Few things really motivate us like drama. This is felt most acutely in relationships, I think; the majority of my memories after my twelfth birthday revolve around things like family, girls, people I worked with, girls and sports-namely, teammates, opponents and coaches. When I zoom in on any one of those categories (especially the second and fourth ones), it becomes clear that drama is the buoy that draws particular memories back to the surface.
Usually it's the biggest memories that come first, like a wonderful birthday present at an early age, breakups and first dates (in that order), fights with siblings, car accidents, or that time I saved three out of five penalties in an intramural soccer shootout. The heights of dramatic tension's satisfaction or destruction are still the most easily-remembered dots on our personal timelines.
For most of our lives, such drama comes intermittently; the greatest dramas comprise a mere handful of instances at best. Our days are mostly made up of routines and slight adjustments to those routines. Before we know it, we can't help but traipse across the cubicle aisle just to share the slightest deviations ("traffic was so bad this morning!") from our day's expected events. It's not a big deal, but it's the biggest deal we have in that moment, so we mentally shape that event into drama in order to make our day a bit more memorable.
The Stars have experienced a lot of drama this season. When you total their goals scored and allowed this season, Dallas sits atop the NHL with 387, more than a dozen goal events ahead of Tampa Bay. Considering the amount of third period lead changes (after the weekend, add another three to that too-long list) and overtime losses the team has sustained, we can see just how many of those (many) goals were immediately followed by the raucous rejoicing and despondent wailing that high drama produces wherever it goes. The Dallas Stars have made us feel things this year.
"Vindicated" by Dashboard Confessional immediately comes to mind. (Well, the word "vindicated" did, same thing.) Anyway, that final goal, that long skate from the penalty box by the game's best player, the exultation from Benn and Seguin-these things all contributed to an early moment of joy that rivaled any other October game in recent memory. Normally I would here dive into an example of a horribly depressing collapse for contrast, but there are literally too many choices to decide among this year. Let's go back to that when the wounds aren't so fresh.
It doesn't look like Dallas is making the playoffs this year, which means the highest possible drama that is a Stanley Cup run has been taken from us. Individual accomplishments are one drama tier down, but Dallas's likely absence from the playoffs means that any miniscule chance John Klingberg had of exploding down the stretch to win the Calder Trophy is also gone. Tyler Seguin had a shot at a few different pieces of hardware, but those hopes disappeared the moment Kulikov's arm/shoulder/upper-body/how-did-that-part-of-his-body-get-that-low drove into Seguin's knee.
So what drama is left? Tanking is meaningless with the head start Buffalo and Edmonton have on everyone. The Stars could forfeit every one of their last games and still not sniff the top (bottom) five with the way Toronto is playing. Draft talk is fun, but there will be plenty of teams in front of Dallas before they get their turn at the microphone. We have no clue how things will shake out on that front just yet.
Trade talk is entertaining in its way, although anyone who thinks they know what Jim Nill is going to do is lying to themselves. It's hard for trades to be truly dramatic when one doesn't have a good sense of anticipation and/or apprehension for them, although the biggest deals can certainly rouse a fanbase even as frustrated as the one in Dallas. Odds are such a deal won't happen until the summer, and so something like a swap of Erik Cole for a pick and/or a prospect is about as exciting as things might get on that front for the time being.
To resurrect the earlier analogy, the Stars are facing 22 more days of going to the office, not getting promoted, and driving back home in mild to medium traffic only to arrive at an empty house. So if you want to know how to enjoy these final contests of potentially much less import than we had hoped, you might start by asking yourself how you find ways to add drama to your menial workdays when nothing really significant is on the horizon. What motivates you when you know your eight hours hold nothing more than the expectation that you will return to repeat them the next day? That's a sort of trick question, though. I find unnecessary drama to be pretty unhealthy; in fact, it can distract us from the value of developing skills and reputations over longer periods of time. If you get frustrated that you didn't wow your boss every day last week, then you are probably going to have a heart attack before you turn 45. Just try to get a tiny bit better at something every day.
Even apart from the hope of greatness that lingers so tantalizingly in front of this rising organization, I think there is great value to be found in these sunset days of the season. When you aren't on the edge of your seat following the puck each game, you have time to appreciate the sometimes inconsequential details. Pick a player to watch closely over this stretch, even when they don't have the puck; try to track Ruff's defensive pair deployment as the game progresses. What is it about Brett Ritchie that still excites people so much? You might not have focused on his entire game as intently as you could have when he came up in a flurry of activity earlier this year. Now is a good time to see these things out for yourself, or perhaps to start learning more about the intricacies of refereeing. We are watching the best hockey league in the entire world, and even when a team doesn't have the playoffs to hope for, they still have a victory in front of them each night.
This is not Buffalo or Edmonton. Winning games is the object each and every time out, and it is a reasonable expectation to have. The drama has begun to taper off, but just because tomorrow's spicy salsa won't be quite as earth-shattering as that ghost-pepper-based concoction you were served up for the first 60 games of the year doesn't mean that you should put your chips away. This product is still fascinating, and these players are wonderful at what they do.
It is heartbreaking what has happened this season, but I don't think spite and anger will help us very much in the long run. Visceral reactions are understandable, and I probably said a lot of the same things you did over the weekend. We still get to watch our favorite team play our favorite game, though, and it wouldn't be our favorite game if it weren't so incredibly richer than the simple "in or out" dichotomy that the playoffs provide. We can still learn about this team, and we can still love this game. Sixty games mattered in a critical way. Now we have some more games that matter, differently.