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Despite playoffs, Stars won't change plan

The Dallas Stars played a crucial game in their history on Saturday when they started what they hope will be a historic comeback against the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. It is historic because the Stars have lost every playoff series in which they have trailed 3-1, which was the hole they found themselves in against the Ducks.

The Stars believe they have a real chance to win in these playoffs, despite trailing the series 3-2 after a 4-1 win Saturday.

Under their present ownership, the Stars have been among the top spenders in the NHL. However, unlike the New York Rangers, the Stars have turned that money into success, winning the Cup in 1999, and being among the league's elite teams through a generation of players.

This season, the Stars have a payroll of over $60 million, loading up during the offseason acquiring Bill Guerin at roughly $9 million per season from the free agent list via the Boston Bruins.

As much as anybody can earn that sort of paycheck, Guerin provided the Stars with a terrific regular season. However, a late-season thigh injury left him out of the first round, and has limited him in his return against the Ducks. The Stars also saw coach Dave Tippet scratch highly-paid forward Pierre Turgeon, who was also acquired two years ago as a free agent.

Now, with teams such as Detroit, Colorado and Toronto all dispatched in the first round, you have to wonder if any ownership in Dallas will again use the big pay check in much the same manner.

While Colorado, Detroit, et al, sit by and watch as the last top-five payroll team finds itself on the ropes, teams with far lesser payrolls, such as Ottawa, Minnesota and Anaheim, are rolling along.

However, if you are thinking of enormous changes for the Stars, that would not seem to be in the making, even with a first-round effort. In the first place, there is the built in alibi that they ran into the hottest athlete on the planet in Anaheim goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who had already taken care of the Red Wings.

Second, they are not faced with a large number of unrestricted free agents, and will probably lose only Ulf Dahlen via that route.

Derian Hatcher? He'll turn 31 between the end of the playoffs and July 1, during which time he may also be awarded the Norris Trophy, for which he's been selected as a finalist. He's due a hefty salary and all indications are that the Stars will find a way to pay him.

Goalie Marty Turco, who set a modern day record with a 1.72 regular-season GAA and sports a 1.77 GAA entering Game 5, is set to become a restricted free agent, with arbitration rights. The Stars would like to sign him to a long-term deal, but it won't be easy with the expiration of the CBA next September and an uncertain financial landscape on the horizon.

Dallas is not at a stage to tear everything apart. Remember, the murder/suicide of Ken Hitchcock and Bob Gainey is still fresh. The Stars followed that season, in which they did not even make the playoffs, with a highly successful one, even though it may only be the regular season.

Thus, while you might see Colorado go for a final run at the Cup in the last season of unrestricted spending, you are not likely to see the Stars chase names such as Teemu Selanne or Sergei Fedorov in the summer of 2003.

Al Morganti covers the NHL for ESPN.