Patrick Sharp

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Stars go deeper than rock bottom in Ruff’s ‘worst game’ with team

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At this point the 2016-17 season can not end fast enough for the Dallas Stars as they keep finding new lows in what has been an already disappointing season.

Things continued to get worse on Tuesday night when they were thumped by the Edmonton Oilers, 7-1, to run their current losing streak to three games, all of which have seen the team surrender more than five goals.

Reactions after the game were, to say the least, not pleasant, with the harshest criticism coming from coach Lindy Ruff when he said, via Mark Stepneski of NHL.com, that it was probably the worst game he has ever coached with the Stars, and that the the team “needs a lot more from the leaders of the team.”

Said Tyler Seguin, again via NHL.com, “I thought we hit rock bottom last game, but we got deeper tonight. We are going to have to find some pride here. We left our goalies hanging out to dry. It’s frustrating.”

It’s been a season long problem, and it only seems to be getting worse in recent weeks.

Some numbers to ponder about just how bad this team has been defensively:

  • Tuesday’s game was the third consecutive game the Stars have given up at least five goals in a game
  • It is the eighth time they have given up five goals since Feb. 1.
  • Their 3.29 goals against per game on the season is the worst in the league and the fourth worst mark in the NHL over the past five seasons.
  • Their penalty kill, which gave up another goal on Tuesday, has been successful on just 73.9 percent of its attempts this season. That would be the third-worst mark the NHL has seen since the 1990-91 season. Only the 1993-94 Ottawa Senators and 1990-91 Quebec Nordiques (two truly awful teams in NHL history, both playing in a higher scoring era) were worse.

The Stars’ downfall is one of the more surprising developments of the NHL season, especially after making it to the second round of the playoffs just one year ago. Part of it has been out of their control (like the rash of injuries that at times devastated their forward depth this season), but part of it has been self inflicted from a management perspective.

Their inability to address the goaltending issue over the summer and trying to once again roll with the Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen duo, combined with a defense that lost solid veterans Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers over the summer, has been a devastating blow to their season and it is showing up in the performance.

This isn’t just a bad defensive team, it has been the worst goal prevention team in the NHL and one of the worst in recent memory.

Now they head into another offseason where their coach is without a contract, they still have both goalies signed for another year at a combined salary cap hit of nearly $10 million per season, and have several unrestricted free agents (Patrick Sharp, Ales Hemsky, Jiri Hudler) and restricted free agents (Brett Ritchie, Radek Faska, Mattias Janmark, Jamie Oleksiak, Patrik Nemeth, and Esa Lindell) to deal with.

For a team that entered the season as one of the most entertaining teams in the league and a potential Stanley Cup contender it is a pretty drastic turnaround, and at this point it seems like it is going to take quite a bit of work to fix it.

 

Stars extend Cracknell, ‘a valuable member of our team’

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Adam Cracknell‘s in the midst of a career year — posting personal bests in games played, goals and blocked shots — and on Wednesday, Dallas rewarded the gritty veteran forward.

Cracknell has signed a one-year, $675,000 extension, the Stars announced. The deal comes after with the 31-year-old scored seven goals and 10 points through 53 games this season — averaging just over 10 minutes per night — and is a nice pay raise, up from the $600,000 he made this season.

“Adam stepped into our lineup this season and established himself as a valuable member of our team,” Stars GM Jim Nill said in a release. “He plays a heavy, physical game and has been steady and reliable for us all season long.”

It should be noted this gives Dallas a forward to expose at the upcoming expansion draft. Nill has several pending UFAs up front — Patrick Sharp, Alex Hemsky and Jiri Hudler most notably — and it remains unclear if any will be brought back.

A former ninth-round pick, Cracknell bounced around the league prior to this year, with stops in St. Louis, Columbus, Edmonton and Vancouver.

After missing 62 games, Hemsky expected back for Stars

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Dallas’ season might essentially be over, but that doesn’t mean players don’t have something to strive for.

Like Ales Hemsky, for example.

Hemsky, who’s appeared in just one of Dallas’ 63 games this year due to a hip ailment, appears likely to play for the first time since Oct. 22 when the Stars host the Isles tonight at American Airlines.

The 33-year-old’s injury is just one of the many that have, in part, derailed Dallas’ season. Mattias Janmark hasn’t played at all due to knee surgery, while the likes of Cody Eakin, Patrick Sharp, Jiri Hudler and the now-departed Johnny Oduya all missed at least 20 games with various ailments.

As mentioned above, Dallas heads into tonight’s action seven points back of St. Louis for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference, needing to jump three teams (the Blues, Kings and Jets) to get there.

So they’re pretty much done.

But as also mentioned above, Hemsky has quite a bit on the line.

In the last of a three-year, $12 million deal with a $4M average annual cap hit, he has plenty to play for over the 19 games. The most obvious thing is a new contract, given he’ll be a UFA on July 1, so he’ll need to show he’s 1) healthy and 2) still able to contribute offensively.

That last part is huge, given it came into question even before this hip injury. Hemsky had largely been a disappointment in Dallas prior to getting hurt, scoring just 11 goals in his first campaign and 13 last year.

 

Frustration reaching peak levels for Stars and their coach

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The Dallas Stars are one frustrated hockey team.

Last night’s 3-1 loss to the Wild was just their latest setback. Afterwards, the comments were telling.

“I don’t know if I have ever been through a stretch like this,” Stars coach Lindy Ruff said, per the Dallas Morning News. “That first period was puck possession, and we did a good job in all areas, and we come away with nothing again. The bounces aren’t going our way.”

“I’m kind of at a loss for words right now,” forward Patrick Eaves told reporters. “I thought we’ve been playing some pretty good hockey and not getting results. It’s just the way it’s going, but we’ll work our way out of it.”

The Wild opened the scoring with just one second left in the first period on a power-play goal by Ryan Suter. The Stars had dominated early on, but couldn’t beat Minnesota’s backup, Darcy Kuemper.

Dallas has now dropped six of its last seven and sits seven points back of Calgary for the second wild-card spot. With the March 1 trade deadline looming, it appears GM Jim Nill will be a seller. Eaves and Patrick Sharp are both pending UFAs who could be auctioned off.

It has been an extremely disappointing season for the Stars, last year’s Central Division champs. There was frustration even before the games started, with Valeri Nichushkin bolting for the KHL. Then came all the injuries, and the goaltending never improved either.

For Nill, it’s going to be a challenging offseason. He has to fix the goaltending somehow, but first he has to decide if Lindy Ruff is the right coach.

How quickly things can change in the NHL. Ruff was a Jack Adams finalist in 2016. Now he’s on an expiring contract, with no guarantee of a job next season.

No hearing scheduled for Niederreiter after Sharp hit

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Minnesota’s Nino Niederreiter isn’t scheduled to face a disciplinary hearing for his hit on Dallas’ Patrick Sharp on Thursday night, an NHL spokesman confirmed.

Niederreiter was given a five-minute interference and game misconduct in the late stages of the Wild’s 3-1 win.

The hit sent Sharp cartwheeling to the ice, though, upon replay, Niederreiter got his skates tangled with Radek Faksa prior to the collision. That appeared to send the Wild forward into Sharp’s path inadvertently.

As such, it’s not a big surprise the 24-year-old escaped supplementary discipline.

There was some concern about Sharp, who’s missed significant time with concussion issues this season and appeared to be shaken up on the play. Thankfully for him and the Stars, he appeared no worse for wear.

That said, Dallas head coach Lindy Ruff didn’t like the hit. At all.

“I just saw a pretty dirty hit on Sharp, that’s all I saw,” Ruff said following the game. “Cutting a guy’s knees out, that’s pretty tough.”