Yesterday, before the puck dropped on the Stars’ season, I wrote about why they’re the most compelling team in Dallas. Why? Because I have no idea what the hell is going to happen, and neither do you.
So, of course, last night’s season opener was totally wild. It included a collision that will go down as one of the most brutal of the season (!), new starting goaltender Braden Holtby making what could go down as one of Dallas’ best saves (!!) only to then not complete the game due to dehydration (!!!) followed by Miro Heiskanen winning the game in overtime with the following:
— DailyDallasHockey (@DallasStarsDDH) October 15, 2021
I think I’m forgetting something? Oh, right: !!!!
Anyway, that goal is the important takeaway because of what it could do for Heiskanen, the 22-year-old Finnish maestro. No Dallas Star has ever won the Norris Trophy, the NHL award given to the game’s best defenseman, but Heiskanen is so preternaturally gifted that there’s already talk about when, not if, the honor is coming his way. His game boasts an unusual level of sheen: he defends at a high level, understands how and when to move the puck, and is one of the smoothest skaters in the NHL.
There’s just one problem. His coronation, paradoxically, is being delayed by offense.
The dirty little secret about the Norris is that it doesn’t necessarily go to the best defender so much as a really good defender who also contributes a lot to his team’s scoring output. The Rangers’ Adam Fox, the reigning winner and last night’s Stars opponent, ranked second among defenders in points scored last season. The 2019-2020 winner, Roman Josi, placed second in his Norris year as well. Where did Mark Giordano, the 2018-2019 recipient, place the year he won? Yep, second. Are you detecting a pattern here?
Last year, Heiskanen placed 27th in points scored among defensemen. No amount of skating magic is going to overcome that if he wants to bring that trophy to Dallas. Heiskanen finished third among all players in playoff scoring during the Stars’ 2020 Stanley Cup Final run, a performance that silenced any doubters who questioned whether he had the raw skills to generate a ton of offense.
Now it’s a matter of doing it over 82 regular-season games, ideally with some huge moments attached for #narrative. Which brings us back to last night, when Heiskanen started Dallas’ season in the most emphatic—and dramatic—way possible, making an individual play of brilliance in the sport’s biggest market to win a game and upstage last year’s Norris winner. A few more of those moves, alongside steady point production all season, just might net him that award sooner than intended.