My friends often accuse me of being too optimistic when it comes to the Dallas Stars. Maybe I am – after all, I want to see the team I spend so much energy and time (and often money) following succeed in all aspects, both on and off the ice.
I am optimistic about the team’s moves this summer. They needed a change to the system, a different voice in the room, and they went out and changed much of the coaching staff. They needed a stable goaltending option for the foreseeable future, they traded for and then signed to a long-term contract a two-time Vezina finalist in Ben Bishop.
The defense was very green last year and could use a steading presence, general manager Jim Nill took advantage of the 30 million defensemen the Vegas Golden Knights came out of the expansion draft with and traded for Marc Methot, the yin to Erik Karlsson’s yang last season in Ottawa. They needed a legitimate right wing in the top six, they signed the top free agent forward available in free agency, Alexander Radulov.
It’s no surprise that a team that went out and seemingly plugged a lot of its big roster holes is getting hype as the season approaches. They’re the media’s sexy dark-horse pick as Stanley Cup favorites. Even the players are eyeballing Dallas a legitimate threat – at the NHL’s media tour, USA Today polled 31 current players and five picked the Stars as an “under-the-radar” choice to win, the most picked of any team.
The thing is, I don’t buy that particular hype – the one where this team is, all of a sudden, goes from near-franchise-worst season to a legitimate Stanley Cup contender in one offseason.
Dallas hasn’t stepped on the ice once as a team yet. There’s bound to be some growing pains in putting together that many new pieces and integrating a new mentality and game plan into those players that remain from Lindy Ruff’s regime. Then the coaching staff will need to get everyone, new and old, to buy into the game plan and trust that they’ll have success if they play a particular way.
Not to mention, the rest of the Central Division teams didn’t sit by and watch Dallas improve and say “nah, we good.” The Minnesota Wild returns much of their 106-point team, the Winnipeg Jets will improve with another season of Mark Scheifele to terrorize the Central, the Chicago Blackhawks can’t ever seem to be counted out no matter what sorcery they have to pull in the offseason to remain cap compliant, and the Nashville Predators went toe-to-toe with the Pittsburgh Penguins not that long ago for the Stanley Cup. Even the Colorado Avalanche is bound to be an iota better than their historically putrid season last year – the bounces won’t always go against them, even if it’s in spite of the moves made (or not) this offseason.
And that’s just in their division - the remainder of the league didn’t sit by idly, either. Every team made moves to shore themselves up and are striving for the same goal.
The schedule is what it is, and the Stars will have to hit the ground running early to keep pace with their division. There isn’t much time to “figure it out” once the season gets here. It seems likely, based on sheer probabilities, that one or two pieces will not fit the way they were penciled in this summer, and it will be up to Ken Hitchcock and his staff to reconfigure things.
Dallas put the work in this offseason, from ownership and management on down. Now starts the real work as training camp opens this weekend. The players need to come ready to do their part, the coaching staff will need to be agile and flexible enough to change things if it looks like it isn’t working, and they’ll need to prove that all of the offseason hype from the moves made will translate to on-ice success.
I’ve seen too many teams in the past that looked good on paper and never quite figured it out on ice. Maybe it’s a touch of cynicism creeping into my sports fandom, but until this team shows that they should be taken seriously as Stanley Cup contenders, all they’ve won in my mind is “most potentially improved” in the NHL.
Make the playoffs, then come talk to me.