Friday, January 28, 2011

It is a matter of verb tense

The Stars reach the All-Star break feeling pretty good about where they stand. And why not? They are sitting at 65 points and in 1st place in the Pacific Division. Nobody saw this coming. And as the calendar moves to February, they sit in the driver's seat.

I think we could talk about quite a bit from the first 50 games and feel good about where this organization appears to be heading. I think Joe Nieuwendyk had a vision in the summer time, and with almost no funds and limited resources to work with, he has been able to craft this hockey team into something that makes sense on the ice - which was no short order. Let's be honest, there has not been much to celebrate since the 2008 Western Conference Finals, and if you are even close to me in your level of optimism, you didn't think the Stars were going to return to the playoffs in 2011 when you considered the topic in August.

But, now, sitting on 65 points with 32 games to go, the picture is coming into focus. This squad, who has not eclipsed 90 points in either of the last two seasons, now look sure to do so. Last year, the #8 seed Colorado made the playoffs with 95 points. The #9 and #10 seeds (St Louis and Calgary) did not with 90 points a piece. The Stars had 88 and finished at #12.

Simple math tells you that if 95 is your magic number, you must find 15 more wins (or 30 points) in your final 32 games. It would take quite a collapse from that standpoint to miss, right?

So, make our plans for April, right?

Not so fast, my friend. (courtesy: Lee Corso)

This is my theme this All-Star Game weekend: Let's keep our verb tenses correct when discussing what is being accomplished (notice I don't say, "what has been accomplished"). When visiting with players, I always try to make that distinction between "proving your critics wrong" and "proved your critics wrong". There is a big difference there, and I think they all seem to realize that as awesome as it is to stay in a great spot for so long this season, it don't mean anything until you reserve one of those 16 spots into post season play and bring NHL Playoff Hockey back to Dallas.

I even am bothered with the idea of changing your goals. Catch Vancouver and Detroit and win the Western Conference! Get home ice! President's Trophy!

I don't want to hear any of that. In my opinion, you must keep your eyes on the prize and on your pursuers. They are in 1st place in the Pacific Division, but they are also on 10 points out of last in the Pacific. Hardly secure. The Kings and the Sharks have underperformed from their preseason projections, but they realize this thing is a marathon and not a sprint, and chances are pretty good that they believe with 30+ games to play, the Stars are still within reach. There have been no concession speeches from California just yet.

So much is great about what we have seen so far. The emergence of a very confident goaltender who is finally fulfilling his promise. A back-up goaltender who looks ready to play and contribute. A checking line that is proud and gritty. A top line that is a top line. A defense group that always knew they were better than their critics would concede. And on and on.

This is fun. (notice, I didn't say "this has been fun"). I am enjoying this very much. I think you are, too. I think the city is realizing what is going on here. But, nothing has been won. No critics have been proved wrong. No labels have been ripped off. This is a great spot. This is where you want to be.

Rest those bodies. Get a clear head. 32 games is a long stretch of the season. Some battles are scheduled that will be most intense. You have a head start on your adversaries, but no quarter will be given.

Keep that verb tense straight. We are still in the present tense. If things go right, then in April, we will move the regular season to the past tense, and focus on the future tense of the playoffs.

Proving the critics wrong.

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