The playoffs were fun. Short, sure, but so much fun.
It's always that way when you're "playing with house money" that first time. Locally we've seen it before with an up and coming Dallas Mavericks team defeating the Utah Jazz unexpectedly in 2001, or the thrills of the Texas Rangers finally winning the division and running with it in 2010 all the way to the World Series.
The Dallas Stars didn't have the level of success, sure, but the romanticism of finally being in the dance was there- That same revelation of "ah, so now we have something...Now we're going somewhere."
Within two seasons the Mavericks were bitterly disappointed by being booted out of the Western finals by the Spurs and the Rangers were thinking World Series or nothing. That's the way it works when you start that upward trajectory. The romanticism and the honeymoon period go right out the window and the pressure builds. Just ask the Sharks.
When the preseason publications start materializing over the next few weeks the Dallas Stars are likely going to be a trendy pick for one of the teams in line for a big step, or even a jump. They are poised and on the door step of that next level, but they've not yet crossed the threshold, of course. That's what this season is about.
Will they establish themselves, as did those other teams, and realize the potential the off-season and the work done in 2013-2014 seem to indicate?
The last time a Dallas Stars team had any level of expectation on it was arguably one of the most disappointing seasons in franchise history: 2008-2009, in which Sergei Zubov, Brad Richards and Brenden Morrow all suffered lengthy, lengthy injuries, the Sean Avery fiasco was unleashed, and the issues on defense, felt even now, started rearing their heads. After going all the way to the Western finals against Detroit, it was quite a reversal.
Expectations are not so grand this time, but they've made enough noise both on and off the ice that they will get a little extra attention.
The big bullies, in any sport or walk of life, like to put down perceived challengers. Can the Stars handle the extra attention, should it come to it? Their style of play, revealed by a plethora of off-season comments in July, has obviously been marked by the league.
And, as this Directv commercial immortalized, when "people think you're tough, people want to see how tough."
With little history to go on where Lindy Ruff coached Dallas Stars teams are concerned, you could look at the underdog/favorite dynamics within last season as things went along.
Key games down the stretch toyed with our fragile emotions throughout as expectations were subverted. Beat the Lightning on the road- Big win. Then turn around and lose to the stinking Panthers. The Blues? No problem. The Calgary Flames and the Winnipeg Jets just after? (mid-March) They stumbled in a big way.
It's unfair to cherry-pick a few examples, sure, and hockey is never going to be basketball- where there are X number of games on some team's schedule that you can pencil in as wins- but the team does need to become more consistent in "kicking the dogs" when they get a chance, if they believe themselves to no longer be proverbial mutts.
The problem in the west, of course, is that the windshield/bug dichotomy will flip-flop nightly. That's where all of this expectation stuff falls down a bit. They're in the west. The expectations in the court of public opinion are rising, but in the end they'll probably still be in a group of teams happy to have made the playoffs, if indeed they do.
There's nothing wrong with that. It's the west.
Where you can then expect them to improve dramatically is their ability, if healthy, to match up against juggernauts in April. With Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin, Cody Eakin and Vern Fiddler, they're tough to play against all the way down. Ruff has better pieces for the chess match now, and in two weeks of attrition that's what wins the day.
Chemistry. Health. Coaching. Health. Without having played a shift yet there's no way to know, but it's a better summer conversation than some others we've had. Expecting them to be better and knowing that they should be, versus searching for the rationalization of why they just might be.
It makes me hum a song.
"Our hopes and expectations
Black holes and revelations" -Muse
Expectations now, more than hopes? Can they handle it?
6 more weeks until camp...