Hope and optimism. Two things that are undoubtedly being felt and discussed in training camps across the NHL as hockey wakes from an offseason long slumber.
Hope is different for every club. In Edmonton, fans are hoping Connor McDavid can lead them to a playoff return. In other non-playoff markets the hope is just for improvement or a skin-of-your-teeth 8th seed nod.
For the Dallas Stars, hope means playoff success. Despite missing the playoffs they have a deep veteran club that some have predicted to win the Central Division.
32 forwards, 18 defensemen, and six goalies have gathered in Austin to compete to be the 23 man unit that initially represents the Stars for the 2015-16 season. Some are more likely than others, and some are guaranteed to be on the roster, but all of the 46 guys have one goal in mind: raising a Stanley Cup in June of 2016. For them the playoffs should be an expectation, not a hope.
After almost pushing the Anaheim Ducks to a game seven in their opening round series in the 2014 playoffs, Jim Nill bolstered the roster with the additions of Jason Spezza and Ales Hemsky. Optimism was high, then the puck dropped. The defense was laughably bad, the goaltending collapsed, and what was once an optimistic feeling turned quickly into desperately hoping for a quick turnaround.
It came, but way too late. We saw that this is a quality team late in the year. With no additions playoff hopes would have been strong. So, when Patrick Sharp, Johnny Oduya, and Antti Niemi are added hoping for the playoffs is too modest of a goal. Some level of success in the tournament is the expectation.
The Stars are poised to win now and into the foreseeable future. It's an exciting time to be a fan of this franchise. Watching the young guys like Julius Honka, Stephen Johns, and Jason Dickinson skate alongside the veteran mainstays over the next couple weeks will further reinforce how exciting this is.
But you might be remembering that we had the same feeling last year when everything went to hell before December was even a thought on Lindy Ruff's mind. The Stars made reference to buying into their hype last year, and the way they played early on reflected that all too often. It's great for fans to admire how good this team should be, but the Stars to a man have to know after last year that hype is virtually meaningless if they can't back it up on the ice.
Sharp and Oduya will have a big impact on keeping that in check. They lived life as the kings of the hill last year. Antti Niemi, though not as recently, has seen the top too. Adding key players with quality experience in their recent past who can make an impact on the ice is always going to be a positive. We won't see the clubhouse impact they make, but it's easy to envision that group being able to remind the team at large to keep the end goal in mind.
And most certainly that end goal for 2016 isn't just making the playoffs. We've heard "A New Star Is Rising" for two years now. I don't know how far stars can rise, but these Stars have the ability to rise as high as any team in their very deep division. The window for winning is wide open, and now it's time for the Stars to work to get where they should expect to go.
Stars training camp officially opens today. Hockey is back. The journey to playoff success begins now. On behalf of all of us here at DefendingBigD, welcome back for another hopefully exciting season of Dallas Stars hockey.