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Presidents’ Trophy?! The Stars Don’t Need No Stinking Presidents’ Trophy!

We called up some NHL scouts to ask about regular-season hardware and what worries them about the Stars in the playoffs.
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Jake Oettinger is a gamer. There are 12 remaining before he really needs to step up his play. Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

The Stars are in a position to do something they haven’t done since 1999. And we aren’t talking about winning the Stanley Cup, although that is very much on the table. 

With 12 games remaining, including tonight’s tilt against the San Jose Sharks, the Stars are among a group of eight contenders that could win the Presidents’ Trophy as the NHL’s regular-season champion. It is one of the most fascinating races in the NHL, with seven of the eight teams effectively in a dead heat. The Winnipeg Jets have fallen back but are still technically a contender for the regular-season championship. 

The Presidents’ Trophy also comes with some weird connotations. The award is arguably one of the most difficult in sports to win, and being the best team over an 82-game sample size is more impressive, statistically, than winning the Stanley Cup.

It also has a cursed feeling to it. 

Since the Stars won the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup in 1999, only four of the past 23 regular-season champions have also hoisted the Cup. In fact, the past 10 regular-season champions have failed to make it out of the second round of the playoffs. That includes the record-setting Boston Bruins, who were ousted in the first round by the Florida Panthers last season. During that season, before a February game in Tampa, I spoke with Bruins forward Brad Marchand, who put it rather bluntly: “No one cares about the Presidents’ Trophy or regular-season records. We’ll only be judged by the playoffs.” 

And they were. The 2023-24 Bruins were considered a failure after being bounced by the Panthers. 

It’s why, as one scout explained to me, he believes teams have tried to focus more on divisional titles and the home-ice playoff advantage that comes with them as opposed to pushing for the Presidents’ Trophy. Divisional champions can still win the Stanley Cup, but the Presidents’ Trophy comes with extra pressure, realistic or not. 

“It’s silly, but I think coaches have started to believe it,” the scout said. “It’s not that anyone isn’t trying to win the Presidents’ Trophy, but I also think there are some coaches who secretly hope they win the conference but the Presidents’ Trophy ends up in the other one, so they don’t have to deal with questions or narratives about it. It’s a funny thing.”

So for teams like Dallas, the central focus is on, well, the Central Division. 

The Stars and Colorado Avalanche both have 97 points, while the Jets are in third with 93. Winning the division doesn’t guarantee an easy matchup; as it stands, potential wild-card opponents include the red-hot Nashville Predators and the defending Stanley Cup champion Vegas Golden Knights, but it does guarantee home ice until at least the Western Conference final. 

“I don’t think home ice means as much as it used to, but I would want to guarantee I get that Game 7 at home, especially in that eventual or potential meeting with Colorado,” another NHL scout told me. “When you are in a spot like Dallas, I think you have to think about things on the so-called margins like that.”

There is fine-tuning along with marginal improvements the Stars should focus on, which I asked NHL scouts about this past week. None of these scouts work or have worked for Dallas, and they spoke on the condition of anonymity. 

The first thing each brought up was goaltending, as there are concerns about Jake Oettinger’s play. Some scouts are worried, while others believe it is something that will sort itself out before the postseason. 

“He’s a gamer, right?” one scout said. “I think Oettinger is a concern other teams would love to have.” 

In front of Oettinger, scouts have liked the addition of Chris Tanev at the trade deadline, while there has also been debate on the core after the injury to Jani Hakanpää. This isn’t a surprise because there are mixed opinions on Nils Lundkvist in the scouting community. 

While approval of Lundkvist’s recent play seemed to be unanimous, until he performs like that in the playoffs, there will always be hockey minds who question whether he’ll be able to hold up in a seven-game series with playoff physicality. 

The thing that should be most encouraging to Stars fans—and this really isn’t surprising—is how much scouts love the forward core. Especially after the return of Tyler Seguin and the sudden impact Logan Stankoven has added since his call-up from the AHL. 

“Best forward core in the league for me,” one scout said. “I really would take that group, with the overall depth, over any other right now in a series.”

The scout clarified he meant overall depth with the forwards; for example, he said, it would be foolish not to point out that Edmonton and Colorado have the two best forwards in the world right now. 

But those are also regular-season claims, like the Presidents’ Trophy. And for the Stars, the next 12 games are about having the best foundation to pursue the trophy that really matters, regular-season hardware or not.

Author

Sean Shapiro

Sean Shapiro

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Sean Shapiro covers the Stars for StrongSide. He is a national NHL reporter and writer who previously covered the Dallas…

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