In the 12 days since I spent 1500 words talking about the Stars and their need to be sellers on this trade deadline day, a few things have happened.
For instance, they lost their best player and leading scorer to a skate laceration and still await his return which could be less than a week away.
They also lost a back-to-back set of games the following weekend against the Coyotes and Predators. In the Nashville game, they conceded a back breaking goal with less than :01 to go in the first period. It seemed to be a thumbnail description of the season in many ways. Try hard while a piano falls on your head like in the cartoons.
So, when the Stars boarded an airplane for Montreal 7 days ago, the column still was 100% of my feeling about the direction that Joe Nieuwendyk should take as his phone rings this morning in Frisco.
Then, the last 7 days happened.
First, a 3-0 win in Montreal. Not the biggest win ever, and certainly not an opponent that has demonstrated a whole lot of resolve or quality, but a road win that looked like a complete performance given the absence of Benn and Brenden Morrow.
Then, a gritty 3rd period was needed for the ambush victory in Chicago against a team that is talented and playing their own brand of desperate hockey to attempt to qualify for the postseason. You don't want to get carried away about a 2-game winning streak, but it had been a while since the Stars had put back to back performances together. In fact, over a month.
On Friday, they would play yet another back-to-back where they had been 0-9-2 in such scenarios all season long. Could they finally end that trend and beat a Minnesota team that was in need of a win themselves? With great ease, they could, winning 4-1 and jumping into sole possession of the coveted #8 seed in the western conference.
Finally, yesterday, the Benn-less Stars would attempt to beat the #1 team in the National Hockey League as Vancouver came calling. They fell behind 2-0 to a team that never concedes leads and clawed all the way back up the mountain to score in the final minute and get the winner in overtime to boot. Beating a team that hammered them 4 times last season to the tune of 20-5 is no small accomplishment. The arena was rocking and the Stars had won their 4th consecutive game and had collected 8 very valuable points in one week's time.
As fate would have it, the NHL trade deadline would hit the very next day. Now, a clear decision to sell has been made murky by this unforeseen run of form from a Dallas squad that had not strung 3 wins together since early December. But, the team-game has rounded nicely into form and it appears the Stars in losing Benn temporarily has figured out how to play the proper style to earn points on a regular basis; a simple, rough, and dedicated team style that has 5 defending and then opportunistic and gritty in the offensive zone. Limit the easy chances for the opponent and capitalize when the game offers you a chance to cash in.
The Stars open their eyes this morning and find that they are sitting 8th in the West, but just 3 points out of 3rd as they now trail the divisional leaders in Phoenix. San Jose is 1 point ahead and Los Angeles is 2 points behind. To say that they are right in the middle of the race with 19 games to play is an understatement, and this is where leadership now have to make up their minds.
I said, "Sell, sell, sell". And most of me still says that you have to think about the big picture here and not get too carried away about one week where the team looks like it is playing so that everybody can stay together. I have really enjoyed seeing this team play this style and if it could sustain for 82 games and into the playoffs, I would totally buy in. But, this core has been in place for a while now, and we know that a great week is usually followed by a down week where they can't collect hardly any points because they just don't have the horses to compete in the long term (Payroll, talent, the usual bit).
Most of the attention here at the deadline revolves around two fan favorites: Steve Ott and Mike Ribeiro. If Ott goes, you deflate your fan base and maybe your dressing room in the short term. He is a big part of the heart of this team, and whatever you have left for a fan base that has bought what you are selling has a soft place in their heart for Ott. He plays hard and I have no doubt in my mind that he will be a huge add for any team trying to win a Stanley Cup. Is he irreplaceable? Not at all, but, I better get something awfully good to sell a guy who has given everything he has for the team that drafted him. If I can get some players well south of 25 years old that are part of my core moving forward for Ott, I have to think about it. But, I am not selling him off for fair value. I need someone to overpay for a guy who could be my captain soon.
Ribeiro is a different deal. The emotional ties for him are different than Ott. You don't see #63 jerseys everywhere you look. But, you do see his fingerprints on just about everything the Stars are accomplishing on offense right now. His performance with Michael Ryder and Loui Eriksson in February demonstrates how talented a center he is, and with Brad Richards long gone, it isn't as if the Stars have much in the cupboard at that position once you get past Benn. Ribs has his warts and he can be moody and a man on an island at times, but he also is a worthy player of his cap number and I do not feel compelled to move him along either for the sake of doing so. I think if you trade Ribeiro, then you are conceding any playoff chances this year, and that is why I don't believe he will be packing today.
Beyond that, as much as it hurts, I could see listening on a number of newer pieces. Sheldon Souray has been a good add, but if the Stars think this is only a 1-year fit, then you should trade him now if you can net an asset out of it. Ryder is on a 2-year deal, but with 25 goals already, could you flip him for a 1st rounder and a prospect? If so, you would take a lump now, but you might be happy you did down the road.
Or, do you go the safe route and do nothing. Let this team play their hearts out for the final 6 weeks and hope for the best? But, what is the best? Make the playoffs and get bounced 10 days later? Or, do you really think this team is a team that could go on a serious run in the post-season.
Maybe the biggest problem mediocre teams suffer from is falling in love with their own players. And as many wisemen have once said, "hope is not a strategy". You must collect talent, no when to hold them and when to fold them. You cannot make decisions based on one week of good hockey if you have been watching them as their general manager for 3 seasons. On the other hand, you don't make a move just to make one. Sometimes, the best move is the one you pass on.
Tick, tock. The clock expires at 2pm today. Many Stars fans are holding their breath. And the phone is ringing in Frisco.