So much has changed about the future of the Dallas Stars in the past 12 months then when the first round of the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs is complete, it will be hard to argue that members of any of the other seven eliminated franchises will feel better about how this season went.
That doesn't mean there isn't disappointment in Texas after the Anaheim Ducks defeated the Stars in six games in a Western Conference First Round series. Though the Stars had the fewest points of any playoff team, they played well enough against the Ducks to spring the upset and advance.
There were lessons to be learned from this experience, and a future with Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Valeri Nichushkin at the core of a contending team with general manager Jim Nill and coach Lindy Ruff in charge is one people in Dallas should be excited about.
Here are five reasons why fans of the Stars are focusing on that future instead of a second-round opponent:
1. Lack of discipline hurts
If the Stars had been able to spend more time at even strength, they might have a game Tuesday night or be waiting to play another team from California in a few days. Dallas was able to control the play when each had five skaters on the ice for large stretches of the series, especially in key situations and as it progressed.
The Stars had more than 55 percent of the shot attempts at even strength when the score was close in four of the six games and 63.4 percent for the series in those situations. That number was even greater until the last two minutes of Game 6.
Alas, Dallas took far too many penalties and allowed Anaheim's potent power play to erase progress made at even strength. The Ducks had seven extra-man goals, including four in Game 5. The Stars wanted to be physical with the Ducks, but they went beyond "the edge" too often.
2. Growing pains
This is an extension of the discipline problems. Ruff said the Stars "played like a young team" in Game 5. They outplayed the Ducks for long stretches and still lost 6-2. Ryan Garbutt was ejected for spearing Corey Perry, and Benn took a bad penalty early in the third period that led to a goal.
The Stars looked like a young team again in Game 6. They were unable to protect a two-goal lead in the final minutes, and failed to register a single shot attempt in that time and in overtime.
Dallas hadn't been to the playoffs in five seasons and this was the first time for a lot of players in that dressing room. At times, it showed.
3. Veteran aches
All of the blame can't be pinned on the Stars' youth. Some should be reserved for a few of the most veteran players on the roster. Sergei Gonchar, Ryan Whitney and Erik Cole were three of the eight highest-paid players in 2013-14, accounting for $14 million in salary cap space.
The trio combined for no goals and no points in the series. Whitney was a healthy scratch once. Cole was a healthy scratch three times. They were also the Stars' three worst possession players who appeared in more than one game. Each had a Corsi for percentage of lower than 45 percent despite all seeing sheltered ice time.
4. Goaltending troubles
Kari Lehtonen had a great season for the Stars, but he did not have a great playoff series. In games that he had a save percentage north of .887, Dallas won. Unfortunately, that only happened twice in six games.
That should happen more than twice in a series for any starting goaltender, let alone an above-average and maybe even elite one. The Ducks also had goaltending problems, but Jonas Hiller came to the rescue in Game 6.
5. Reinforcements still needed
Benn and Seguin are superstar talents. Nichushkin looks like he could be as well. Defenseman Alex Goligoski had a great series and looked like the blue line anchor the Stars hoped he'd be when they traded for him.
There are other promising young players as well. Still, this roster was not complete, compared to the top contenders in the Western Conference. Nill will have another offseason to continue to tinker. He probably won't need to make any seismic moves like acquiring Seguin, but a few additions to fill in the gaps around his young stars could make Dallas a very dangerous team in 12 months.
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