It’s never too early for the second-guessing to begin when it comes to trades made or not made at this time of the season.
And so it goes for Dallas GM Joe Nieuwendyk. A day after sending his captain, Brenden Morrow, to the Pittsburgh Penguins for defensive prospect Joe Morrow, the Stars’ playoff hopes were dealt a harsh blow in a 7-4 loss to the red-hot Minnesota Wild.
The Stars began the day in eighth place in the Western Conference, but the loss, coupled with wins by Nashville and San Jose, dropped them to 10th place with 16 games left in their regular-season schedule.
That is life in the congested Western Conference.
Whether Brenden Morrow’s presence in the Stars' lineup would have altered the outcome is, of course, a moot point. There is no way to know, but it won’t stop people from wondering.
Perhaps among those who will wonder are the players in the Stars' dressing room. That is the challenge all GMs who decide to offload assets at the deadline must face: How will their team respond to the loss of veteran and/or talented teammates?
The very nature of making a deal like the one that saw Morrow moved is to look to the future. It doesn’t necessarily mean the Stars don’t care about making the playoffs at the end of April, but the move implies that management is casting its eyes forward.
The Stars had a 2-1 lead after the first period Monday but were outscored 3-1 in each of the final two periods. Was there an emotional letdown after Morrow, a gritty, popular player, was dispatched? Or does the team’s performance simply justify the decision to add younger assets?
In the case of the perpetually bubble-dwelling Stars, the answer is likely a bit of both.
One game does not determine a team’s long-range planning, and Nieuwendyk will have already sorted out in his mind what his next move is, if indeed there is another move to be made. Jaromir Jagr, who scored Monday night, is, like Morrow, slated to become an unrestricted free agent in July. So is Derek Roy, who added an assist in Monday’s loss.
Both players are no doubt garnering attention from rival GMs, given how few skilled forwards are available with the April 3 trade deadline a little more than a week away.
If the decision has been made that the team will not allow top players to walk away as free agents, as was the case two years ago when Brad Richards was kept in the fold but the team missed the playoffs and then Richards signed in New York with the Rangers, then it makes no sense to keep Roy or Jagr unless there is a belief they can be brought under contract.
Still, whatever Nieuwendyk’s plan is moving forward -- continue to strip down his roster and add more assets for the future, or hold firm and try to do what the team has not been able to do in recent years and sneak into the postseason -- it would have been a lot easier to sell had the Stars not done what they did Monday night.