(Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)
The Texas Stars are down 2-1 in their best-of-five first round series with the San Diego Gulls, and the season could come to an end with a loss in Game 4 tonight.
So, if the Stars lose tonight, how do we look at this season?
Is it a failure because Texas failed to get out of the first round?
If you look solely at the win-loss results you could make that case.
But, if you look at the bigger picture, this season was a success in Cedar Park — no matter how tonight’s game goes in San Diego.
It’s important to remember that the American Hockey League is a development league, and while winning is desired, the Texas Stars are just a cog in the Dallas Stars’ system that is after one thing — a Stanley Cup championship.
The Texas Stars key purpose is to prepare the next wave for the NHL club. That’s a combination of having the next player ready to go at a moment’s notice, while setting a foundation for the future.
And the Stars have done that this season. Radek Faksa and Stephen Johns are key Stanley Cup Playoff contributors while Brett Ritchie, Devin Shore, and Jason Dickinson have all looked comfortable when given NHL opportunity.
It’s a tough pill to swallow for fans in Central Texas, but that upward growth in Dallas has handicapped Texas’ ability to contend for a Calder Cup.
Simply put, you can’t contend for the Calder Cup and Stanley Cup in the same season.
Of the 10 teams to lift the Calder Cup in the since 2006, six of them had an NHL affiliate that didn’t make the playoffs. Two had an NHL affiliate eliminated in the first round (including Texas in 2014), while only two (the 2013 Grand Rapids Griffins and 2009 Hershey Bears) had their NHL affiliate win a first-round playoff series.
Of the finalists in those Calder Cups, six had NHL affiliates miss the playoffs. Two saw their NHL parent club bounced in the first round, while one reached the second round.
The lone example of near success? The 2008 playoffs when the Pittsburgh Penguins and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins each reached their respective finals and lost.
Here is the full list of the past 10 Calder Cup finals, and how the NHL affiliate’s season ended.
2015: Manchester (Los Angeles missed playoffs) vs. Utica (Vancouver lost in first round)
2014: Texas (Dallas lost in first round) vs. St. John’s (Winnipeg missed playoffs)
2013: Grand Rapids (Detroit lost in second round) vs. Syracuse (Tampa Bay missed playoffs)
2012: Norfolk (Tampa Bay missed playoffs) vs. Toronto (Toronto missed playoffs)
2011: Binghamton (Ottawa missed playoffs) vs. Houston (Minnesota missed playoffs)
2010: Hershey (Washington lost in first round) vs. Texas (Dallas missed playoffs)
2009: Hershey (Washington lost in second round) vs. Manitoba (Vancouver lost in second round)
2008: Chicago (Atlanta missed playoffs) vs. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (Pittsburgh lost in Stanley Cup final)
2007: Hamilton (Montreal missed playoffs) vs. Hershey (Washington missed playoffs)
2006: Hershey (Washington missed playoffs) vs. Milwaukee (Nashville lost in first round)
In the AHL playoffs teams are split by a very thin margin. Those players that have NHL experience or even better, Stanley Cup playoff experience, make a key difference like Shea Theodore and Chris Wagner had in Game 3 against Texas on Thursday.
Imagine if Dallas had lost to Minnesota in Round 1. Then Texas would be fielding a lineup with Johns and Faksa, two impact NHL players that would make an even bigger impact in the AHL.
So, how do we set realistic expectations of success for Texas in the future?
You can start with progression and development toward Dallas. Did the team in Cedar Park better the future of the franchise in Dallas?
After that did the Texas Stars make the playoffs?
If the answer to both of those questions is yes, then the season was a success. Calder Cup playoff wins are a bonus, but still secondary to supporting the NHL team.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dive into the mailbag.
He’s not in Texas anymore, but Stephen Johns has the best chance of winning the 2017 NHL Rookie within the Stars organization.
To be eligible for the Calder Trophy a player cannot have played any more than 25 regular season games previously in any single season, that would make Johns eligible next season after he appeared in only 14 NHL games this season.
If we look at Texas’ roster, Jason Dickinson has a good chance to make the NHL roster and would be the top candidate to win the 2017 NHL Rookie of the Year award. However I don’t think Dickinson would be in a position to put up the offensive numbers required to grab league-wide attention.
Devin Shore’s recovery from shoulder surgery is progressing nicely. He’s farther ahead than Radek Faksa was at this time last year with a similar injury.
I’ve been told Shore may be ready for Dallas’ development camp in July.
Still trying to get a complete read on Niklas Hanssen, so can’t project his long-term depth.
Right now he’s a young player that skates well and moves the pucks, but is still learning the North American game. And it’s shown in the first round against San Diego.
The Gulls aggressive forecheck has forced Hanssen into a couple key turnovers, including one that led directly to a goal in Game 1. Last time Hanssen and I talked he was still planning on playing in Sweden next season, but plans could always change.
Personally, I think it would be a smart decision to have him in the AHL next season. But, we will see what Dallas and the defenseman decide.
The problem with this exercise is Shore’s incomplete season.
He was very good — perhaps one of the best players in the league — before he got hurt. If we go off that, we could say Shore is a natural scorer and a true power forward that goes to the net.
However, would that hold up over a full season? Was it one hot month or was that the norm?
We’ll have to wait until next season.
Dickinson on the other hand really found his stride after Shore was injured, so we didn’t have a great side-by-side comparison. Overall, I’d say Dickinson is a better 200-foot player. He wins key face-offs, kills penalties, and can put the puck in the net.
I don’t see Travis Morin being involved in a trade anytime soon. But, Wayne Gretzky was traded — twice — so anyone can be moved, right?