An ugly stretch of hockey has put the Dallas Stars in a precarious position, namely, on the outside of the playoff picture looking in.
The Stars are 4-10 in their last 14 games, sliding all the way to the 12th spot in the Western Conference standings. At this point, four teams (Nashville, Anaheim, St. Louis, Minnesota) stand in the way of a Dallas playoff berth.
Maybe the Stars make the playoffs, maybe not, for the first time since 2002. It doesn’t look good at this point, though, and the Stars have to jump four teams in 10 games.
Regardless of their ultimate fate this season, the Stars will look long and hard at head coach Dave Tippett this off-season. These things tend to happen when a team with sky-high expectations misses, or even almost misses the playoffs.
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Obviously, Tippett won’t receive Coach of the Year honors at season’s end.
The Stars are 33-31-8 this season, a season in which Dallas was supposed to be banging it out with Detroit and San Jose at this point. Failed expectations lead to unemployed coaches, usually sooner than later. But this is hardly a clear-cut case.
Tippett has weathered a tough season with respect to just about every aspect of the game. The trials started shortly after the season began and haven’t slowed in the months since.
First was the Sean Avery experiment, an ugly, short-lived relationship that most of us, presumably, would just as soon forget about altogether. Avery was average at best in his time with Dallas, and his presence was no aid in what proved to be a borderline-unwatchable beginning to the season.
After Avery’s "sloppy seconds" remark, Tippett quickly force-fed the embattled star a slice of humble pie before leading the Stars out from under the shadow of that silly non-story.
But the Stars’ struggles are hardly limited to whether or not NHL players enjoy a mouthy winger’s sloppy seconds. In fact, the pre-game remarks can be considered the least of the Stars’ worries this season.
The fact that the Stars’ were in serious playoff contention as late in the season as they were speaks to Tippett’s abilities, because, at the end of the day, the Stars team he is coaching barely resembles what Dallas was supposed to look like.
That is, captain Brendan Morrow has been gone, for all intents and purposes, all season. That is, Sergei Zubov, the heart of the defense has been out most of the year with a hip injury.
Basically, expectations mean nothing compared to the unforeseeable obstacles of an NHL season.
Read: Brad Richards missing 15 games with a fractured right wrist, only to come back for 15 minutes before suffering a spiral fracture in his left hand.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is your metaphor for the 2008-09 campaign, and it’s as ugly and frustrating (and painful) as the season itself.
If the Stars miss the playoffs, it will be a disappointment to say the least. But in an age where NHL coaches are hired and fired for sport, Tippett has (probably) earned another year, with a better, healthier squad, to get back into contention.