The end of the Dallas Stars' 2013 season came and went, accompanied by all of the fanfare a playoff race affords all the way through the second-to-last game of the year, leaving us with (thankfully) little time to explore the ancillary issues of the day -Issues like the passing on of the Pacific Division.
Or at least the Pacific Division as we know it.
It was formed originally in 1992 to accommodate a major realignment, including adding the Anaheim Mighty Ducks as an expansion team. The period of time we'd most concern ourselves with looking back is, naturally, the time in which the Stars called it home, consisting of 14 seasons (15 years) spanning 1998-1999 through this shortened lockout campaign.
In that time frame, no matter whether the Ducks were "mighty" or not, the group consisted of Dallas, San Jose, Anaheim, Los Angeles and Phoenix, and it's now broken up with the new realignment breaking the Stars apart from those particular foes.
In consideration of it's passing (though it may go on in name) it seems only natural to boil the whole 15 years worth of blood, sweat and tears down to a trifling, paltry diminishment.
Which is to ask the trivial question: Who won the Pacific?
Falsifiability may be the best avenue on which to start such an exercise - Which is to say that it's fairly easy to say who did not "win the Pacific" first: The Phoenix Coyotes. They did not win their first Pacific Division title until the grouping's penultimate year, and won their first two playoff series in the process. It was a good year, but it doesn't compare to the other contenders.
The Los Angeles Kings, meanwhile, had won just a single playoff series before last season in 13 Pacific Division years, and have yet to win a single division title. Their exploits in 2012 were admirable, of course, and they appear on their way to an elongated period of contender-ship and prosperity - But history will likely record much of it as part of the new 4-division realignment so we'll skip them in naming our Pacific Division champion.
Anaheim experienced a period of dominance that was, for them, sorely interrupted by the lockout of 2004-2005. They went to the finals in 2003 on the strength of their goaltending, had a bad year after that but immediately returned to the conference finals in 2006, followed by taking the next step and winning their first Stanley Cup in 2007.
That's 11 playoff series in 4 seasons, a Pacific Division title and a Cup. A nice run, for sure. Pending their exploits this spring they could be in for an upgrade in this conversation, but for now I leave them on the outside of the main battle for lack of regular season success to match their post-season exploits, which surely out-stripe those of San Jose's.
It's really about the Stars vs the Sharks
When arenas went dark in 2004 there was little question who the king out west was. The Stars were ahead by a mile. When the lights came back on in 2005 the Sharks came for a visit on November 30th and things started to change.
I was sitting at the AAC with my father when it happened. The beer was purchased. The anthem was sung. The game was supposed to start. But it didn't. And then it continued not starting. It was persistent in its obstinance. Some Sharks were pulled off the bench and word started making its way around the arena that they had acquired Joe Thornton from Boston.
Though we didn't know it, the balance of power started shifting right then.
Ultimately The Stars did themselves little favors here in ending their run in the Pacific with five straight playoff-less seasons, it's true, but what they accomplished early in the relevant time period still vaults them to the top of the list.
They have five Pacific Division titles. The Sharks have six. The Stars won 11 playoff series in that time, the Sharks just won their 12th.
Dallas compiled a 44-32-10 regular season record head-to-head with the Sharks since the fall of 1998, though each team found the others' building to be quite inviting over the years. Each team won a Presidents Trophy (Stars - 1999, San Jose 2009).
While division foes the Stars went 2-0 in playoff series against San Jose. (3-0 if you count the year before the two got together as division-mates, where the Sharks' only post-season claim over the Stars was injuring Joe Nieuwendyk, which only made him stronger in the long run...)
The Stars had two Stanley Cup Finals appearances to the Sharks' none.
One Stanley Cup to none.
In the end we'd homerishly lean toward an emphasis on post-season success, head-to-head matchups and long periods of regular season dominance in making our selection which was of the foregone conclusion type, but there are good cases to be made here for either side.
What it really may boil down to is that this division was just flat out good, maybe the best overall in hockey for an entire decade. It sent 42 teams to playoff berths in 14 seasons, including a couple of years with four teams in the West's eight.
With the Blackhawks, the Blues and the ascendant Wild in the Stars' new mix they have their work cut out for them to duplicate their immense Pacific success. We look back at it fondly, good riddance though it may be.
But will this be the year the Sharks finally break though?