"For one, not going winless against Colorado will be a huge step forward. But I think a lot of these Central teams are due to regress in subtle ways (Nashville's offense, Chicago's defense, et cetera) that will have vital impacts given how competitive the division is. The offense is too good to endure stretches of supernatural mediocrity like the last two January's. St. Louis is built too well for the regular season to be unseated."
In a way this ended up being a little more truthful than I hoped: when all was said and done, their standings in the regular season were second to St. Louis' status once the playoffs rolled around. But now's a time to reflect back on what was ultimately one of more successful seasons in Dallas Stars memory with one last tweetdown with more bad puns and half rhymes.
1. Front Stunners
End of October 2014, the Dallas Stars were 4-2-4 with 12 pts. End of October 2015... pic.twitter.com/OTc8HLmqHu— Cory (@corydtweets) November 1, 2015
I don't know that we expected Dallas to have the start that it did. The general demeanor seemed to be "well we can outscore our problems, and as long as our goalies aren't part of the problem, we should be good more than we do bad". That's sort of what happened in October. Just not to the degree that it happened.
Honestly, I think the October 10th game against the Colorado Avalanche was pivotal to Dallas' hot start. They lost against the Avs like they always do, except this time it was extra sour. Up 3-1 in the first period, Dallas would end up seeing the score tied in the second, and lose in a blowout before the final buzzer ended in a 6-3 3rd period bloodletting.
This is when the switch got flipped: already game 2 in the new season, and they were suddenly reminded of what made the previous season such a failure. This was a different team and they responded to that loss like a different team.
2. Jan Marks the Lazy 'Spot' Puns
One of the big early season stories was the play of rookie Mattias Janmark. A lot of fans seem to forget how early he played a quality '3C' role before Radek Faksa. A lot of his skills don't jump out at you the way they do Valeri Nichushkin, but he ended up sidelining himself next to Jason Spezza. He was so good, I began to drink the kool-aid on his untapped potential. I still think his presence is underrated among Stars fans. People tend to forget how thin Dallas' depth as it wing in relation to its core. When Ales Hemsky, and Patrick Sharp are gone, how many top wingers are left? That Janmark acquitted himself so well at left wing in a top six role in his first year in the NHL is nothing short of miraculous.
3. Two Headed Famine
Niemi holdin' on to "avg", Kari getting worse every time I look :( https://t.co/Wq91BddNah— Carolyn Wilke (@Classlicity) February 24, 2016
In the beginning, Antti Niemi and Kari Lehtonen looked improved. They weren't outright winning games, but they weren't outright losing games, unlike the Stars 2014-2015 season. To a certain extent, it was a success. They weren't in the way. However, once it got down to the wire, deciding between who would take the reins ended up being a coin flip. Niemi was looking like the starter early on. His even strength save percentage was better than Kari's, and that played a nice little role in keeping Dallas afloat in the goals differential. Then the token bad January patch hit.
4. The Snap and Crackle of the Cedar Park Pop
Stephen Johns and Radek Faksa have gone from the AHL on opening night to starting Dallas’ biggest game in a more than a decade.— Sean Shapiro (@seanshapiro) May 12, 2016
I'm kind of liking this trend of prospects making midseason debuts to great effect. While Johns was a late addition, Radek Faksa had a good half a season to get acquainted with "NHL speed". The AHL is a solid league, however. The fact that he looked absolutely dominant in Cedar Park boded well for his future. Fans just weren't expecting it so soon. Especially with Dallas' history of first round picks under "GMJN1". Faksa is the center we always wished Cody Eakin had been, but isn't. But rather than compare and contrast, I'm hoping that Ruff reconsiders who exactly Faksa is. After all, he's still just 22 years old. Is his ceiling potentially better than "role player"? 12 points in 45 games isn't a lot. But when you consider that it's 12 points in 45 games all at even strength, often starting from his own zone, you have to wonder what might happen if he's paired with Jamie Benn (just saying).
5. MDK According to George R.R.
St. Louis, Dallas and Chicago would like a word. https://t.co/CrXr1IUNVc— Jibblescribbits (@Jibblescribbits) March 16, 2016
Perhaps the biggest shock is just how good the Central was. Well, it wasn't shocking at all, actually. But there were so many elite teams (Nashville and Chicago are basically interchangeable at this point, and even Minnesota didn't embarrass themselves against the Stars in the playoffs). It's actually kind of unfair. If you can break even in this division, you're doing well for yourself. In a way the George R.R. reference feels fitting, with Chicago playing the Lannister clan, inundated by riches that are slowly fading, and St. Louis as House Bolton: growing strong with sadism and blood. Which definitely makes Dallas House Stark. Last season was our red wedding. Or did the Rains of Castamere play when Seguin injured his Achilles?
6. The Rum Expiry
What is there to say? The playoffs were great, and awful all at once. The pundits got to eat their "I told you so" cake about Dallas' defense and goaltending. Which is sort of right. Just not all the way right. Jim Nill's trade for Kris Russell turned out to be questionable at best. And in the end, neither goalie could make "that save". In a lot of ways, the 2015-2016 season feels like the 2014-2015 season minus the 1st in the Western Conference, making the playoffs part. A great offense supported by a struggling defense got help from an injection of youth. Except instead of Klingberg, this time it was Johns.
The hope is that Dallas could end up with another surprise injection. There's no shortage of good candidates. Between the sturdy, silky non nonsense game of Mattias Backman, Mac's minigun from the point in Esa Lindell, or a 'Gone to Plaid' Spaceballs fast version of a hockey player in Julius Honka...the hits should keep on coming.