By Martin Iheke
The 2014-2015 NHL season for the Dallas Stars is over, but it did not go out without a bang. Stars captain Jamie Benn had a hat trick and an assist in the final game at home against the Nashville Predators to win the Art Ross Trophy (most points scored in a season) with 87 points. It was a consolation prize for all the Stars fans who attended the game or watched at home. Of course, the team is disappointed that they are not going back to the playoffs for the second year in a row. They scored the second most goals in the league at 261, but gave up 260 which put them fifth worst in the league. That has to improve next season or expect another playoff absence. Let’s take a look back on the disappointing season by going month by month:
The Stars got off to a slow start by losing the first two games of the season to two divisional opponents, and then proceeded to win four of the next five games before losing their last three games of the month. They also lost rookie defenseman Patrik Nemeth to laceration to his arm and would not return until March. The Stars finished the month with a 4-2-4 record.
The bad stretch for the Stars continued into this month when they lost the first four games. They would also lose another key player in forward Val Nichushkin who would have hip surgery. He did not return until early April. The only good news out of this month came when they signed forward Jason Spezza to a four-year contract extension. The team finished the month with a 5-8-1 record.
The Stars would have a better month especially from the middle to the end winning eight out of their last ten games to close out the month and year. Their record for the month was 8-4-0.
The Stars did not want a repeat of another bad January like the one they had last season. However, some of their losses were close ones as well as some heartbreakers. They finished the month with a 6-5-2 record.
This turned out to be a bad month for the Stars and pretty much sunk their playoff chances. They had trouble protecting leads, especially with two-goal leads only to lose them and the games. They also lost forward Tyler Seguin to a horrible hit from Florida Panthers defenseman Dmitri Kulikov. Seguin would miss the next three weeks. The Stars record for the month was 4-6-3.
Perhaps their best month of the season, the Stars looked like the team that we should have seen to start the season. The goaltending was solid, the defense was better and they were scoring goals left and right. Their record for the month was 10-5-0.
The ground was too much to make up as the Stars were eliminated from the playoffs before the game at the San Jose Sharks. They did finish the season winning their last four games as they finished the month with a 4-1-0 record.
The Stars finish the season with a record of 41-31-10 with a total of 92 points. That is one more than last year’s total and they made the playoffs. The Winnipeg Jets finished with 99 points which was good enough for the final playoff spot. That is crazy. It just goes to show you how difficult it is to win in the Western Conference especially the Central Division. Five teams from the division qualified for the postseason with four of them having over 100 points. The Colorado Avalanche finished in last place with 90 points. The Stars could have easily have made the playoffs if they were better against their division. They had an 8-14-7 record while everyone else in the division had a winning record. That has to be better next season. They also need to be better at home. Having a 17-16-8 record is not going to get it done. They were terrific on the road with a 24-15-2 record, but abysmal playing in front of some full houses at the AAC.
Obviously, there will be some decisions to be made concerning the coaching staff and personnel. I think they will have to make a change with some of the assistant coaches, particularly the goalie coach and the one who handles the special teams. Those areas were a negative for this team and it cannot be going forward. What do they do at goaltending? Kari Lehtonen regressed this season and I do not believe he can take this team to the next level. It will be interesting to see what general manager Jim Nill does this offseason with him. I think Jhonas Enroth should be brought back next season because of the way he has played down the stretch and he does not seem to get rattled when he gives up goals like Kari would. Defense is another issue. I am sure they will look to upgrade this position through a trade or free agency. If that is the case, who will go? I think Trevor Daley is someone who looks highly expendable right now.
I am sure there are other issues this team will address, but overall, the big question marks I mention is something the front office will have to improve for the Stars to take the next step. There is no reason for them to be sitting home again from this year’s postseason. They are young, big, fast and talented led by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Jason Spezza, John Klingberg, Alex Goligoski and Antoine Roussel as well as head coach Lindy Ruff. I really like this team and if they can make a few upgrades, I truly believe the Stars will be in contention for a deeper run into the playoffs next season. Stars fans….. the good days are certainly ahead.