For the first time in four seasons and just the second time in the team’s eight-year history in Texas, the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason.
Texas finished the year at 34-37-1 and 7th place in the Pacific Division, the second worst record in the club’s history. They lost three of their final five games of the seasons and were outscored 21-11 in that span.
“It’s disappointing,” said captain Travis Morin. “We had higher expectations coming in. We had a lot of injuries up top and we didn’t have the roster we thought we would. The guys here battled and played hard every night. In the end, it wasn’t enough for us.”
The only other time the Stars missed out on the postseason was following the 2011-12 season when, much like this season, a wealth of young, unproven talent was thrown into the fire late in the year.
The following year, Texas rebounded, winning the South Division and making it to the second round of the playoffs. And the year after that, the Stars were the best team in the league and won their only Calder Cup.
“Sometimes you make yourself better by going through the tougher times,” Morin said. “Some guys were put in positions they weren’t ready for yet. They got the experience of playing big minutes. That’ll make them better in the long run. Hopefully, that can springboard these guys and the team to bigger and better things next year.”
Texas made a few trades near the deadline in February to try and make a late playoff push as 21-year-old defenseman Dillon Heatherington was brought over from Columbus and veteran goalie Justin Peters joined Texas from Tucson Roadrunner.
Peters started the majority of the games once he arrived, finishing the year with a 13-16-0 record and 3.10 goals against average. Maxime Lagace finished 11-12-3 in 32 appearances with a 3.56 GAA.
Mark McNeill was traded to Texas from the Chicago Blackhawks for defenseman Johnny Oduya. He played in 21 games with the Stars, scoring three goals with eight assists. Between, Texas, the Rockford IceHogs, and a one-game appearance in the NHL with the Dallas Stars, he played in 80 games with 33 assists and nine goals.
“I had the iron man thing going this year,” McNeill said. “I’m still a young guy though so my body held up alright. The whole processes new to me being traded and its as a whirlwind. I enjoy my time here and I love being in Texas.”
The Stars did set a new team record, scoring 14 shorthanded goals, which tied for the league lead.
But they struggle on other special teams, boasting the league’s worst penalty kill (74.7 percent) and ranking 27 out of 30 teams on the power play (14.7 percent). The Stars gave up 83 power play goals, eight more than any other team in the AHL.
“We wanted down ice pressure,” forward Austin Fyten said. “That was one of the reasons we had success getting shorthanded goals. But we were a very undisciplined team. It’s hard to win games when you’re killing a bunch of penalties."
McNeill, Denis Gurianov, Justin Dowling, Jason Dickinson, Julius Honka, Gemel Smith and Remi Elie all made got the call and played in the NHL after starting the year in the AHL with Texas.
Elie played in 18 games with one goal and six assists, Smith had three goals and three assists in 17 games, Dickinson had two goals in 10 games and Dowling had two assists with nine appearances in the top league.
“I waited a long time to play my first game (in the NHL),” Dowling said. “It’s nice knowing that the hard work pays off. There are times when you’re down here thinking you won’t get a call-up and you’ll be a minor leaguer for life. It was good to get that reassurance.”
As to what the Texas roster looks like next season is still unknown. Six players are currently undetected free agents, while nine other are restricted free agents, which require extra compensation in order to sign.
Morin is one of the six that are unrestricted. The veteran led the team with 55 points (21 goals, 34 assists) this season. He’s been with the team since it relocated to Austin in 2009 and is the all-time leader in games (543), goals (157), assists (310), and points (467).
“It’s still up in the air,” he said. “I want to be back and I’d like to be back and we’ll see what happens. I think I’ll have a contract somewhere. I’ll work like I’m going to play and get ready for the season. But I hope it’ll be here.”
Texas head coach Derek Laxdal had his contract renewed to keep him in Cedar Park for a fourth season. Up in Dallas, Ken Hitchcock, who coached Dallas from 1995-2002, was named as the new head coach in early April.
The NHL team will converge in Cedar Park for training camp ahead of the 2017-18 season in September. There’s no telling what the team will look like when that rolls around, but everybody in the organization will use the summer to work hard and make an impression on the new staff.
“This is a big summer for everybody,” defenseman Andrew Bodnarchuk said. “It’s big to come in and have a good camp and make an impression. Guys can get hurt up in Dallas so you really can’t take any time off because you don’t know when your name is going to be called. Things can happen quickly and you have to make sure you’re ready.”