So the playoffs aren't here for another two weeks, but the Dallas Stars officially punched their ticket last week and remain in the race for the top spots both in the Central Division and Western Conference.
There is still plenty to be written this regular season, but I thought it might be fun to look back and see where the Stars stood in the collective consciousness at the start of the year, before anyone knew that the goaltending and defense would be good enough to go along with an offense that burns down villages.
The answer is people were surprisingly high on the Stars for a team that had just missed the playoffs and had a reputation for defensive woes. Most places, with a few exceptions, felt pretty comfortable putting the Stars in the playoff picture, and most even had them out of the Wild Card hunt and in the top three in the division.
As far as a conference title, that was a little out of reach (and there's still quite a bit of work to be done if that's going to be on the table this season), but unlike the real leap in 2013-14, the Stars aren't surprising most people by being in the playoffs this time around.
Okay, the NHL's new website blows. Let's just get that out of the way right now. And nowhere is that more present than in looking at an article written before the transition. While it's impossible to dig out more detailed predictions easily (thanks, MLBAM), it's clear the website's writers were not high on the Stars chances.
Craig Custance wins the award for ESPN for correctly identifying the Stars as a team to watch while the others went mostly with the Blues and Predators. Steve Levy deserves a shoutout for being the only person to pick the Florida Panthers in the Flo-East, but the Flames?
Sports Illustrated - 2 of 4 panelists picked Stars for playoffs
Sam Page and Al Muir are the winners here, while Sarah Kwak and Mike Blinn were also on the Calgary Flames train. Muir also has a pretty good guess about the change in the offensive defensemen.
The Hockey News - Fourth, in playoffs as first wildcard
THN's more in-depth preview was pretty on the mark, basically only missing how impactful the even-more-prolific offense would be when it came to dealing with some of the best teams in the conference. The goaltending hasn't even had to be league average, and John Klingberg continues to be everything promised from a possession standpoint and more.
The fine folks over at Puck Daddy seem to have been the most optimistic about this season, with four of their seven panelists picking the Stars to win the division and every person believing the team would easily make the playoffs. No voter had them lower than third in the division. And Ryan Lambert gave the best, if obvious, prognostication for this season with the sentence: "The Central is still a knife fight, and the Pacific is still a tire fire."
NESN - Sixth, no playoffs
Gee, I wonder why these guys are down on Dallas. Their biggest miss in the Central, other than the Stars, is Winnipeg, who couldn't sustain unsustainable goaltending from season to season.
The Hockey Writers - Consensus playoffs, avg. 2.5 in Central
There are actually two prediction articles here, with one concentrating more on the offseason moves and the other a detailed look at the Western Conference. The two points of view seems to be pretty representative of most who made predictions - either the Stars were a slightly surprising but strong contender for the division title, or they were a team on the rise who had still a little further to go but should comfortably be in the playoff hunt.
SB Nation - On average, in 3.7 place in the Central
Two people - Stephanie of Twitter GIF fame and Satchel of Second City Hockey - were brave enough to pick the Stars in second, and most of the rest had them in the 3-5 range in the division where most experts figured they'd finish. Kyle from Winging it in Motown was apparently very unimpressed by the goaltending situation (perhaps he'd been scarred by Jimmy Howard?) though, and had the Stars in dead last.
Defending Big D - 10 of 12 in playoffs, avg. 3.08 in Central
Ah, yes, the homers. Surely we all predicted the Stars return to glory this season, right?
Well... kinda? No bonus points if you can name at least one of the two writers at the time who thought the Stars would not qualify, but only one writer was brave enough to put the Stars in the division title role.
It's also fun to go back and look at our Western Conference predictions, since after the Minnesota Wild's win over the Colorado Avalanche last weekend, the eight teams look pretty set. We did a pretty solid job overall, underrating Nashville and San Jose, and to a lesser extend Arizona, while overrating Calgary (man, did the Flames ever sell themselves with some offseason moves or what?).