Monday, April 28, 2008

Is Dallas The Cinderella Team For 2008?

For the last few years the Dallas Stars have been a solid playoff team, but not one good enough to be considered a serious Stanley Cup contender. In a good year, if they draw weaker opponents, they might win a round or two in the playoffs. In a bad year, they might get ousted in the first round. This year looked like it would continue the pattern. Although they had a hot streak down the stretch, they cooled off in time for the playoffs. When they drew the defending Stanley Cup champion Anaheim Ducks in the first round, it looked like a good bet that they Dallas Stars would be eliminated in the first round.

Surprisingly, Dallas eliminated the Ducks in six games. They moved on to play the San Jose Sharks. San Jose is the Pacific Division champs and is also favored to defeat Dallas. However, two games into this series Dallas leads 2-0. Both of their wins came on the road in San Jose. This is setting Dallas up to be the surprise Cinderella team of the 2008 playoffs.

Dallas's success comes from good play on the part of goaltender Marty Turco. Turco is one of the NHL's better goalies. He is a very good goaltender, but a step below the level of Vezina candidate. There is a ridiculous idea that he cannot win in the playoffs, largely because he has never been the goalie for a deep run in the playoffs, but this is largely due to the fact his team has not been a top contender. Turco has consistently played well in the playoffs over the years. Blaming him for Dallas's lack of playoff runs is a simplistic misguided idea. Turco is a very good goalie and he has played well in the playoffs this year.

Dallas's success also comes from a deep defence. They have performed surprisingly well when Sergei Zubov has been out with injury. Zubov played last night in his first playoff game this year and may take a while to get into mid-season form (in the playoffs he does not have the luxury of taking this time). With Zubov out, Stephane Robidas and Mattias Norstrom have played very well. Dallas has had a strong defence without Zubov and it should get better with his return. The potential issue is the play of Robidas and Norstrom. They are both playing their best hockey of the season. Is it reasonable to expect they can keep it up? If they cannot, Zubov and Philippe Boucher, who are both returning from injury might be able to relieve some pressure from them.

Their success is also due to solid play from their key offensive players. Mike Ribiero is currently tied for the playoff lead in assists with eight and second in playoff points with 11. Brendan Morrow, Brad Richards and Mike Modano are all also performing at point per game rate or better.

This is what a hot team looks like. Several players are performing at higher levels than they did throughout most of the season. Everything seems to be clicking. As long as that momentum can be maintained, Dallas should surprise some more people and will be very hard to eliminate. The problem is that it is hard to rely on players who are performing above expected levels. Given time, they will likely revert to expectation. If this happens, Dallas is likely overmatched by their playoff opponent.

The playoffs are a long tournament. It takes almost two months of playoffs to win the Stanley Cup. In order to be the winner, a team must stay hot the whole time. If they cool off they will quickly find themselves facing elimination. Right now, Dallas is hot. They have been a streaky team this season. If the hot streak continues, Dallas will be the Cinderella team of the 2008 playoffs. However, all too often things fall apart for a Cinderella team. The players playing above their norms revert back to expected levels. That leaves Cinderella lying in a field with a pumpkin and some mice wondering what went wrong.

The arrival of Brad Richards seems to have put the Stars "over the top" in terms of being constructed for a lengthy playoff run.

Consider the one-two-three punch of Ribeiro, Richards and Modano. Three completely different looks, all capable of torturing defenses in different ways and all three showing excellent defensive responsibility.

Modano gets shutdown minutes at even strength but can fully shine on the PK and PP, and he finally seems to have embraced this scheme. I have a sneaking suspicion that failing to get his buyin to this team concept was one of the reasons that Stars were in such a slump towards the end of the season. As we all know, he has occasionally shown signs of being a prima donna, or if you will, a priModano. But as he did in '99 when he played a large chunk of the playoffs with a fracture in his hand, he is stepping up to the plate and putting the team first.
Everything you say is correct, but I take exception to the term 'Cinderella' team. While they are playing better than some may have expected them to, they are a good hockey team and their season record proved it. They tied for 8th in league points, and finished 7th in overall wins.

Since the NHL awarded points for losing in overtime, several other teams have been more deserving of the 'Cinderella' tag: Edmonton in 2006 (tied for 13th in points; tied for 18th in wins); Calgary in 2004 (12th in points; 8th in wins); Anaheim in 2003 (tied 11th in points, 11th in wins); Carolina in 2002 (16th in points, tied 20th in wins). I wouldn't feel comfortable putting Dallas in a category with those teams (except maybe Calgary in 2004).

I see Dallas as a middle-of-the-pack playoff team, on the cusp of being one of the favourites prior to the second round. I don't know if that makes them a Cinderella. The only 'real' Cinderellas this year, I thought, would have been Nashville, Philadelphia, Boston and likely Washington.
1) We're sure you'll have more on this in a seperate blog piece, but just read that your boy Nicklas Lidstrom was overlooked in the Hart Finalsts announced today
2) Now while we have had a difference of opinion of whether Lidstrom deserved the nod over Ovechkin we DO agree that he deserved to be among the 3 finalsts.
Post a Comment

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?