For most of the time the team has been in Dallas, the Stars have been known as a franchise built around defense. The great Ken Hitchcock teams of the late 1990's were built on defense and goaltending and Dave Tippett continued that tradition for the better part of the last decade. This style of hockey is something that Stars fans have embraced and become proud of over the years.
I even named this website, "Defending Big D", for a very good reason. This is what the Stars are known for.
This is also the style of hockey the Stars are playing once again. Low scoring games balanced with good defense and superb goaltending. After two years of trying to be more aggressive and "exciting", the Stars are showing success once again and this time there's a feeling around this team that these wins early in the season are more than a fluke. With a 7-2-0 record to start the season, the Stars are sitting on top of the Western Conference and have surprised the hockey world.
Imagine my frustration then, when this morning on NHL Home Ice on SiriusXM radio, the host of the show dismissed the Stars with a simple "They're boring. They should be paying people to come to the games. That's why no one is going to those games."
On ESPN Hockey Today, and not nearly as brash or as insulting, the show also discussed how the Stars weren't exactly playing the most exciting brand of hockey. They also acknowledged a large part of the team's success has to do with Kari Lehtonen and it was expressed they didn't believe the success was sustainable. To be fair, the shows I'm referencing from ESPN were recorded last week before the Stars finished their road trip 3-1-0.
After hearing the comments on Home Ice, after getting over my initial anger and indignation, I sat and asked myself if the Stars are indeed a "boring" team -- and if winning just isn't good enough any longer.
Since the start of the season, two teams in the NHL are exceeding any and all expectations. The Colorado Avalanche and the Dallas Stars have sat atop the Western Conference standings since the first game of the season and both teams have continued to win. As of this afternoon, the Dallas Stars are in firm control of first place in the Western Conference with seven wins and 14 points, and a chance to widen that lead tonight against Los Angeles.
Yet there's been a vast difference in national reaction to the success of the Avalanche and the Stars. While the national media is acknowledging that the Stars are winning (sort of), there's been an overwhelming excitement when you hear talk about the Avalanche. It's something I've found interesting as the season has progressed and the Stars continue to win and then today, when I heard the comments on Home Ice, it hit me.
The Colorado Avalanche are scoring a lot of goals. The Dallas Stars are not.
The perception is that the Avs are an exciting, high scoring team. They're destroying on the power play right now (that's true) and Matt Duchesne is one of the more exciting young players in the NHL. It's admittedly very tough not to look at what the Avs have done this season and walk away impressed. But this impression that the Avs are vastly outscoring what the Stars are putting out is not exactly true.
Currently, the Avalanche are 12th in the NHL in goals per game while the Stars are 21st. It's still early in the season so these numbers are going to take a while to average out but so far, it's not as if the Avalanche are suddenly the Capitals of the West.
Getting back on track, however, as we look at the contention that the Stars are a "boring" team.
This is something the Stars have had to deal with their entire time in Dallas. The Stars were used as an example of a boring team when the NHL was looking to add offense, saying that while the Stars are indeed successful they aren't exactly the most fun team to watch.
For those of us that have been long-time Stars fans, those teams that were so good defensively were part of what we loved about the team and about hockey. We were proud of the fact that the Stars led the league in penalty kill and goals-against average. The fact that the Stars were able to win the Jennings trophy on a number of occasions -- without a goaltender winning the Vezina -- was proof of just how good of a "team" the Stars were.
To finally win the Stanley Cup, the Stars had to turn to one of the more exciting offensive players to ever step onto the ice. He provided excitement, certainly, yet the Stars still had to deal with the moniker of the boring team.
Now we are back to the current season and what the Stars are doing through nine games. They're 4th in the NHL in goals-against and Kari Lehtonen is an early Vezina favorite. They're struggling to score a lot of goals, however, and are having trouble on the power play. Yet, the team is still finding ways to win against good teams and more importantly they're scoring big goals at the right time.
But does this mean the Stars are boring? What exactly is boring? Do teams have to consistently play in 5-4 games in order to be exciting? This is the debate that has been raging across the NHL world since the early 2000's, as the NHL attempted to add more and more offense so that the sport could become more exciting and appeal to the casual fan.
Unfortunately, the Stars don't have the luxury of having the ability to just add as much offensive power as they can. They even tried that for a number of years, spending a high amount of money to get more offense -- yet the team consistently struggled in big games.
For the past two years the Stars had tried to move on to an aggressive, high-scoring system. They just didn't have the players to compete at that level and instead of winning 2-1 games the Stars were losing 5-4 games and have now missed the postseason three straight seasons.
Unfortunately, all that excitement and all those goals being scored weren't enough to keep the AAC full. Turns out, at least in Dallas, the fans enjoy winning more than anything.
There's no denying that the Stars are in need of more talent at forward, specifically another dynamic scoring winger or a playmaking center. The Stars don't exactly have the most impressive pool of talent in the NHL but what they do have, they're winning with. Glen Gulutzan was hired because of his ability to adapt to the players he's given and to win games with them and that's exactly what he's doing so far in Dallas.
The Stars might not have the most awe-inducing roster, but they're winning and they're doing so consistently. What's amazing is that the Avalanche are in the exact same boat -- two teams at the bottom of the NHL Salary Cap chart that are on top of everyone else in the conference.
I'm also of the opinion that the Stars haven't been boring at all. They played in one of the most exciting games I've seen in a very long time against Los Angeles and the last game against Phoenix featured over 70 shots between the two teams. Perhaps the people saying this is a boring team just aren't watching long enough.
So is this "boring" thing really all that bad? The Stars tried to be more exciting for a while and it didn't work out so well; this season, they're playing better defense and they're winning -- yet apparently this just isn't good enough. For the fans in Dallas, they want to see their team win hockey games and it doesn't matter how that happens.