Saturday, April 13, 2024 Apr 13, 2024
71° F Dallas, TX

The Stars May Have the Toughest Road to the Cup. That’s a Good Thing.

The Western Conference is brutal this year. Good!
If Dallas goes far, they'll face Colorado, Edmonton, and/or Vegas. Colorado: Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports; Edmonton: Jeff Le-USA TODAY Sports; Vegas: Matt Krohn-USA TODAY Sports

The Stars are a great team. There are no two ways about it. They’re on pace for 111 points, which would project them to be the top team in a stacked Western Conference. That would be their highest team total since the 2005-06 season. Last week, Mason Marchment became the seventh player to score his 20th goal, tying a franchise record for 20-goal scorers in a season. Only six teams in the salary cap era have had seven or more, and those that have done that had a higher chance of reaching the Stanley Cup Final. 

For you Stars fans who have been rooting for a hockey team ever since the sport came to Texas, it has probably been a while since you’ve felt this anxious—felt like the roster has all the pieces to be the best team in the sport but also felt it might not be enough. 

The ingredients are all there. The blueline showcasing Miro Heiskanen, Thomas Harley, Chris Tanev, and Esa Lindell feels fixed in a way that’s a strength, even mirroring the 1999 team that rode a top four of diametrically opposed pairs: the offensively leaning Darryl Sydor and Sergei Zubov next to the shutdown pair of Derian Hatcher and Richard Matvichuk. Veterans including Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are making meaningful contributions, while the emerging tandem of Wyatt Johnston and Logan Stankoven continues to mark whatever territory they take by storm. So why the anxiety? 

Because the Stars might still not have enough. This is where I think the importance of a genuine rivalry will factor into their fortunes. It’s not a scientific hypothesis, but it’s also an undeniable gauge in some ways. The best brings out the best. Iron sharpens iron and all that. 

Speaking of rivalries, it’s worth going back in time. In the years before the Stars won the Cup, not to mention the year they won it, the Edmonton Oilers were a thorn in their side. They didn’t have the most talented team, but they put the Stars in the octagon. Heck, even Mike Modano dropped the gloves against them. Make no mistake: Winnipeg, Nashville, and L.A. (Dallas’ most likely opponents per Micah Blake McCurdy’s model) will play the Stars just like that, with nothing to lose. In some ways, these would be perfect first-round matchups. Not only is there a lot of history, including Rick Bowness being Dallas’ former coach and Nashville being the team that bought out Matt Duchene, but they’re also the kind of teams that would put the Stars on high alert. If this team is as elite as it looks, these opponents will most likely get their full attention. 

But rivalries are also about equals, not just stepping stones. If Dallas goes far, it’s going to face Colorado, Edmonton, and/or Vegas. Beyond winning the Cup just two years ago, the Avalanche are scoring 2.99 goals per hour at even strength, 17th out of 520 teams since 2007. Edmonton is just behind, with 2.94 goals per hour at even strength. And the Oilers have Colorado bested in another key category: they have the third-highest expected goal differential since 2007, above even the Cup-winning Blackhawks from 2010. The Knights don’t grade out as effectively this year as they did last season, but they’ve been decimated by injuries. Given their trade-deadline moves and considering they are the defending Cup champions, who could possibly count them out? (Not to mention, no one needs to be reminded how the series against Dallas ended.)  

The Stars have a history with a lot of these teams. So if this is truly the year they finally upset the established order, they’re going to need to get even with a familiar foe (Vegas) or encounter a new one (Edmonton). 

While hockey is a team sport, it is also a sport that skews toward being a strong-link one. “Your best players have to be your best players,” they say. But in the spirit of a rivalry, there’s another piece to that; namely, that your best players have to be your best players against their best players. How do Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger fare against Connor McDavid and Nathan MacKinnon? Can Jason Robertson and Roope Hintz lead the charge against Adin Hill and Mark Stone? If, fingers crossed, a matchup with Florida ensues, can Stankoven and Johnston compete with Sam Bennett and Vladimir Tarasenko? 

I’ve been thinking a lot about rivalries because when you assess the Stars’ Cup run in 1999, they saw a lot of familiar faces, from the scrappy Oilers to the balanced, Chris Pronger-led Blues to the legends playing in Colorado and Detroit. I also remember that when Dallas won, beating Buffalo felt like only a formality. After all, what legends did the Sabres have to beat to get to the Final?

If the first step is sharing the ice with other great teams, the next step is taking home the only prize that matters in hockey. Are the Stars good enough? I don’t know. If they are, we will know by the wrecked rivals they leave in their wake.


David Castillo

David Castillo

View Profile
David Castillo covers the Stars for StrongSide. He has written for SB Nation and Wrong Side of the Red Line,…

Related Articles

Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Explosion that Forever Changed West, Texas

Next week marks the 11th anniversary of the fertilizer plant explosion that killed 15 in the small town of West. For this week's edition, we revisit our story from June of 2013.

Dude Perfect Receives $100 Million Capital Infusion

Plus: Cariloop raises $20 million, StrikeReady raises $12 million, and more.

Has Monty Bennett Hoisted Himself on His Own Petard?

A lawsuit alleges that he broke SEC rules with his Dallas Express.