This article is part of an ongoing series titled “The Plight of Dallas Sports Teams Since 2000,” in which I take a look at each of the four major Dallas sports teams and reflect on their playoff struggles, ultimately investigating the causes of their woes.
Since their move from Minnesota in 1993, the Stars have taken Dallas by storm and the fans have fallen in love with the team. Right off the bat, the team made an impression on the city by finishing in the top 5 spots in the standings almost every year. Led by impressive young talent such as Mike Modano and a strong head coach in Ken Hitchcock, the Stars culminated the 1990’s with their first (and only) Stanley Cup win over the Buffalo Sabres. Ever since then, however, the Stars have come close but have not been able to replicate the power and speed of the 1999 Cup team.
In 2000, the Stars rode the momentum of the previous year’s championship all the way to another 1st place finish in the Western Conference and another shot in the Stanley Cup Finals. This time they faced the New Jersey Devils but couldn’t hang on as they lost the series on a double-overtime goal by Jason Arnott in Game 6. (Ironically, Arnott would later become a Star; also ironically, the Stars had also won their Stanley Cup championship in Game 6 in triple overtime the year before.)
Looking forward, the Stars attacked the 2001 season, finishing 1st in the West for the third straight year. Although fans were hoping that the team would make their third straight Finals appearance, their hopes were dashed in the 2nd round when Dallas was swept by a strong St. Louis Blues team.
For the first time in a while, the Stars struggled in the 2002 season, as coach Hitchcock was fired and replaced by Rick Wilson and the team fell to 4th place, missing the playoffs for the first time in five years.
After a disappointing season, Dallas looked to make some changes in order to bring back the success of the past. They brought in Dave Tippett as the new head coach, and Marty Turco replaced Ed Belfour behind the pipes. The trades and work in the offseason paid off, as the Stars finished the 2003 season once again with the best record in the NHL. They faced the Edmonton Oilers in the Quarter Finals, and after finding their way into a 2-3 rut, the Stars dug deep and won three straight games to advance to the Semi Finals. There, they faced their rival, the Anaheim Mighty Ducks. In an action-packed series, the Stars ultimately fell to the Ducks in six games after a tie-breaker goal scored by Sandis Ozolinsh with about a minute remaining in the game.
For the next three years, the Stars posted impressive records, finished in the top 3 spots of the standings, and made the playoffs, but failed to get past the first round in all three years. However, it must be noted that the ’04-’05 season did not take place due to an owners’ lockout.
In the 2007-2008 season, the Stars struggled early on, resulting in the firing of GM Doug Armstrong, but rallied throughout the rest of the season to finish 3rd in their conference, making them the 5th playoff seed. When the playoffs came around, the Stars caught fire, beating the defending champ Anaheim Ducks in six games in the opening round, shocking the NHL. The Stars then rode that momentum into the next round where they faced another division rival in the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks were no problem for the Stars, who swept San Jose in four games thanks to a goal by captain Brenden Morrow in the fourth overtime. As fans began to actually wonder if the Stars could make it back to the Stanley Cup Finals, their hopes were again dashed by the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings, who jumped out to a 3-0 series lead and eventually won it.
For the next five years, the Stars endured a playoff drought as they seemed to keep rebuilding and rebuilding. Two coaching changes (Marc Crawford and Glen Gulutzan), a GM change (former Stars captain Joe Nieuwendyk) and even a new owner (Tom Gaglardi) couldn’t help the Stars make the playoffs. Morale was at an all time low.
During the 2013 offseason, the Stars once again made some major changes, bringing in both a new GM in Jim Nill and a new head coach in Lindy Ruff. Ruff had actually been the coach of the Sabres when the Stars beat them to win the Cup back in 1999. Immediately, Nill made some major moves, acquiring Tyler Seguin from the Boston Bruins for star player Louis Eriksson, among others. With plenty of new faces, the Stars took on the 2013-2014 season and finished fourth in the redesigned Central Division, earning them their first playoff spot in five years. However, their playoff dream was short-lived, as Dallas lost to the Anaheim Ducks in six games.
In the 2015 season, Nill made moves once again, acquiring former Ottowa captain Jason Spezza. However, goalie problems plagued the Stars and they were unable to clinch a playoff spot.
Last year, in the 2016 season, the Stars quickly turned around from a disappointing season to finish first overall in the Western Conference, and they won the Central Division for the first time since 1998. With all this momentum, the Stars rallied into the playoffs, first facing the Minnesota Wild. The Wild were no match for the Stars and Dallas won the first round in six games, marking their first playoff series win in seven years. In the second round, the Stars faced the St. Louis Blues, and the two teams fought tooth and nail, forcing a game 7 in Dallas. Stars fans everywhere (including myself) flocked to the American Airlines Center to see the game of the year, only to witness a blowout by the Blues 6-1. This loss left fans heartbroken, wondering why they can’t make it back to the Finals.
And now we’ve reached the present day. With about twenty games remaining in the 2016-2017 season, the Stars sit at a meager 24-27-10, and it is looking like they will not make the playoffs.
Similar to the Mavs’ playoff history, it seems that the Stars have had plenty of opportunities to make history and win playoff series. They have had countless talented players over the years, but it always seems that these players fail to step up when the team needs them the most. Personally, I think the team’s recent playoff struggles were marked by an inefficient and inconsistent goaltender, not to mention the lack of a reliable backup. If I were the Stars, I would look for a more reliable goalie as well as more defensemen to anchor a defense that has been porous at best this year.
Overall, only time will tell when the Stars will win another Cup. In the playoffs, anything can happen, so the Stars will have to catch fire and come together in the postseason if they want to bring another Cup back to Dallas.