for the sixth time in the past seven years. More than half of the NHL teams make the postseason, and the Stars still can’t make the cut.

All of those bold and big off-season moves made by second-year GM Jim Nill — namely adding Jason Spezza, Shawn Horcoff, Ales Hemsky — netted nothing. Nothing kills an NHL team like missing the playoffs, and no local franchise continues its parade down Loser Avenue like the Dallas Stars.

This time one year ago, the Stars were returning to relevance and forging a place back in the crowded sports landscape here. It was a fun and inspiring two weeks of playoffs that galvanized those who previously might not have been interested in the sport, or the team. It also reminded those of us who remember previous postseason runs about the brilliance of Stanley Cup playoff hockey.

I was a fool (again). I bought in because I wanted to believe that run in 2014 was the sign that this team was ready to contend, and merely the beginning of a window. It turns out it was an aberration.

Now, we have been handed another giant plate of disappointment by a franchise that sells hope like a motivational speaker and delivers like a politician.

No one could blame you if you don’t care. The Dallas Stars have officially become the Dallas Mavericks of the 1990s — a franchise burdened by bad drafts and wretched management.

In (minor) defense of current Stars owner Tom Gaglardi, president Jim Lites and head coach Lindy Ruff, they simply had no idea the mess left by one of the most celebrated names in this team’s history. Former GM Joe Nieuwendyk’s fingerprints remain too deeply embedded in this bad run to be corrected quickly.

Nieuwendyk’s decision to go all-in on contracts for goalie Kari Lehtonen and defensemen Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski, and the inability of this team’s scouts and coaches to draft and develop a competent blue line are keeping the Stars in a holding pattern of irrelevance.

Nieuwendyk also was smart enough to recognize the value of forward Jamie Benn, who this season has not been himself because he clearly has been playing hurt. How hurt we will never know, but this guy is better than what we have seen this season.

Nieuwendyk was also too blind to see what he did not want to see — the likes of Lehtonen, Goligoski and Daley are overhyped players who were put into roles for which they are not ideally suited.

This season is hardly all their fault, but for a trio that has been intact for so long, the sum results in their tenure have been disappointing for a franchise that once was defined not by just making the playoffs but going somewhere in them.

Since arriving from Detroit, Nill has made some splashy moves, one of which was brilliant — the acquisition of forward Tyler Seguin for Loui Eriksson is the best trade this team made since it dealt Kevin Hatcher for Sergei Zubov in 1996. Yes, that trade actually happened.

But Nill has not fixed the blue line, and he remains fixated on Lehtonen, likely because he has no other choice. At $5.9 million per season, Lehtonen is the Stars’ third-highest paid player and his contract does not expire until the 2018 off-season. That contract handed to him by Nieuwendyk remains a noose around the Stars’ logo.

Once again, those around the Stars are selling just how good their crop of minor league D-men is and how it will complement what is one of the best group of forwards in the NHL. Of course, they have been saying this for years. The names change, and the results don’t.

The latest “It” player is rookie defenseman John Klingberg, who does look like he is a genuine keeper.

It is April, and rather than talk about the playoffs, we are talking about another disappointing season and improvements that need to be addressed in the summer.

Five games remain for the Dallas Stars and they need make up a six-point differential in the standings just to catch the eighth seed. They will sell us hope when, by now, we know they will deliver like a politician.

Listen to Mac Engel every Tuesday and Thursday on Shan & RJ from 5:30-10 a.m. on 105.3 The Fan.

Mac Engel, 817-390-7697

Twitter: @macengelprof and The Big Mac Blog

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