There is some very tricky work being done in Dallas right now. The Stars are in a playoff position, but the vibe around the team is still a bit confounding. Nothing is going to top Jim Lites’ dressing-down of top players Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, but it was interesting to see coach Jim Montgomery pontificate on his team’s lack of will after a loss to St. Louis on the weekend.
And it’s worth noting that the Stars tweeted out the post-game question period: they’re not trying to hide this at all.
“Two games in a row where we don’t compete at a level that’s acceptable,” Montgomery said. “It’s everyone. And unfortunately, I’m very frustrated that I have not been able to gain consistency in our performance and I haven’t been able to change the culture of mediocrity.”
Culture of mediocrity, whoa! That’s not something you want to hear if you’re a member of the Dallas Stars and it’s certainly not something you want to hear if you’re a fan of the franchise, but clearly the organization is still working through some issues and the coach is telling it like it is.
I’m sure the players don’t like it right now, but Dallas management knows that this team should make the post-season after failing the past two years and there cannot be another setback.
Looking at the standings right now, it actually shouldn’t be that difficult: teams behind Dallas in the West include Anaheim, Vancouver and Edmonton. The Ducks are in even worse shape than the Stars and GM Bob Murray’s announcement that he’s not looking to fire coach Randy Carlyle is inexplicable (other than the fact they are really good friends). Vancouver is a fun story, but do the Canucks have the horses right now to push through to the 82nd game of the season? And Edmonton is Patient Zero for franchise dysfunction right now; only Connor McDavid can drag them into the playoffs and even then, something drastic must change up there.
But I see what the Stars are doing. This isn’t about other teams failing, this is about their team rising. Sure, Dallas may not have the depth of top-end Western teams like Winnipeg and Nashville, but they do have some players with elite ceilings in Benn and Seguin, not to mention a very good veteran scorer in Alexander Radulov. Radek Faksa is a great two-way threat. John Klingberg is the type of defenseman every team craves thanks to his puck-moving abilities, while rookie blueliner Miro Heiskanen is living up to billing as the real deal back there. Both goaltenders, Ben Bishop and backup Anton Khudobin, have been great this season.
Could the rest of the lineup use improving? Sure, but that’s the vexing part of the situation: Montgomery is worried about his team’s effort and that can’t be all on Benn and Seguin. Val Nichushkin failing to score a goal in the first half is more than troubling. Denis Gurianov failing to seize a full-time job is a concern. Help is coming in the form of 2018 first-rounder Ty Dellandrea, but the Flint Firebirds star won’t be coming this year. Will bringing in Andrew Cogliano from Anaheim (with Devin Shore going the other way) move the needle? Hard to see a big difference there.
I like that Montgomery is vocal already. He’s a rookie NHL coach, but found great success at the University of Denver by building a champion in just his fourth season with the Pioneers. He’s going for accountability in Dallas and as we’ve seen this season, that can sometimes ruffle feathers.
Did Lites go over the line with his screed? Sure. But Montgomery is trying to keep the heat on in a more measured way and it will benefit the team in the long run. Dallas should be a playoff team and a consistent one, at that. The Stars can’t afford to fall off in the next few months and their coach recognizes it. If they’re smart, the team will listen to him.