So long, Pacific Division. Your 9:30pm CST starts and late-night Staples Center meltdowns will live forever in the annals of Dallas Stars history. Where they belong.
Bring on the new Central Division.
Today we start the first in a series of "getting-to-know" our new neighbors/rivals with a look at the (already hated by some) Nashville Predators
and a search for their head coach's neck.
In the now five consecutive seasons Dallas has failed to make the NHL's postseason the Predators have taken their place four times, twice advancing to the second round. They've taken a punchline of an empty building and turned it into one of the better home-ice advantages in the league thanks largely to playoff appearances, showing what Dallas must do to re-gain the relevancy they crave.
A down season following the lockout, however, saw them finish dead last in the Central with just 41 points in 48 games.
Goal scoring was a huge issue for the Predators last year, and they see just 11 goals from the 2013 season depart in those four players. So no big loss there. Their incoming players potted 28 tallies last season, so the trade-off for them seems like a good one.
Then there's Seth Jones. The Predators were the big winners in the draft's first round as Jones fell into their lap after Colorado and Florida passed. Thanks to a new alignment the Stars will have to deal with this potential franchise-defender for the next 18-20 years. As for what he'll do for the Predators this season in particular? That's debatable. He'll have his golden moments and as a rookie he'll also have his regrets.
With Shea Weber just 27 years of age (seriously?) and Jones entering the picture the Predators find themselves with needing to find second and third pairing guys ONLY for the next decade+. It's an unimaginable luxury in a league constantly searching for competent top-pairing players. No one knows better than Stars fans post-Zubov. The consistency those two will provide to the Predators night in and night out is an immeasurable benefit.
So with Rinne in net and their blue line stacked with talent, not to mention the Barry-Trotz-way to back it all up, defense will continue to be the name of the game for the Predators moving forward. Their challenge continues to be scoring.
By most accounts the Predators overspent on mediocre forwards this summer, not the least of which was a four-year, $10 million deal for Eric Nystrom. The former Star, outside of a magical month of November(ish) in 2011 (10 goals), has scored 21 goals in his last 187 games. So that's a $2.5 million salary for someone projected to be about a 9-goal scorer over his typical 82-game performance.
Otherwise, Nystrom will play the Predator way and do it well. Defense first, penalty killing - He can do it, and he's a great character guy. A joy in the locker room, and already missed here. Stalberg is the more significant add, projecting to more of a 20-goal guy based on his work in Chicago. But was that an easier place to score goals?
Nashville traded for young Swede Filip Forsberg last year, and hope his ceiling is somewhere in the elite range where offensive production is concerned. He could help them find the balance they need, and bears watching.
Scoring problems aside, the Predators will be a handful for Dallas. Glen Gulutzan and Joe Nieuwendyk spoke of "hard to play against" often. The Predators and Coyotes have actually perfected the concept on extreme budgets.
Or have they?
That's a popular narrative, but the Predators now own the 14th highest payroll in the league at $62,862,976, making them officially "above average". They still need to add a backup net-minder to that total as well, which will see them pass Dallas' cap number.
All in all, the Predators will see their offensive prowess questioned, and like the Coyotes, will be declared this and that for much of the preseason. Then they'll compete for a playoff spot anyway, because they're well coached and they play to their strengths. It won't win them a Stanley Cup, but it could keep the Stars out of the playoffs.
Nashville is a ready-made rival for Dallas - Perhaps my number-one pick for the new leader as "most-hated" as we leave the realm of the Sharks and Kings. They'll make it hard for Dallas. They'll be nasty. Their fan-base, whatever its size, is engaged and raucous.
And those uniforms. That yellow.
The spite just gurgles and percolates at the very thought.
More from Defending Big D:
- Examining the Dallas Stars Dynamic Pricing & 9-Game Ticket Plans for the 2013 Season
- Dallas Stars Hire James Patrick as Assistant Coach
- Should NHL Consider European Expansion, Rather Than Quebec or Seattle?
- Dallas Stars Hoping Coaching, Forward Depth Can Improve Team Defense
- 2013-2014 Dallas Stars Schedule By the Numbers