Some of you know me. You know what I'm about. I love the Dallas Stars. To them I give every dollar of disposable income that I have and every spare second not taken up by my family and career.
Of course you also know that I'm a rather pessimistic, grumpy, old naysayer who is quick to dump on pretty much anything because for some reason I can't just seem to enjoy things- Rather I'm busy looking for the banana peel on which the Stars will slip.
Accordingly, it was pretty easy to be right most of the time for five straight seasons of comparatively miserable fandom.
So as I sat and watched the events of July 1 unfold I was intrigued, but naturally skeptical. This was a team that barely made the playoffs thanks to a pretty horrific collapse on the part of the Phoenix Coyotes. They've done nothing to their blue line, which has been talked about at length already, and the backup netminder situation, while altered, is still as murky as it's been for the last six seasons.
Watching all the other teams in the West once again improve while the East lost yet another inter-conference fight was dismaying as well. You again have to spot the six teams you think Dallas is better than over 82.
Predicting a "huge" step forward for them in such a competitive environment seemed quite rash.
Mike Heika is wise, as usual, in cautioning that the team isn't ready to make the step- But that it could earn a fifth or sixth seed in the West. Others have been a bit, uh, hastier. Very hasty, indeed.
Twitter searches on July 2nd and 3rd revealed recklessness unlike anything this fan-base has ever generated. The word "cup" was a frequent accompaniment.
Fans will be fans. We all allowed our minds to wander a bit, to be sure. Players think about it, too.
"I think it's paramount to be in an organization that's committed to winning," Jason Spezza said at his introductory press conference. "I think that word gets around the League fast when a team has made a decision to try to be a team that tries to compete every year and win."
And yes, he used that "cup" word as well.
So I set out to temper expectations. I sat down to organize my thoughts and pound out an outline of how I might accomplish this. I started reading what's been put out there over the last nine days and watching the videos and listening to the audio and considering what happened last season and, more importantly, what's happening elsewhere. People always seem to forget about that.
But...dang it if I didn't get all excited, too.
I considered that the team that finished the season wasn't the team their record and standing represented them to be overall. Lindy Ruff certainly does as well.
"I think we had some pieces that maybe started to fit together later in the year," Ruff said yesterday, "when you look at a pair like Goligoski and Daley- how well they played together the last half," as one example.
"It's getting to know the players, find out what they can do, find a certain role they can play in and getting them to wrap their arms [around] the way they're being used. We came together later in the year and we know a lot about each other, and now it's to take that next step, which will be a challenge for us."
Getting them to wrap their arms around the way their being used. That's a beauty from the coach. That's a coach's job, in a nutshell, and you could see that in motion as the season went on- First in what Lindy and staff realized they needed to do, particularly with veteran players, and then after that actually getting them to buy in, as he says.
The result was ultimately the team that went 19-10-3 (.640) from January 21st to April 11th. That's the team Dallas thinks they are. That's the team to which they think they added Jason Spezza and Alex Hemsky.
Then I looked at their surroundings.
The Predators tried to address their scoring issues by acquiring James Neal, but lost Hornqvist in the deal and then Mike Fisher went down for 4-6 months with off-season surgery. A full year of the previously injured Pekka Rinne and growth from Seth Jones will help, but I think the hockey-world was largely underwhelmed. They'll still try to add Derek Roy or maybe even... Mike Ribeiro?
The Wild will still have that stifling defense and now they have Tomas Vanek to go along with Parise, Suter and Koivu, so that's pretty salty. The Blues got much, much better with the addition of Stastny. The Kings might play with their food in the regular season but that doesn't mean they won't be there before they flip the switch in April.
The Coyotes are interesting but must now be considered a tier below Dallas. The Canucks are a mystery, having shed their coach after a complete burning trash-heap of a season. They upgraded in goal but lost Kesler. They're potentially dangerous, but not overly so.
The Sharks are going to be there- Look at their forward group- But they could fall off a little. Same with the Avalanche. Losing Stastny hurts but they've got so much young talent that it won't hurt them nearly as much as you'd like to think.
The rich (Blues, Hawks, Ducks, Kings) got richer or at least stayed elite. The lower class stayed pretty much put. The solid playoff teams did little to dissuade anyone of their prowess. It's easy, then, to make the case that Dallas has the most potential for upward "class mobility" in the conference.
So that too is looking pretty good, actually. On paper. In theory. Add to it the depth. Colton Sceviour. The return of Vern Fiddler. A full season of knowing what Roussel and Garbutt can do on their best behavior. Patrick Eaves. The guys pushing from below in Cedar Park.
Add it all up and I don't think you use the word "cup" any time soon. No. But a big step forward? I'm in for that. Sign me up. Last summer local radio legend Norm Hitzges said repeatedly that if Dallas didn't make the playoffs after acquiring Seguin and Peverley it would be a huge disappointment. That was, forgive me, more than a little reckless at the time. This summer, however, you can say the same thing, and you can really mean it.