Is the First Seed the Best Seed for the Dallas Stars in the Playoffs?
Everyone wants to be first seed, but does that actually come with any advantages?
A lot of fuss is made over seeding in the playoffs (especially now that the Stars have punched their ticket officially), and a certain subset of Dallas Stars fans is clearly pretty interested in the Stars maintaining their first seed spot. There are advantages, for sure.
The first seed going into the playoff plays the second wild card team, with the idea that a wild card team is easier to beat, making it a reward for a good season.
How many times has that actually worked to the first seed's advantage though? Let's take a look at the last decade. Thanks to Puck Report for collating a lot of this data for me.
When the Stars Played in CST
The playoff format changed to its current format in 2013. In the three seasons since this change, the first seed in the Central "Murder Death Kill" Division has lost in the first round twice. First seed St. Louis Blues lost to eighth seed Minnesota Wild in six games, and in 2014 first seed Colorado Avalanche lost to the (again) wildcard Wild in seven.
What you should take from this is that the Stars should definitely not play the Wild in the first round.
Of course, the 2013 first seed Chicago Blackhawks, after a record breaking start to the lockout-shortened season, went on to hoist the Stanley Cup. And they bounced the (AGAIN) eighth seed Wild in the first round, so maybe there's hope.
Looking at the Western Conference as a whole, the Blackhawks topped the Western Conference in the regular season in 2013. In 2014 and 2015, the WC leader was the Anaheim Ducks, finishing in the second round and the Western Conference Finals, respectively.
When the Stars Played in PST
Prior to the 2012-13 season, each conference was divided into three divisions. The top team from each division occupied the first three seeds and the next five were the top five finishing teams in the conference. The results from this era look slightly more promising.
From the 2005-06 season to the format change in 2012-13, twice the first seed in the Pacific Division (Stars' old Division) was bounced in the first round (and in 2006, this was the Stars, getting bounced by seventh seed Colorado). Once they were bounced in the second round. Three times they lost in the Western Conference Finals. And once, in 2007, the first place Anaheim Ducks went on to win the Cup.
Expanding to the entire Western Conference and not just the division, in this seven season timeframe, the Western Conference leader lost in the first round three times, lost in the Western Conference Final twice, lost in the Stanley Cup Final once, and one time won the Stanley Cup.
With a bigger sample size, the first seed did go on to perform better from prior to the format change. However, only two times in the last decade did the first seed in the Stars' division go on to win the Cup.
Four times they've gone home after the first round.
Playing the Bubble
The teams currently vying for the wild card spots are the Nashville Predators, Colorado Avalanche, and Minnesota Wild. All Central teams, so the Stars have seen a lot of them in the regular season.
Nashville Predators: The Stars play the Predators two times in the last eight games of the season, so our season record against them right now is just three games. Dallas won the first two but Nashville won the most recent.
The Predators suffered a dip in the middle of the season, dropping down the standings and Pekka Rinne has a very average looking 0.910 save percentage for the season. (Consider last season, when his Sv% was 0.923.) However, they've started surging at just the right time to pick up momentum heading into the playoffs. In their last twenty games, they've had just three regulation losses.
Colorado Avalanche: The Avalanche started at the bottom this season, and now they . . . occupy the second wild card spot heading into the final weeks of the season. As you're probably aware, our record against them (especially in Denver) is pretty abysmal.
Last season, the Stars lost all five games. In three games this season, the Stars have lost two and won the third in overtime. Of all the teams the Stars could face in the first round, this one worries me the most. But! If the Stars are first seed going into this matchup, as long as they keep winning at home they'll eventually win the series, right?
Minnesota Wild: The Stars went 4-1 against the Wild in the season series with a goal differential of +5. Minnesota also suffered a dip in the middle of the season, going on a losing streak in late January.
Problem: the Wild bounced both first seed teams in the last two years. They may not go on to win any glory themselves, but they're good at derailing others'.
So What Do We Want?
The playoffs are really anyone's game. No one predicted the Stars taking the Ducks to six (well, I had them winning the Cup in my bracket but that was 100% based on feelings) in 2014, and probably few people would have picked the eighth seed Kings to win the Cup in 2012. And, if the Stars have proven one thing this glorious season, it's that they really can beat anyone. So who do you want them to match up with?