Juggling winning and development falls flat in Texas Stars Game 2 loss

Derek Laxdal looks on during Game 2 against Rockford. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Derek Laxdal looks on during Game 2 against Rockford. (Photo by Christina Shapiro/Texas Stars)

Pick the circus cliché you’d like, it probably applies to coaching in the American Hockey League.

Juggling, balancing, or walking a tight rope — take your pick.

And just like the circus, a minor misstep or bobble can lead to the act falling flat.

That’s what happened in the Texas Stars’ 4-1 loss to the Rockford IceHogs in Game 2. In an attempt to juggle winning and player development, everything fell apart.

Texas coach Derek Laxdal dressed 11 forwards and seven defensemen in an effort to play Mattias Backman, Jason Dickinson, and Mattias Janmark in Game 2 — three players highly-ranked in the Dallas Stars prospect system, but had five combined games in a Texas uniform before Game 2.

For better or worse, that left Kevin Henderson, Matej Stransky, and Gemel Smith — three players that combined for 196 games this season — watching from the Cedar Park Center’s suite level.

It ended up being for worse.

The two-person fourth line, with a rotating forward double shifting from the top-three, played six minutes of five-on-five hockey. Janmark and Dickinson were non-factors.

Backman, who’s defense partner changed throughout the night, struggled and made questionable decisions with the puck.

There was a perfect microcosm of the problem midway through the first period. Janmark, Dickinson, and Backman were on the ice with Devin Shore and Julius Honka — a five-man unit that prospect prognosticators would salivate over — and they were penned in Texas’ defensive zone for almost a minute as Rockford dominated play. Jack Campbell eventually bailed out the young core with a glove save.

Now, was it the reason Texas lost?

No. Rockford has been the better team this series.

But, could an energy-producing fourth line of Henderson, Smith, and Stransky provided the spark Texas needed during a hellacious first period in Game 2?

Possibly, but it’s too late to find out.

Laxdal was asked about Janmark’s addition to the lineup after the game. And it sounds like Texas may forgo some of the “developmental opportunities” for a must-win Game 3 on Wednesday in Rockford.

“We wanted to get a look at him … we were sacrificing a guy who’s played a little bit more,” Laxdal said. “Moving forward here we’ll make a decision (for Game 3). Part of the process and part of the development model is getting these players in at certain parts of the year. And this is great development time for these kids.”

And that brings us back to the core question. What’s more important in the AHL — winning games or developing NHL players?

While Dallas would gladly demolish Texas’ roster if it meant winning a Stanley Cup, the big picture view has always been, “winning breeds development in the AHL.”

Unlike Minor League Baseball — where a manager once told me point blank, “I don’t look at the standings, I’m just worried about playing the kids,” — the Stars have a picture of the Calder Cup and the words “We win here,” on a wall in the locker room.

And Texas had a winning formula in the second half of the season. After hanging around the playoff border for much of the first half, Texas was a different team after Christmas.

Texas started games strong, finished hits — effectively — and used it’s collective offensive skill to create the perfect mix of blunt and sharp objects to dissect opponents.

Part of that mix was missing in Game 2. But who made that decision?

The coach is responsible for his lineup, and officially that’s how it’ll stand.

But consider the following: Dallas’ hockey operations department was at Cedar Park Center in full force Saturday. That group is also highly interested in the development and analysis of Janmark, Backman, and Dickinson.

It’s already hard enough to juggle, or balance, winning and development. It becomes even more difficult when someone else is telling you how to perform a tried and true act.

5 thoughts on “Juggling winning and development falls flat in Texas Stars Game 2 loss

  1. I believe testing developmental players along with black aces, during the playoffs is suicidal at best and most likely cost us the ability to continue onto the Calder Cup. There is a time a place for testing rookies. When you are on home ice, losing is a lot harder to the fans and to the players. Laxdal let his team and community down.

  2. It might be ok in a seven game series but our first round is a best of five and now a must win all three to continue to defend our cup. Without a doubt, Dickinson has been the better of the new guys and probably should get some playing time but leaving Gemel out was not a good idea.

  3. Development (Published here and at 100Degree)

    Seems to be a hot topic these days after all of us watching the last two Texas Stars playoff loses. I guess for me I fully understand the AHL serves the purpose of developing players so the main team at the next level (NHL) has players that are as close to fully ready as possible when they come to places like Dallas. I guess for me what I fully don’t understand is that development and the Calder Cup chase. Let me also say that none of this are any concerns with the players I mention, just the system.

    During last season’s Calder Cup Championship we had a few younger players that played a Black Ace role that never hit the ice. Alex Guptil is the first one that comes to mind. He signed late in the year out of Michigan but never played in the playoffs. Based on that and the fact that we made the playoffs, I was thinking now that we are in the chase for Calder we would go all out to win it.

    I’m guessing a guy like Greg Rallo signed here not only to keep his career going but to have a legitimate shot at winning the Calder Cup. I know Greg has had some NHL experience but let’s face it there are guys on our team and other AHL teams that will never get a taste of the NHL experience so for them winning the Cup is a BIG DEAL. I recently re-watched the Calder Cup post game celebration from last year and the sheer joy expressed by Hedden, Morin, Max and a few others told me winning that Calder Cup meant a lot so why take that opportunity away from this 2015 bunch or the fans?

    A lot of us season ticket holders and even the casual Stars fans went into this thinking this team was primed to at least compete for the Calder Cup again. It was going to be a more difficult climb then last year but Coach Laxdall had the team playing some very, very good hockey down the stretch. We all knew the Rockford matchup was the worse possible but we still had expectations that maybe we could grab two home wins and steal the series. To do that we needed to play the guys that got us there, Henderson, Troock, Stransky, Smith just to name a few. Again no offense intended but Backman, Dickinson and Jankman looked overwhelmed by the bright lights of the playoff stage.

    In Game 1 when Meech had to sit (congratulations on the new baby) why not play Mangene or Valentine (if he was healthy)? Certainly when Meech came back for Game 2 sitting Backman would have been much easier, just for the sake of dressing 12 forwards. Now I’m not the coach or GM so who knows what went into those decisions.

    I’m just a fan who invests a lot into this team, and I don’t just mean financially. I’m talking time and energy. I was in St. John’s last year and experienced the sheer joy of the Cup celebration. I’ve been on many road trips this year and have seen the team up close and know how competitive and what a great group of guys they are. No one will say anything out loud, but I can’t believe any one in that locker room will be happy with the way this season closes out (assuming we don’t win three in Rockford).

    I have tickets and may still show up to Rockford and I sure hope we re-think our strategy and at least give this great group of guys even a small chance for a three game sweep.

  4. What I don’t understand is that if you don’t win the game, then you don’t have future games to let these young players experience the playoffs. Maybe put in one per game and rotate, but if you don’t win, no one gains the experience from the playoffs.

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