Subtly, slowly, effectively, a light is beginning to shine again in the NHL universe. Located in the central cluster of cities on the North American continent, a franchise is quietly putting itself back together again after a five year absence from playoff competition and countless false starts (along with the attendant coaching and managerial changes that go along with it).
The Dallas Stars (after a limpid start) have been gaining energy; becoming more radiant and confident; ready to compete anew in the NHL Central Division. Although they are presently in fifth place in the seven team division they are only six points behind the eighth seed in the Western Conference race. Not bad, considering the fact that the Stars (as a franchise) were the white dwarves of the NHL for the past five years.
What’s even more surprising is that they (as a team) are not particularly dominant in the tactical sense. Their offense, defense, and special teams are average. And yet they have won six of their last seven games with gutsy wins over Boston, Detroit, and Vancouver. They have climbed out of the black hole they fell into last month (where they flirted with the Central Division basement). They are getting solid offensive effort from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn; power forward Antoine Roussel adds muscle to the mix while goalie Kari Lehtonen ranks among the top ten in save percentage and GAA.
The questions that beg to be asked are this: is the redemption of the Dallas Stars at hand? Is the redemption of Lindy Ruff’s coaching career at hand as well?
Last season Ruff lost four points off his career value according to my rating system. His Average Season Rating suffered commensurately as well. When the Stars started slowly last month (and were flirting with the Central Division basement) the possibility that Ruff might be toppled from the top-fifty ranks was a clear and present possibility.
Now that seems (for the present) not likely.
Now Lindy Ruff (and the Stars) can focus on returning to NHL playoff competition. For Ruff this season can be a reaffirmation of his coaching greatness (which saw significant bruising during his last few seasons at Buffalo). After he was let go by Buffalo last season, it was my concern that perhaps his NHL coaching years had come to an end. When Dallas fired GM Joe Nieuwendyk and replaced him with former Wings Assistant GM Jim Nill, my initial view was that Nill would find a bright, young coaching prospect from either the Stars or Red Wings farm systems. Instead Nill hired Ruff (after Ruff impressed Nill with a dynamic, powerful interview). Jim Nill has not wasted time in making his presence felt. The acquisition of young phenom Tyler Seguin from Boston and greybeard blue-liner Sergei Gonchar has added fuel to the Stars’ celestial fire.
Obviously Lindy Ruff is eager to remind the NHL that his career is not over; that he still has an enormous amount to give to the Stars and to the game itself. Right now he is doing precisely that and in so doing he is giving the Dallas Stars a chance to give light and life to their long-suffering fans. We’ll probably be hearing more from this team in the months to come.