FRISCO, Texas – The Dallas Stars traded captain Brenden Morrow, then dealt away points leader Jaromir Jagr and Derek Roy with a focus clearly on the future.
Except the young Stars playing now still have a chance to make something happen this season.
Just more than two weeks after completing those trades, a stretch that includes a five-game winning streak, Dallas is still in contention to make the playoffs for the first time in five years.
“It’s been exciting. It was tough losing the players that we did, but I think we came together as a group, especially with the young guys coming in,” fourth-year centre Jamie Benn said. “I think we’re a younger, better, faster team and we’re just going out there and having fun.”
When the Stars wrapped up practice Wednesday, they had six games remaining in the regular season and were 10th in the Western Conference. They were only two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot.
“We’ve responded great,” said Stephane Robidas, one of only two players remaining from the Stars’ last playoff team in 2008. “The easiest thing would have been to fold. You look at what the young guys did coming in, they gave us like a boost of energy.”
The Stars’ five-game winning streak ended with a 5-2 loss at Chicago on Monday night, a game tied 2-2 in the third period. That was just less than a month after a seven-goal loss at home to the Western Conference leader.
Dallas plays Roy’s new team, Vancouver, at home Thursday night. Goaltender Kari Lehtonen is expected back in the Stars’ lineup after missing almost four full games with a groin injury.
That is the first of four games in six days—the rest on the road, at St. Louis, Los Angeles and San Jose. The Stars will end the regular season with home games against Columbus and Detroit, the teams directly ahead of them in the standings right now.
The Stars traded the 41-year-old Jagr and surging centre Roy on April 2, the day before the NHL trading deadline. That was just more than a week after Morrow waived his no-trade clause to go to Pittsburgh from Dallas, where his rookie season was 1999-2000, when the Stars were Stanley Cup runner-ups a year after winning the championship.
All three veterans will be unrestricted free agents at the end of the season.
Stars President Jim Lites, in an open letter to fans, expressed the difficulty for teams “at this time of the year is weigh their chances of competing for the Stanley Cup against the existing market place for veteran players, particularly veteran unrestricted free agents.”
Dallas got two young prospects from Boston, along with a second-round pick that could become a first-rounder this summer if Jagr and the Bruins advance to the Eastern Conference finals. The Stars got a 23-year-old defenceman and a second-round pick for Roy, and the Penguins sent a young defenceman for Morrow.
“We know we are a stronger franchise today … and built for the future,” Lites wrote.
After Morrow was traded March 24, the Stars lost three of their next four games. That included a 4-0 loss to Anaheim the day before separate deals involving Jagr and Roy.
Ray Whitney, the 40-year-old left on the Stars’ roster, said it looked as if it could be a “long month” to end the season after those deals were made.
“It’s mostly the young guys to be honest,” Whitney said. “‘Young guys come in and they play a certain way. They play hard and fast, and they play determined, and they changed the dynamic of your team a little bit.”
Alex Chiasson was called up from the Stars’ AHL team after the trades for his NHL debut. He had six goals and an assist in his first seven games, but hurt his shoulder in the Chicago game and is out of the lineup now.
Even if the Stars don’t make the playoffs, they are finding out they have some quality pieces moving ahead.
“It’s exciting to have the youth that we have around here, and the future is looking pretty bright for the Dallas Stars,” Benn said. “We really want to get in (the playoffs), that’s our goal obviously. It’s given us confidence that we can win these games with this group of guys. It’s going to be exciting down the stretch here and for years to come.”