Following successful starts to 2016 that included playoff berths for both teams, the Dallas Stars and the Dallas Mavericks have taken steps back in the second half of the year, due in part to injuries and roster changes.
As the teams move into 2017, they are approaching the halfway point of their respective seasons. Both teams are sitting outside of a playoff spot to start the new year. The Mavericks have only missed the playoffs once in the past 17 seasons, but the Stars are no strangers cleaning out their lockers in April, having made the postseason only twice in the past eight years.
Even with their impressive 15-1 record of making the postseason over the past 16 years, the Mavericks have struggled in recent years. Since winning the championship in 2011, the team has yet to make it into the second round and missed the playoffs just two years after winning.
Mark Cuban’s ownership has had a remarkable impact since he bought the team in 2000, thanks in large part to the money he put into the franchise for improvements. However, Cuban’s money doesn’t prevent the team from making bad roster moves, which have been plaguing the Mavericks recently.
The trade for Rajon Rondo required the Mavericks to give up three depth players for a player that would end up not working well with the team and leaving in the off-season. The team also signed Amar’e Stoudemire, who only had a short tenure before leaving for Miami. Moves like these, combined with Dirk Nowitzki’s age, have put the Mavericks in an uncomfortable position.
They started the 2016-17 season off with the worst record in franchise history, going 0-5. They’ve had their share of injuries, which include Deron Williams’ hamstring injury and losing Dirk Nowitzki’s Achilles.
The addition of Harrison Barnes over the offseason has helped some, but the Mavericks still have a long way to go if they want to make the playoffs. At this point, that doesn’t appear to be the end goal for the season. The team has dug itself into a very deep hole that its unlikely to escape.
Cuban has been answering questions from reporters about whether the team is tanking for a high draft pick. He has denied any reports of tanking, as is standard practice, but the team isn’t making any moves to better themselves.
If the management was to move into rebuild mode, they would be likely to go after a new guard because it is a weak position for the team. Several big names are available in this year’s draft and they wouldn’t even need to win the first overall pick to grab one. As long as they drafted in a high position, it could be the big first step towards a rebuild.
The Stars organization’s two recent playoff berths came in the last three seasons. Last year, the team got off to its best start in franchise history and had the best regular season record in the Western Conference. New management and ownership have put money and effort into turning the organization around — both on and off the ice — with a combination of roster moves and rebranding. The work of the new management team is starting to pay off, but there are still growing pains.
It’s easy to pinpoint which growing pains are plaguing the Stars this season, particularly a string of injuries to key players, including Ales Hemsky and Mattias Janmark being out for the season, Patrick Sharp being in and out with concussion symptoms and Jiri Hudler missing weeks with a mysterious illness.
With the injuries piling up to top forwards and the departure of two major defensemen, Alex Goligoski and Jason Demers in the offseason, a lot of weight has fallen on the younger players in the system.
It’s given some of them the opportunity to finally shine, but it’s also come at a cost to player development. Head coach Lindy Ruff has elected to continue his system of healthy scratching young defensemen on a rotational basis for another year, leaving them sitting in the press box night after night instead of getting the opportunity to play and develop in the minor leagues.
The Stars have a plethora of problems to fix outside of injuries, most notably their reliance on a two-goalie system and their struggles in overtime. Both goaltenders have talent and Antti Niemi even has a cup ring from his time in Chicago, but they’re on the downswing of their careers and they struggle to be consistent for any long stretch of time. The team started out well when the new 3-on-3 overtime system was introduced last year, but that has changed dramatically this season with the Stars going 2-7 over its first 9 overtime games of the season.
A change in the narratives for both teams this season would be a great way to start the new year. While the Mavericks are unlikely to make the playoffs this year, the Stars spent most of December looking a little more like its former self as players returned from injuries, though they still had a few missteps including its first New Year’s Eve loss in six years. The Mavericks era of success with Dirk Nowitzki at the lead appears to be winding down and headed towards a rebuild, while the Stars look like a team ready to take the last few steps out of its rebuild and into cup contention.