Stars disperse for the summer
One day after returning home from Vancouver following their gut-wrenching defeat in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Dallas Stars gathered at their Frisco Dr Pepper StarCenter practice facility for their final team meeting. There was a sense of sadness in the air as the players cleaned out their lockers, packed up their gear, and said goodbye to teammates, some of whom will possibly not be back next year.
They then went their separate ways far sooner than any had planned to as the reality sank in that 2006-07 is officially over for the Stars and the off-season has begun.
"It's never easy, we're all disappointed, but when you're that close and you get it to a Game 7 and you come back from 3-1 down, it stings more," said Marty Turco, who became the 13th goaltender in NHL history to register three shutouts in a playoff series, and just the second one to lose that series. "It's very disappointing, and, personally, I just wasn't ready for it to be over."
"It's frustrating," added center Mike Modano, who scored the game-winning goal in Game 6. "It's been tough the last couple of years, leaving early, earlier than we expected. It's tough, it's hard, it makes for a long summer."
Many lamented their lost opportunity to complete their valiant comeback from a 3-1 deficit and the fact that they squandered a 1-0 lead in the second period of Game 7.
"I think any time you get into Game 7, it can go either way," said center Stu Barnes, who tied for the club lead points with four (one goal, three assists). "I think the important thing is not to get yourself in a situation where you're down 3-1 like we did, because at that point, everything has to go right for you to win the series, and it almost did. There was a lot of grit and a lot of battle in those games, getting close to having a chance to win the series. It's disappointing."
"It was disappointing," echoed winger Eric Lindros, who returned from a 20-game absence due to a groin injury to make an impact in the last three games of the series. "I never, going into Game 7, thought we were going to lose. I never prepared myself to feel that. I thought we were going to win, I really did. I thought we were going right to Detroit (for the second round)." The Stars felt they deserved a better fate. The team had an excellent regular season and went through a ton of injuries and distractions along the way.
"As a team, we felt like we accomplished a lot through a lot of adversity this year," said coach Dave Tippett. "We felt like we completed hard, and we needed that extra step to get into Game 7 and find a win. It's disappointing we didn't get it done."
"We were a much better grit team this year than we have been in the past," noted Barnes. "Getting through everything throughout the season and battling made us a better team in the playoffs and we battled to get over the hump in the playoffs, it was just a little bit short. Obviously, we're disappointed playoff-wise, but there were a lot of positives throughout the year as well."
While players who already have contracts for next season expect to be back, others who are becoming free agents are not as sure, and everyone recognized that the club that takes the ice next October will probably look different.
"Obviously, it's possible," Turco said of the likelihood of personnel changes, "but whatever we have here, we'll start it up. It's a long year, there's going to be change period, whether it's the exact same team or different guys. But whatever team I'm a part of, it's going to start now in the summertime, talking about it, working at it, and day one (next season) when we get together, it starts as a team. Things are going to be different, regardless of whether the team's the same or not, just from what we've gone through."
"I don't think this team needs to change too much, but the reality is, it's going to," noted veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor, an impending unrestricted free agent on July 1. "That's a sad thing, but it is, that's just the way things go. The team will change, and obviously, the management is going to look at what we need to do. That's a part of it."
So what will the players do now? Well, some will remain in North Texas, others will go back to their off-season homes elsewhere. Most will take some time off just to relax and recuperate from the grind of a tough series. "Just rest," replied captain Brenden Morrow, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime of Game 5, when asked what he will do over the next few days. "The family sacrificed a lot in the playoffs, so just spend some good, quality time with them and heal up and take a week or two off, and start getting ready for next year."
"Probably just catch my breath, like everyone else," Barnes said. "It's a long season, a lot of hockey, a lot of traveling, and you just kind of sit back and let the bumps and bruises heal, and then look to start turning the corner and start training again for next year."
For players like Lindros and winger Matthew Barnaby, both of whom endured long stretches on Injured Reserve this season and will become unrestricted free agents in July, whatever they do will include re-evaluating whether they even want to continue playing.
"I'm not going to be sitting on my head or anything like that, but at the same time, I'm going to take some time to think about it," Lindros said of his future, while also indicating his immediate plans called for more recreational activities relating to fishing up in Ontario. "I'm just going to relax a little bit, head home and cut some boards, build some docks. I'm going to learn about generators and that stuff."
"I'm going to sit down with my family and talk it over," said Barnaby, who missed the final 38 regular season games and the entire playoff series with a concussion, and who indicated that he would consider playing only in Dallas next year.
Speaking of injuries, some players need more time to heal theirs, including defenseman Sergei Zubov, who was forced out of Game 7 Monday night due to a sports hernia suffered in Game 6. He revealed that his ailment required surgery to repair and that he would undergo the procedure as soon as this coming weekend.
"I can't even describe it," Zubov said of his frustration at not being able to play in the most important game of the season. "Obviously, Game 7 - what else is there? I was unable to make it, so it was disappointing for me." Turco said he didn't know what he was going to do. Nothing was on his agenda because he figured to still be playing.
"Well, I don't have any plans," Turco said. "My wife asked me the same thing. I just wasn't ready for this to be over, and I still feel like that."
It was disappointing for all Stars fans. The off-season begins and the Stars are sure to look at every angle to make the team better in 2007-08, which will be here before we know it.