Say what you will about the Stars' current season standings. They might once again continue their perennial placement on the bubble of the playoffs - perhaps they may even continue the playoff-drought that Stars fans have endured for half a decade now. But, to say that they haven't moved forward since last season would be a farce, despite sitting in the same positions they found themselves in seasons past.
As a Stars fan not living in the center of the Metroplex that they call "[url="http://defendingbigd.com"]Big
D", (I live about an hour and a half South of Dallas) I am not privy to local feeds when the Stars occasionally give the local Dallas channel a Saturday night game. In addition to that, I am also forced to use a cable provider who doesn't offer Fox Sports Southwest PLUS, when the main FSSW is airing a Mavericks game. So I often find myself watching the opponent's feed on Center Ice and I get to hear what the other teams broadcasters think about my team on a regular basis.
In the past, there wasn't much to latch onto with the Stars. Their identity was as non-existent as the colors in their jerseys. The solid black uniforms were as void of color as the Stars were of an persona. This usually came through either by breaking the Stars team into different pieces and parts and commenting on them separately (e.g. "The defense is quick", "goaltending is strong"
. And you rarely heard the same thing from one broadcast to the next.
There isn't much about watching the other team's feed that is pleasant. Especially when you are spoiled by the excellence that is Ralph and Razor during Stars broadcasts. But, you do get to keep a pulse on the wrist of the NHL when it comes to how your team is viewed by their peers.
This year, the void is gone. Everyone has various things to say, as broadcasters get paid to provide filler. But one common thread on the tips of each and every professional sportscaster's tongues is "fast". And while the team has certain had some turn over in the last 5 or 6 years, it isn't that speed is something newly acquired.
Now Ex-General Manager Joe Neiuwendyk may not have his job anymore, but he certainly did an above average job stocking the cupboards with young talent waiting for a spot on the NHL team. Through adept trades and deft drafting, GM Joe broad in all the speed one can handle and more. Combined with what the team already had and you have the building blocks for a very fast team. So, why wasn't this identity established sooner?
Enter Lindy Ruff. Perhaps you give Marc Crawford a pass, because his tenure still saw some of the speed bumps in a Dallas sweater. Players like Ribeiro - who for all his talent isn't exactly a speed demon - and some of the old guard who had yet to be relieved of their duty at that time. Then Glen Gulutzan for all of his pedigree, he mismanaged the team and never got them playing to their strengths.
Where both of the previous coaches failed, Lindy Ruff has succeeded. Having a fast team is a hard beast to tame. You largely end up sacraficing other facets of the game to concentrate on that attribute. That means you aren't going to be bruising like the St. Louis Blues. You aren't going to be defending the other team into submission like the Bruins. You have to use speed in every part of the game. You can't defend like Chara when you are Goligoski, after all. You have to defend with speed. Get on the other team so fast that they make mistakes. Turn the puck over in the neutral zone because you back check so quickly that the other team doesn't have time to enter the offensive zone.
And of course - use speed in your offensive game as well. Sounds easy right? Not so much. It's one thing to skate fast toward the other team's goaltender. It's another thing to make quick passes, make quick decisions and forecheck using quickness instead of brawn.
For once, this team has an identity that everyone in the league can see plainly. So, even if the Stars are sitting in 9th place, watching as the final playoff spot slips away from them once again... There is now direction and not only do the broadcasters around the league know that, so does Lindy Ruff and perhaps most importantly Jim Nill.
As soon as this young team figures out how to win, this league may not know what to do with what some people are already calling the fastest team in the Western Conference. A conference with teams like the Avalanche and the Blackhawks.
I personally look forward to it.