The Dallas Stars have said goodbye to the Pacific Division and now head back to where they belong, playing against teams that mostly reside inside the same time zone. Crazy how logic works, eh?
Goodbye Pacific, hello Central Division.
We continue our "getting to know" series with a team that most NHL fans are already incredibly familiar with, the Chicago Blackhawks.
While the Stars have toiled through five years of postseason-less hockey, the Blackhawks have become a premier franchise in the NHL and have won two Stanley Cups in the past four years. Chicago has become the standard against which every team in the west will be compared against and there's no signs of the team slowing down anytime soon.
Michael Kostka, D; Theo Peckham, D; Nikolai Khabibulin, G
Rostisla Olesz, F; Viktor Stalberg, F; Ray Emery, G
Kyle Beach, F; Marcus Kruger, F; Michal Handzus, F; Michal Rozsival, D;
Unlike in 2010, the Chicago Blackhawks weren't forced to completely dismantle a championship team because of bad contracts and cap space issues -- something that's incredible given the salary cap dropping to $63.4 million this next season. It's another sign of just how well this current iteration of the Blackhawks has been put together by the Chicago braintrust, to go along with some of the best coaching the NHL has to offer.
The core of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson remain the framework around which the Blackhawks have been rebuilt following the 2010 Cup win, with a incredible assortment of physical grit and skill put around them. The scary part is that it feels this team is still only going to get better, as the young core is just now entering their hockey prime and a host of young and talented players coming up behind them while still developing.
Last season, the Stars were 0-2-1 against the Blackhawks and 2-2-0 the season before. The two losses in 2013 included the 8-1 drubbing at home in what was perhaps the most embarrassing loss of at least the last decade.
So, recent history tells us the Stars have had a ton of trouble with the speed and skill of the Blackhawks. This season, however, the Stars are being built to be better equipped to deal with teams like the Blackhawks -- a faster, quicker and more puck possession-minded team that what we've had in the past. That's the theory, at least.
For those of you that can remember, the Dallas Stars were once in the same division as the Chicago Blackhawks, bringing to Texas a bitter rivalry that began when the franchise was still in Minnesota. In fact, the rivalry spawned one of the more infamous games in Stars history in a game that included six fights that landed the Stars 112 penalty minutes in the game.
I remember loving to see games against Chicago come up on the schedule, because of how intense the games were promised to be. These teams hated each other, and the rivalry was a big reason why the team became so popular so quickly in the early 90's.
Then the Dallas Stars became a really good, championship team and the Chicago Blackhawks fell flat on their face. The Blackhawks team declined systematically into the late 90's and into the early 2000's, giving the ailing franchise a host of top ten picks in the draft that all turned into home runs. Combine that with a big bankroll and a rejuvenated fanbase and suddenly you have what some are calling the premier franchise of the NHL.
It wasn't so long ago that Chicago could barely fit 14,000 people per game into the United Center. Don't let anyone from outside Dallas give this franchise heat for the attendance issues of the past few seasons; Chicago averaged just 12,727 not seven years ago. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh was also one of the least attended teams in the NHL in 2003.
Each fanbase will be quick to tell you that these issues stemmed from ownership issues and not because fans simply didn't care about a bad team. It's amazing what a few top picks and a few Stanley Cups can do to turn a fanbase around. Having stable ownership is certainly important as well.
So, as the Stars began to descend from their peak, the Blackhawks swiftly ascended to the top of the NHL. The rivalry was long forgotten, replaced by a few games each season where we would bemoan the inability of the Stars to keep up with these annoying Toews and Kane kids.
Heading back into the Central Division could, in theory, renew a long-forgotten rivalry. Perhaps between fanbases, at least, because a true rivalry on the ice won't blossom until the Stars prove they can play with the Hawks at least somewhat close to their level. Or perhaps meet the Hawks in the playoffs at some point, which could certainly come as quickly as this next season.
I know this for certain, it's going to be great when the Stars finally take the ice against Chicago and we get to see two really great jerseys going against one another. The Stars new jerseys certainly emulates the classic design of Chicago's, and both colors should certainly stand out spectacularly in HD.
I, for one, am looking forward to being back in the division with Blackhawks more than any other team in the Central. It's a rivalry I remember very well, and I think it's always good to have the pressure of being in the same division with the best team in hockey.
Bring it on.