The Los Angeles Kings sneaked into the playoffs last year and won the Stanley Cup. They barely edged out the Stars for the final playoff spot. Therefore, the Stars and Kings are relatively equal teams. If the Stars sneak into the playoffs in 2013 they must have a similar chance of catching lightning in a bottle.
This, in a nutshell, is a common argument made at the end of last season when the Kings hoisted the Cup. Unfortunately, nothing about the argument resembles reality outside of the fact that the Kings barely sneaked by the Stars to claim the 8th seed out West.
In reality, the Kings were a much better team than their record suggested. The Kings were a dominant possession team who, for most of the season, struggled to score goals. That changed when the Kings fired Terry Murray. After he was replaced by Darryl Sutter the Kings improved significantly. The addition of Jeff Carter didn't hurt either. Derek Zona chronicled the changes at NHLNumbers:
To recap, the Kings, under Darryl Sutter, altered their system and style and that alteration changed the way the team executed with the same personnel. The forwards shot more often and from closer to the net and because of this scored more goals.
A team that was dominant, but couldn't score, figured out how to score. The Stars also couldn't score, but they weren't dominant like the Kings were. For the entirety of the season the Kings were the fourth best possession team in the league, usually generating 54% of the shots directed at net at even strength in any given game. The Stars were squarely mediocre, coming in 17th in the league at 49.5%.
Let's take a look at the last five Stanley Cup winners in terms of possession.
What we have here are the last five winners with their Fenwick number (shot percentage at even strength) and their league rank. In three of the last five years teams in the top four in shot differential have lifted the Cup. The two outliers are the Bruins and Penguins. That Penguins team rode a top ten penalty kill and the great man theory to the Cup with both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin over 100 points.
The Bruins are a much better comparable except for one thing: Tim Thomas. He carried the Bruins to the Cup with a historic season. We all love Kari Lehtonen, but Lehtonen last year wasn't close to what Thomas was when the Bruins won the Cup. We could get side tracked all day looking at past winners, but we should still focus on the Kings.
You could also simply have looked at the rosters of the two teams at season's end. The Kings depth is unrivaled in the league. The Stars were very thin. The Kings had at least seven players who could have played on the Stars top line last year. The Kings blueline, while not perfect, had more depth than the Stars. Jonathan Quick was better than Lehtonen. The teams might have been fighting for the final playoff spot, but it wasn't a fair fight for the Stars.
Fortunately we all know the changes the Stars made this past offseason. They addressed the depth issues as best as they could up front. Lehtonen is still between the pipes, and the defense should be better after having a full year in which to gel together. Make no mistake, the Stars are a legitimate playoff threat for the 2013 season.
Last year though, the far superior team rightly made the playoffs. If the Stars had managed to sneak into the playoffs the chances of them winning the Cup would have been incredibly slim.