All things considering, 2011 will go down as a very special season for the Dallas Stars. Despite missing the playoffs for the third season in a row, there were a lot of great things the team could build on going into 2011-2012. Perhaps the most important aspect of 2011 was Vancouver businessman, Tom Gaglardi, securing ownership of the team. During several moments of overwhelming emotions, Gaglardi personified a passion that has sorely been missing from the “captain’s chair” since the team won the Stanley Cup in 1999.
This all came after the Stars missed the playoffs by (what I like to refer) as the longest thirteen minutes ever. That’s when the Minnesota Wild, perhaps extracting a little revenge for the Stars leaving Minnesota in 1993, began to pull away on the last regular season game to be played, and the Stars tied a league record for the most points (95) by a team that missed the playoffs. Of course, most fans will look back to the game versus the eventual Stanley Cup champion, Boston Bruins, back in February which was the team’s downfall. After spending most of the first half of the season on top of the Pacific Division, the Stars found themselves being sucked into a “vendetta” game when Greg Campbell’s gloves hit the ice before the puck found the center dot. Squared up against Stars forward, Steve Ott, Campbell sought retribution from what he perceived as a dirty hit two years prior. Perhaps it was after the fight, and his blood littered the ice, did Campbell consider the matter closed. Unfortunately, the Bruins did not, and at the end of the game, the Stars would be missing Adam Burish and Krys Barch (now with the Florida Panthers) for a significant period of time with injuries stemming directly from the fights that night. From there, the Stars were scrambling to fill injury holes and as a result, kept sliding down the standings.
At season’s end, the talk immediately turned to the future of Brad Richards. Having refused to waive his no-trade/movement clause, Richards became an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team that he wanted. This left the Stars with absolutely nothing to show for the time he was here…no draft picks…no players…no prospects. Eventually, Richards would sign with the New York Rangers, the team even the casual hockey observer knew he would sign with. With the freed up cash, general manager, Joe Nieuwendyk (who would soon receive a call welcoming him to the Hockey Hall of Fame) went out and filled positions that required attention: Sheldon Souray and Adam Pardy in at defense and gritty forwards Radek Dvorak, Vernon Fiddler and fresh off his Stanley Cup victory, Michael Ryder.
It wasn’t until the start of the season would the Stars sign perhaps Nieuwendyk’s best find outside of Kari Lehtonen, and it was all because of one of the most disliked and disrespectful former Stars ever: Sean Avery. The Rangers waived Avery to the AHL affiliate, Hershey Bears. Because Avery was still on the Stars books for half his salary, up until his waiver, half of his pay counted toward the payroll figure of the Stars. When a player gets assigned to the minors, they still receive their pay, however, it no longer counts toward the professional team’s payroll figures. This took the Stars below the payroll floor. At the same time, the Wild waived young forward, Eric Nystrom, who was called by the Stars. Nystrom was to have very little expectations. He may as well have been there to collect his pay, bring the Stars above the floor until another move could have been made. However, in just 30 games, Nystrom has set a career mark in goals (12) and has become the face of the moniker associated with the team this season: Pesky.
The year 2011 is ending just as it began: up and down. One week the Stars find themselves leading the division, the next week, they’re fighting to hang on to the eighth playoff spot. And how fitting is it that the team that almost single handedly destroyed the Stars chances at making the playoffs last year, will come to the AAC to close out the year and welcome in 2012? Perhaps, despite an emotional no-show last night versus the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Pesky Stars can pick themselves up, wipe the snow off their rear ends and gear up for the hottest team in the league and then in 2012, we can look to the Bruins as the team that spring boarded the Stars back into the playoffs.