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The Optimist and Pessimist’s Guide to the Stars’ Playoff Chances

Will they win the Cup? Will they flame out? I don't know. So I asked two experts—my past selves.
Will the Stars be celebrating in a few months' time? Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Dallas Stars have put together a wonderful season. Sure, their point total won’t quite eclipse the 109 points of 2016, and, no, they won’t win their first Presidents’ Trophy since 1999. But don’t think for one second this hasn’t still been a special year. 

Joe Pavelski, Jason Robertson, and Miro Heiskanen reached individual milestones. The team has put together so many third-period comebacks that you probably have trouble distinguishing them from one another. Remember the Seattle comeback? How about the Chicago 4-1 deficit that turned into a 6-4 victory, or the four-goal third period against Minnesota? 

And, hey, even most of the losses were entertaining, which would’ve seemed like a luxury in recent years. That freakish afternoon game against Calgary that went from 6-1 to 6-5 was one of the loudest regular-season games I’ve ever attended, and they didn’t get a single point from it. Then again, who cares about a single point, right? Surely one point isn’t going to end up mattering in the standings, and I won’t even go to the trouble of checking said standings to verify that. 

Even during their winter doldrums, this Stars team has found a way to keep itself fighting atop the Central Division. The Stars will have home ice for the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, which is something just about every team in the league would happily take, were it offered to them in October. 

But the season is ending all the same, and the postseason requires something different of its participants. In Marshall Goldsmith’s seminal book What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he points out a big problem with success: we often learn all the wrong lessons from it. The Wild, for example, have adopted the slogan “Grit First,” which is a shorthand way of saying that the teams who win in the playoffs are the ones who scrap and claw the hardest, not the players who are the shrewdest or most talented. As the Minnesota Wild are famous for their history of playoff success, I’m sure they know what they’re doing. 

What about the Stars, though? Is this a team that’s built for the playoffs, or have we seen enough cracks in the facade to harbor real doubts about their ability to make a deep run? 

In 2016, the Stars had a great season and finished atop the entire Western Conference, only to falter in the second round of the playoffs and implode the following season. In 2020, on the other hand, the Stars started 1-7-1, got scorching hot to the tune of 14-2-0, then lost six games straight before the season (and the world) paused for a few months. You know the rest, though: a playoff bubble, a Stanley Cup tournament in an empty building, and two wins shy of the most improbable Stanley Cup in recent memory. 

So, we could throw up our hands and declare predicting outcomes a fool’s errand, but DraftKings has repeatedly told me that predicting outcomes of games is actually easy and very lucrative, so let’s get to work. I found two experts to weigh in on the 2023 Dallas Stars’ playoff potential, and they’re the only experts I really trust for a task this important: my past selves. 

I know, I know, butterfly effect and stopping Hitler, yada yada yada. But I saw most of Interstellar on an airplane, so I’m going to assume things are going to work out just fine if I just have a quick chat with 2016 Robert and 2020 Robert to glean some insight. If anyone can lend us pertinent wisdom regarding how the 2023 playoffs will go for Dallas, it’s these guys, right? 

Glad you agree. Let’s get started.

2023: Hey, guys! How’s it going? We’re just about to start the playoffs here, and Dallas is looking good. In fact, they’re breaking franchise records for scoring by a certain defenseman and forward.

2020: Wow, that’s great news! Congratulations to Denis Gurianov and John Klingberg!

2023: …uh, here’s the thing—

2016: No, dummy. He’s obviously talking about Julius Honka and Valeri Nichushkin. 

2023: Yeah, let’s move on. What do you think about Dallas’ weaknesses this year?

2020: What weaknesses would those be, exactly? 

2023: Well, for starters, the defense isn’t all that intimidating, and they don’t really have that killer bottom-six group that teams like Tampa have had in years past, either.

2016: Well, the Penguins won in 2016 with Trevor Daley and Kris Letang.

2020: And if Colorado is still using Sam Girard and Cale Makar in their top four, they don’t seem to be suffering too much.

2023: True, but I’m just saying: Miro Heiskanen isn’t a 6-foot-7 beast like Victor Hedman. 

2020: That may be a good thing, given the aging curves. But has that lack of size or thinner forward depth actually hampered Dallas this year? 

2023: In fairness, not really. They’ve got a +65 goal differential, and they’re the best faceoff team in the league. Oh, and their power play and penalty kill are both top-five in the NHL, by the way

2020: That’s what you need! That defensive structure and tight defensive zone play that Rick Bowness preaches will do it every time, yessir. 

2016: That’s what you need! That offensive emphasis and quick transition play that Lindy Ruff preaches will do it every time, yessir.

2023: Well, see, they’ve actually found something different. They’re using a bit of a hybrid style that frees things up a bit more, but their strong goaltending and potent offense have made it work at both ends of the ice. 

2020: “Potent offense”? Are you sure you’re not talking about Gurianov? 

2016: And what is this “strong goaltending” thing? Have they invented cheat codes in the future NHL or something? 

2023: Look, I’m serious. They’re scoring 3.5 goals per game and allowing 2.6, both top-10 marks in the NHL. The talent is both young and old, and the secondary scoring is coming from throughout the lineup. Am I crazy to think this team could make it back to the Cup Final? 

2020: So long as they stay healthy, anything is possible. One reason Tampa beat the 2020 Stars team was because Dallas had suffered so many devastating injuries, not even counting the absence of Ben Bishop for basically the entire playoff run. Oh, say, that reminds me: you’ve been resting your goaltender and top defenseman down the stretch, right? With a team that good, surely you’ve been able to do some load management. 

2023: Well, Oettinger hasn’t played the … most minutes in the NHL. So I guess that is technically load management, sure. 

2016: And you remembered to get some defensive reinforcements at the trade deadline, right? 

2023: Well, before the season, Jim Nill did trade a first-round draft pick for a defenseman—

2016 and 2020: [together] He did WHAT?!??!

2023: Yeah, I know. Nill traded a first-round draft pick, try to calm yourselves. But he did it for a 22-year-old who’s leading the league in rookie goalscoring for defensemen. 

2016: Oh, wow! That’s even better than trading for Kris Russell at the deadline!

2023: Except he sort of … lost his lineup spot to … Joel Hanley. 

2020: Hey, don’t worry! Hanley scores clutch playoff goals in the Stanley Cup Final.

2023: Actually, it’s not even Hanley anymore. There’s another young defenseman who’s taken that spot, and he’s much taller.

2020: Oh, I know who you mean! Jamie Oleksiak always comes through with some clutch playoff goals.

2023: [mutters] That’s what I’m afraid of.

2020: So, wait, let me get this straight: the goaltending is healthy and solid, special teams are looking great, they’ve got two promising young defensemen not named Miro Heiskanen, and the team is scoring lots of goals? 

2023: That’s right. 

2016: Dude, they’re going to win 16 games in a row.

2020: [mutters] Until they decide to try starting Ben Bishop for some reason.

2023: I know it sounds charmed, but believe me, there are real concerns. Ryan Suter is still playing top-pairing minutes, and—

2016: Wait, they got Ryan Suter? How did Jim Nill work that trade magic? 

2023: Easier than you’d think. Anyway, there are some worries about the defense playing a little higher than their ideal roles.

2016: You could always put Alex Goligoski on the top pairing. 

2020: Or Esa Lindell. 

2023: Never mind. Also, there’s the matter of Tyler Seguin—

2020 and 2016: What injury is it this time? 

2023: What? No, he’s healthy, and—

2020 and 2016: They’re going to win 16 games in a row.

2023: [frustrated] No, stop. You don’t get it. Sure, Jamie Benn is back to scoring a point per game—

Jim Lites from 2018: I take credit for that.

2023: Huh? Please leave. And sure, they haven’t abandoned their defensive game to do it—

Ken Hitchcock from 2017: I take credit for that.

2023: [to self] I should really shut that window. Anyway, here’s the bottom line: Colorado is fast and scary, and Minnesota would love nothing better than to send Dallas packing given half a chance. Besides, the Stars haven’t always come through when the spotlight shines on them. 

2020: Ahem.

2023: I mean this year, they haven’t. 

2016: [grumbling] Hey, even our team beat Minnesota. 

2023: Look, I just need to know: is this the year, or is there a fatal flaw in the team we’re overlooking? 

2020: Look, man, sometimes things are rough all year, and then everything breaks the right way. Sometimes your backup goaltender goes on a heater and Joel Kiviranta eliminates Nathan MacKinnon. The playoffs take no prisoners, but they do hand out harsh sentences. I’d say the 2023 squad is looking about as primed and ready as any Dallas team in decades, all things considered.

2016: Or sometimes, everything goes right all year, only for things to unravel at the worst possible time, but you don’t really know until it happens. Tampa Bay can lose to Columbus, and Toronto can lose to Montreal. All you can do is prepare the best you can and hope your ship comes in. And even if things don’t pan out, that doesn’t mean you have to overreact to one bad beat. 

Ken Hitchcock from 2017: Yes, you do. 

2016, 2020, and 2023: [in unison] Please leave. 


Robert Tiffin

Robert Tiffin

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Robert Tiffin covers the Stars for StrongSide. He has worked for SB Nation as a writer and editor, covering the…

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