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Stars approach trade deadline with fascinating future

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As the smoke cleared for the Dallas Stars (after streaming from CEO Jim Lites’ ears), the team has been riding great goaltending and Tyler Seguin’s brilliant work to maintain the playoff spot they were struggling to keep before that on-the-record meltdown.

While strange things could always happen, the most likely question won’t be if the Stars can clinch a spot in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but rather if they wrestle the Central’s third seed back from the Blues, or settle for a wild-card spot.

This brings up inevitable questions, then: should the Stars be buyers at the trade deadline, and if so, to what extent?

Stars GM Jim Nill told NHL.com’s Mike Zeisberger that he’s interesting in adding offense, yet Nill also admits that other teams are going after the same thing, and that the market is pretty unpredictable right now.

“We’re very open to anything,” Nill said. “I think there are a lot of teams, because of how tight things are in the standings, they’re waiting to see where it all goes. So over the next two weeks that’s something we’re going to watch. We’re very open to making a hockey trade if it’s going to make us better. If we stay in the hunt the way we are, we’re open to adding to our team.”

The Stars are in an interesting situation as it comes to the 2018-19 season, but the future could be even brighter if they make the right moves. Let’s analyze the situation.

Keeping the goals down

One thing that jumps off the page is just how great the Stars’ goaltending has been. Between Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin (plus two effective Landon Bow games), Dallas’s team save percentage is at an outstanding .923, compared to a league average of .908.

Is that the sort of thing that’s sustainable, though? There are a few arguments in favor of that continuing, and some points against it, too.

While the Stars tend to lose certain possession battles according to measures such as Corsi/Fenwick, they’ve been the seventh-best team at preventing high-danger chances against at even-strength, according to Natural Stat Trick.

The track records of Bishop and Khudobin are a mix, too. On one hand, Bishop’s had some great seasons, even if you ding him a bit for playing behind strong Lightning teams; meanwhile, Khudobin’s had quite a few strong years where he arguably should have been a starter or at least a 1B goalie on certain teams. The negative side is that injury concerns hover over Bishop, who’s a big goalie and is currently dealing with an ailment. Both goalies are 32. That’s not ancient, but as the league gets faster and more skillful, that number is more concerning.

The Stars have enjoyed goaltending success with Norris-level defenseman John Klingberg out for a chunk of the season, and with Miro Heiskanen needing to gradually earn more and more trust from his coach. It stands to reason that those young defensemen might provide even greater value as time goes on.

Goalies are unpredictable, and it’s tough for any group to play at the Stars’ level. There’s a decent chance they’ll be above league-average down the stretch, though — just maybe not to such an extreme.

A lane is opening up

There was a time when both Jamie Benn ($5.25M from 2012-13 to 2016-17) and Tyler Seguin ($5.75M from 2013-14 through this season) were dirt-cheap for the Stars, yet Dallas frustratingly failed to capitalize on such opportunities.

You’d think that the Stars would be doomed starting in 2019-20 with Benn currently on a long-term deal at $9.5M and Seguin about to begin an extension that carries a $9.85M cap hit, but this team could be in a shockingly strong position if they play their cards right. And get a little luck.

Between Jason Spezza ($7.5M), Marc Methot ($4.9M), and Antti Niemi‘s buyout ($1.5M), the Stars have a ton of bad money set to expire after 2018-19, and stinkers like Martin Hanzal‘s $4.75M evaporate after 2019-20.

When you consider the Stars’ -1 goal differential and other telling stats, it’s probably not the wisest idea to go all-in this trade deadline. Instead, Dallas could be in a very interesting situation if they decide to let the chips fall, although they could be excused if they went after a cheaper rental.

We’ve seen Matt Duchene with an acoustic guitar, so maybe he’d get on cowboy boots and settle in Dallas? Does Artemi Panarin consider Dallas the sort of city he craves? What’s Mark Stone‘s opinion about BBQ?

Maybe the Stars could be proactive and creative in doing a sign-and-trade to land a Panarin or Stone now, using Spezza’s big contract or something else to make the money work now. But the point is that the Stars shouldn’t settle for short-term gains when they could swing for the fences mere months later.

Yes, there are some worries. The aging curve seems to be hitting Jamie Benn hard already at 29. Bishop’s deal might not age well, since it runs through 2022-23. Despite some concerns, there are scenarios where things work really well for Dallas.

***

With Seguin settled, Klingberg on a bargain $4.25M deal through 2021-22, and Heiskanen’s entry-level contract running through 2020-21, Dallas has space opening up soon, without having too many big-ticket players to retain for some time.

Nill might feel like he’s on the hot seat, but for the sake of this franchise, hopefully the Stars don’t mess things up with panic trades, because some Texas-sized opportunities could open up very soon.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

After CEO’s criticism, Seguin leading Stars’ turnaround

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The most noteworthy thing to happen to the Dallas Stars this season came at the end of December when team CEO Jim Lites loudly and profanely criticized his team’s two best players, Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn, and pretty much blamed them entirely for the team’s underachieving.

In doing so he absolved general manager Jim Nill of any and all blame for the team’s shortcomings, and ignored the fact that even though Seguin and Benn were, at the time, having “down” years for their standards they were still by far the best and most productive players on the team.

It was an outrageous rant at the time, and it looks even more outrageous now that the Stars are sitting on fairly solid ground in the Western Conference playoff race thanks in large part to the play of their top players.

Specifically Seguin, who was one of the main targets in Lites’ off the rails rant.

Please do not misinterpret that point.

This is not a commentary about how the criticism inspired their top players to play better.

That is an insult to the motivation of professional athletes and ignores the fact that, again, they were already carrying the bulk of the weight for the Stars early in the season. It is also an insult to their ability as players. They were highly productive NHL players before that, and would have continued to be whether or not those comments were ever made.

Top-tier players have the hardest job, the highest expectations, and the most pressure. When they only fulfill even 90 percent of those expectations they are going to get criticized for underperforming, even if their 90 percent is better than most everyone else’s 100 percent. That is what was happening with the Stars through the end of December.

Seguin and Benn may not have been on their usual scoring pace, but they were still outperforming everyone else on the team by a substantial margin, while also outscoring and outplaying their opponents on a nightly basis. At the end of December when Lites sounded off, the Stars were outscoring teams 24-11 at 5-on-5 play when Seguin and Benn were on the ice together.

The Stars’ goal differential without either of them was a minus-14 (34-48).

Where was the problem again?

In the 18 games since then, Seguin, Benn, and Alexander Radulov have still been the most productive players on the team.

Even though Seguin and Benn have been split apart a lot more often and used on separate lines, they’ve still outscored opponents by an 8-4 margin when they are together at 5-on-5. Without either on the ice the goal differential suffers an eight-goal swing (minus-4 … four for, eight against) in the other direction.

Seguin alone has 22 points in the 18 games since then and has been absolutely dynamite on a line with Radulov and is now on pace to exceed his normal career average for points in a season.

Benn’s offense hasn’t quite picked up, but given how much time he’s spent away from Seguin and Radulov and has been asked to carry his own line that probably says more about the lack of depth the Stars have assembled than anything else. And that, again, falls back on the job of the GM for not assembling more talent around his two franchise players.

After all of that drama caused by the CEO the perception of the Stars immediately became that they were a dysfunctional mess of an organization and a sad-sack underachieving team going that was going nowhere instead of what they actually are. What they actually are is a team that has a handful of high-end, impact players in Seguin, Radulov, Benn, John Klingberg and an emerging star on the blue line in Miro Heiskanen that is probably actually overachieving this season.

The lesson to take away from all of this: Maybe don’t publicly put your best players on blast for ruining your season unless you have a damn good reason for it. Because those best players are probably going to be the ones that end up saving your season in the end.

If Lites was so eagerly willing to call Seguin and Benn “f—— horse s—” for what he thought was them underachieving earlier in the season, he should be just as willing to publicly thank them (and especially Seguin) for the added gate revenue his team will get for making the playoffs on their backs and saving all of their jobs.

More: Stars’ CEO ire should be directed at GM, not Seguin and Benn

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

 

PHT Power Rankings: Sharks are one player away

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We need to talk about the San Jose Sharks this week because they are looking awesome this season.

They do not have a single player in the top-20 in the league in scoring, and only one (Brent Burns) that is in the top-40. Despite that, they have seven different players that have already topped the 40-point mark this season (putting each of them on at least a 65-point pace for the season), an eighth that is already over 30 points, and then Joe Thornton casually hanging back with 26 points in only 44 games and still being a dominant one-man wrecking crew when it comes to driving possession (nearly a 60 percent Corsi rating this season).

So they are loaded at forward.

Their two Norris Trophy winning defenders in Burns and Erik Karlsson are playing at an elite level and they have at least one of them on the ice for nearly 45 minutes per night. So for more than two-thirds of the game their opponents are going up against probably one of the five-best blue-liners in the league. If Marc-Edouard Vlasic ever gets back on track and plays to his expected level the defense would look even scarier.

Overall, the Sharks enter the week with the sixth-best points percentage in the NHL (third best in the Western Conference) and look every bit like they contender we expected them to be at the start of the season.

They have almost everything they could possibly need.

The one thing they are missing? Goaltending. That has been the Achilles’ heel of this team this season as neither Martin Jones or Aaron Dell have played well at all.

Together, they have an .891 save percentage, a mark that is the third-worst in the league ahead of only the Florida Panthers and Philadelphia Flyers.

Do you have any idea how dominant and great the rest of your team has to be to get goaltending that bad and still be one of the best teams in the league? Just look at it this way: Of the 10-worst teams in save percentage this season the Sharks are the only one that occupies a playoff spot. Among the bottom-15 teams they are one of only three that is currently in a playoff spot, joining the Washington Capitals and Vancouver Canucks, and the Canucks are a fringe team that is only really still in the race because the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff field isn’t any good.

The Sharks are as good as it gets in the NHL and have everything they could possibly need to win it all except for, at the moment, a goalie. Whether it comes from Jones improving or a trade they are going to need to hope it gets figured out because that is the worst possible position to have a weakness at come playoff time.

The Sharks sit in the No. 4 spot in this week’s Power Rankings. Let us see where everyone else sits.

To the rankings!

The Elites

1. Tampa Bay Lightning — They have cooled off the smallest bit, but until someone does something to close the gap on them even a little bit they have earned their spot at the top of the list.

2. Calgary Flames — There is nothing to suggest that they are not for real. A legitimate Stanley Cup contender with an exciting young core that might be around for a while.

3. Winnipeg Jets — They haven’t been playing their best hockey lately, but they keep winning. That counts for something. I feel like I’ve been saying this for a while now but imagine how good they could be when Patrik Laine gets back on track

4. San Jose Sharks — Imagine how great they could be with better goaltending.

The Second Tier Elites

5. New York Islanders — They are 15-3-2 in their past 20 games! It is not always pretty, but they just keep on winning and collecting points. There is no way that Barry Trotz does not win the coach of the year at this point. There are still some red flags that exist here, but you can’t take away what they have done and the position they have put themselves in.

6. Nashville Predators — When they are healthy they are as good as it gets. Viktor Arvidsson has only played in 30 games this season and already has 21 goals. Filip Forsberg has only played in 37 games and is playing some of the best hockey of his career. Keep them healthy and this team can go far.

7. Toronto Maple Leafs — If you were one of the people arguing they would need to trade William Nylander for defense what was your reaction to them getting a top-pairing defender in Jake Muzzin without having to trade Nylander? Or any other key player in the organization? What a perfect fit for what the maple Leafs need both this season and next season.

8. Montreal Canadiens — The surprising success of the Flames and Islanders has overshadowed the job Claude Julien has done in montreal. With Carey Price starting to get back to being Carey Price this team could be a real headache for somebody in the first round of the playoffs. Or maybe the second.

Still Contenders, But Going Through a Slump

9. Pittsburgh Penguins — They are so laughably hot and cold this season, but when they are at their best they beat anybody as they did when they rolled over the Tampa Bay Lightning this past week. They can also lose to anybody, as their 2-6-2 record against last place teams this season reflects. They really need Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann to solidify their depth, though.

10. Vegas Golden Knights — I am still pretty high on this team and think that in some ways they are a bit better than their first season. They are not as reliant on goaltending, the first line has not been as good but the improved second line makes up for it. Little bit of a slump here recently but when you have rarely struggled in your first season-and-a-half in the league it is going to stand out when you do.

11. Boston Bruins — The top of the lineup is fine and the goalies have been great, but they have got to find some scoring depth to give them a shot in the stacked Atlantic Division playoff field.

12. Washington Capitals — Losing nine out of 10 games is not something we are used to seeing from this franchise in the Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom era. I still think it’s just a temporary speed bump and not yet a cause for real concern.

The Bubble Teams

13. Dallas Stars — They have only allowed 14 goals in their past nine games but are still only 5-4-0 during that stretch because they can’t consistently score and have gotten next to nothing offensively after Tyler Seguin and John Klingberg during that stretch.

14. Minnesota Wild — I still don’t fully know what to make of this team. I kind of like their roster, but I also kind of don’t. They are kind of good sometimes, they are kind of not good other times. Zach Parise is having a great bounce back season, and that certainly helps given that Eric Staal has regressed a bit. They will probably make the playoffs, but they will probably not go anywhere. Actually, when you look at all of that and put it together this is the perfect Minnesota Wild season.

15. Vancouver Canucks — Let’s be honest, their current position in a playoff spot is entirely due to the mediocrity that is surrounding them in the Western Conference. That is a fact. They are not even on pace for 90 points this season. But, they are there. They are in it. And they are in it despite Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser, their two best players, combining to miss 24 man-games due to injury. That has no doubt robbed them of at least a couple of points in the standings.

16. St. Louis Blues — Every year we see a team that gets crushed early in the year and then plays like a contender for the last five months of the season only to fall just short because of that terrible start. This might be that team this season. But they are certainly playing well right now.

17. Columbus Blue Jackets — It wasn’t that long ago that I was telling you not to sleep on the Blue Jackets this season and then … everything fell apart. They lost a bunch of games, Artemi Panarin might be on his way out, and wow did all of that escalate quickly.

[Related: Is it time for struggling Blue Jackets to make a move?]

18. Carolina Hurricanes — Nino Niederreiter has been exactly what they needed.

19. Philadelphia Flyers — If Carter Hart keeps playing like this he is going to make Flyers fans start to believe they have a goalie. Maybe they have reason to believe that. He has certainly helped them in the short-term.

20. Arizona Coyotes –– They deserve a ton of credit for hanging in this thing as long as they have given the injury situation they have had to deal with this season.

21. Florida Panthers — It is going to be intriguing to see what they can do this offseason with the newfound salary cap space they have created for themselves. Will the Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky duo be heading to Miami soon?

22. New York Rangers — They are playing hard, but the talent just isn’t there.

23. Buffalo Sabres — Being just a few points out of a playoff spot is progress from where they are coming from in recent seasons. Based on where they were just a couple of months ago it is bitterly disappointing. They are fading fast and just got lit up at home by a Blackhawks team that is going nowhere this season.

24. Colorado Avalanche — One line, again, can only take you so far. They are 7-15-3 in their past 25 games and falling fast in the standings. Such a promising start, too.

25. Chicago Blackhawks — The Western Conference playoff field being as weak as it is creates the illusion they might still be in it, but they need to start dumping as many contracts as they can to try and still get something out of the Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane era.

26. Edmonton Oilers — Five losses in a row, three of them to teams out of the playoffs. A rudderless ship going nowhere.

The Lottery Teams

27. Detroit Red Wings — With three wins in a row and five in their past seven games they clearly have not quit on the season. Just too little, too late. Do not ruin your Jack Hughes chances!

28. Los Angeles Kings — Finally, the rebuild seems to be underway.

[Related: Muzzin trade should be start of Kings’ teardown]

29. New Jersey Devils — With Taylor Hall a year away from free agency you have to wonder what his future in New Jersey is. He spent the first part of his career surrounded by nothing in Edmonton, then spent the second part of his career in a similar situation in New Jersey. Have to imagine he wants to take advantage of free agency to get to a team that won’t surround him with nothing.

30. Ottawa Senators — They might get a first-round pick or two for trading Matt Duchene and Mark Stone, but it’s not going to be the potential Jack Hughes pick they sent to Colorado to get Duchene in the first place. That is unfortunate.

31. Anaheim Ducks — I know the overall record for the season does not reflect this, and technically speaking they are still very much alive in the Western Conference wild card race, but somebody needs to tell me why they do not deserve the No. 31 spot this week. They have the worst goal differential in hockey at minus-39. They just lost 9-3 in a game where they gave up six goals in the first 18 minutes. They are an abysmal possession team and get absolutely caved in when it comes to allowing shots. They are boring offensively. This team stinks. Stinks!

More: Ducks fans call for Carlyle’s firing

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Beyond Pettersson: A look at the rest of the Calder Trophy field

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It has been a foregone conclusion for most of the season that Vancouver Canucks phenom Elias Pettersson is going to walk away with the Calder Trophy this season as the league’s rookie of the year. He has instantly transformed the Canucks’ lineup and at times been an unstoppable force when he is on the ice.

He is clearly the favorite and head and shoulders above the rest of the class.

Still, even with Pettersson’s dominance there are three other rookies in this class that are making a pretty strong push to at least make the discussion interesting.

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

Hart is a recent entry into the discussion, but he is making a pretty compelling case for himself with the way he has played since his mid-season call-up from the American Hockey League.

Not to overstate things, but he is probably the single biggest reason for optimism if you’re a Flyers fan because he at least has the potential — the potential! — to finally solve the long-standing problem in net. He has been a highly anticipated prospect ever since he joined the organization and his first look in the NHL has been everything even the most wildly optimistic Flyers fan could have hoped for it to be.

After backstopping the Flyers to a 3-1 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Monday night, he is now up to a .922 save percentage in his first 13 appearances and is top-10 among the 65 goalies that have played in at least 10 games. His .924 even-strength mark is 16th out of that group. Yes, it’s a smal sample size but for a rookie goalie to jump right into the mess that has been the Flyers’ season and settle the position the way he has is extremely impressive.

It’s been a decade since a goalie last won the Calder (Steven Mason did it in 2009 for the Columbus Blue Jackets) but if Hart can maintain this momentum through the second half of the season he will at least give himself a chance to counted among the finalists.

Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres

Defenders typically have an uphill battle for this award as only four of them have won it since 1990. Still, two of the top contenders this season are defenders and the best of the bunch so far has been No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin of the Sabres.

After years of near-misses in the draft lottery the Sabres finally had the ping-pong balls go their way this past year and landed the potential No. 1 defender their rebuild has been lacking.

[NHL Awards 2019: PHT hands out hardware at the All-Star break]

Dahlin has been tremendous from day one.

He is not only playing more than 20 minutes per night, he has been a positive possession driver (51 percent Corsi percentage) and showed superstar potential offensively. Entering play on Tuesday he has already recored 26 points in his first 48 games and is on track for around 45 points on the season.

As an 18-year-old.

In the history of the league only two defenders in their age 18 season have ever topped the 40-point mark. Phil Housley, Dahlin’s current head coach, had 66 during the 1982-83 season and Bobby Orr had 41 back in 1966-67.

As it stands right now his 26 points already the seventh-most all-time for an 18-year-old defender.

Miro Heiskanen, Dallas Stars

Then we have Heiskanen, who has probably been one of the few bright spots in what has become a tumultuous season for the Stars.

Given all of the injuries on the Stars’ blue line this season (John Klingberg has missed time, as has Marc Methot and Stephen Johns) they have thrown their prized rookie right into the deep end of the pool and asked him to play more than 23 minutes per night. That is three more minutes per game than Dahlin, and a workload that is almost unheard of for a rookie. Since the start of the 2005-06 season only seven rookies that have played in at least 45 games averaged more ice time per game. Five of those seven were age 22 or older in their rookie seasons.

Heiskanen is still only 19 years old.

To his credit, he has not looked at all out of place in that role. He already has 20 points (nine goals, 11 assists) in 49 games while the Stars have been on the positive side of the scoring chance and high-danger scoring chance differentials with him on the ice (via Natural Stat Trick).

The Stars have their flaws, and they haven’t always drafted well in recent years, but with Klingberg and Heiskanen they at least have the makings of a dominant duo on defense for the next decade.

More: PHT Power Rankings: 10 people that will impact the NHL playoff race

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

Will all this drama derail the Stars?

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The drama just never seems to stop for the Dallas Stars, although things do get kind of boring when this team actually tries to score goals. Worse yet, the Stars aren’t piling up PR losses alone any longer, as Dallas is now mired in a four-game losing streak.

The latest drama

Thursday presented the latest episode of “As the Stars Turn,” with embattled Stars coach Jim Montgomery deciding to bench Alexander Radulov – one of the team’s precious few actual scorers – for the remainder of the first period after an argument.

Such a tactic clearly isn’t about X’s and O’s, but instead about sending a message. If the message was sent, perhaps it was taken by carrier pigeon, as the results weren’t immediate. The Stars dropped a sad 2-1 loss to the lowly Los Angeles Kings on Thursday. During this span (all regulation losses), the Stars have scored a measly three goals. Total.

As Matthew DeFranks of the Dallas Morning News and others report, Radulov was able to cool off from his argument with Montgomery, eventually saying that his benching was “the right decision.”

Plenty of other people in the hockey world aren’t so easily convinced, and judging by Montgomery’s comments, even the coach might (deep down) have some second thoughts.

“Every decision we make is what’s best for the Dallas Stars, and at that moment, I thought that was best for the Dallas Stars,” Montgomery said. “When you’re struggling to score goals, it’s hard to do with a player of that caliber.”

In isolation, maybe Radulov did need to be reprimanded. The Athletic’s Sean Shapiro (sub. required) and others point out that Radulov had been drawing criticism for mental errors, including taking too-long shifts.

The questionable decisions and self-inflicted wounds really pile up when you look at the bigger picture, though. And that picture isn’t pretty.

Passing the buck

Ever since Stars CEO Jim Lites absolutely trashed Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn before the end of 2018, the Stars have suffered an almost unending run of embarrassing moments, and most of management’s wounds seem resoundingly self-inflicted.

After all, Lites went out of his way to throw Seguin and Benn under the bus, chiding bloggers to “write this!”

Since then, there’s been a steady stream of mistakes, and it doesn’t really seem like management is ever turning the discussion inward, at least on the record. Honestly, I almost picture Stars management transforming into Principal Skinner at some point.

Back in November, Montgomery discussed the Stars’ challenges in depth during a PHT Q&A, and it’s difficult to tell if anything’s changed for the better.

“Where we’ve got to get consistent is valuing our details that allow us to have success on nights when we don’t have legs. That’s where we have, I think, not embraced the process enough.”

All of the messaging seems to be about effort or “character.” Montgomery recently railed against a “culture of mediocrity,” but the thing is, that culture of mediocrity might just be plaguing the Stars’ front office more than the locker room.

This is a franchise that’s frequently failed when it comes to drafting, even whiffing on some crucial first-round picks. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn aren’t the ones who have bungled their way through a procession of three different head coaches in three seasons. GM Jim Nill and his staff were the ones who made mistakes like crossing their fingers that Martin Hanzal would somehow become a healthier player as he got older.

Maybe all of this bluster is an attempt to create a smokescreen around something that’s pretty obvious: management has failed to surround Benn, Seguin, Radulov, John Klingberg, and a few others with the proper supporting cast to succeed when they “don’t have their legs.”

Not hopeless yet

All things considered, it’s actually pretty amusing that the Stars would land in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs if they began today.

In fact, the Stars aren’t so far off from the Colorado Avalanche, who currently rest as the third seed in the Central Division (27-18-8 for 50 points in 47 games played, 21 regulation/overtime wins).

Sure, the West’s wild card races are starting to feel like that year in the NFC where the Seattle Seahawks made the NFL playoffs with a 7-9 record, but if the Stars can stumble their way into a playoff berth, maybe they should start to take a more positive approach?

After all, it sure doesn’t seem like anyone’s having fun. From a per-game perspective, the Stars are the third weakest scoring team in the NHL, but they’ve been able to grind out wins thanks to fantastic goaltending and pretty solid special teams work.

Walking such a tight rope can lead to frayed nerves, yet failing to support the players doing the balancing act may throw everything out of whack.

A four-game losing streak, and a tiny margin for error to maintain a playoff spot, sends a message. While management seems to believe that they need to push and humiliate their players, maybe they should instead provide them support with an upgrade in trades — and a pat on the back?

After all, their competition might be just as much of a mess, but they seem to get that memo.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.