Expectations (n): the strong belief that something will happen or be the case in the future
Funny thing, expectations. They tend to be a moving target rather than a set-in-stone milestone. At the beginning of the year, most rational Dallas Stars fans' expectations were that the Stars make the playoffs this season. The reason being that they would pot a lot of goals, but that the goaltending and defense needed to show they could do better than the disaster that was the previous season.
It wasn't an unrealistic expectation, either. Once the calendar year turned to 2015, the Stars had been one of the top teams in the league. They'd just let a tremendously bad start sink them so early the hole was nearly impossible to dig out of. In training camp the Stars detailed their main goals this season as getting off to a strong start and improving on their Central division-worst divisional record, among others.
Check and check. The Stars went polar opposite as the prior season, coming out to a blistering start and leading the league (the league) for quite a good little run. Once the Washington Capitals started actually playing as many games as the rest of the league and surpassed them, the Stars still were leading the conference (the conference) in arguably the toughest of the two conferences, while playing in the hardest division in the NHL. They have gone 14-7-2 versus their division mates, which is the top record in the division (St. Louis is 13-7-3, good for 2nd in the division, and Chicago is 11-9-1, good for 5th in the division).
Somewhere along the way, we, the fans, stopped expecting just playoffs and started envisioning President's Trophies and Campbell Bowls.
When you release expectations, you are free to enjoy things for what they are instead of what you think they should be. - Mandy Hale, author
Then the calendar flipped to 2016, and the new year hasn't been as kind to the Stars. And yet....here they are, sitting in 2nd in the Central / 2nd in the West, and all but a lock for a playoff spot (they'd have to go a disastrous 2-13-1 to have less than a 90% chance at making the playoffs, and could go 5-10-2 to have 100% odds, per Sports Club Stats).
Now, they're fighting for playoff seeding and home ice advantage in the first round. A place that, had you asked us all at the beginning of the year if that's where they'd be today, you may not have been so sure. After all, we knew this roster wasn't bulletproof. We knew they would struggle to keep pucks out of the net. We knew that goaltending would just have to be league average behind this offense to have an improved record, and Kari Lehtonen would need to get himself right after that bad season last year.
I'm not saying that expecting more, expecting better is a bad thing. But let's take a breath and look at the long game here for a second. After all, they just need to make the playoffs, and then anything is possible. They aren't likely to be an easy first round exit for anybody. Their offense could steal a series with the right matchup (please not Colorado, please not Colorado).
The important thing is the experience these guys are gaining through the tough times. They're getting closer as a group. They're finding ways to play decent even through some of these losses (like the New York Rangers game, and the game against the Detroit Red Wings).
They're one mini-streak away from rolling again. If they were going to struggle, the months of January and February was not going to be a good place for that to happen with the division-heavy schedule. Yet, even though they're on a skid in their last five, the Stars went 7-5-2 over that stretch in February we all figured we would have considered outstanding at the beginning of the season, where we expected just .500 hockey in the month.
More important is how the team plays through these last six weeks of the season and heading into the playoffs. Because once you're a team in that spring time tournament, anything can happen. And that was the expectation for this squad all along.