Thursday, May 23, 2024 May 23, 2024
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Yes, the Stars Should Hang Regular Season Banners

Adam Sandler can teach us something about relishing the in-between moments.
This one can be yours for just $25 on Ebay.

The Stars have won the Central Division for the first time since 2016. They’re also sitting at the top of the Western Conference, falling just short of their first Presidents’ Trophy in more than two decades. They don’t hang “Mission Accomplished” banners for regular-season success, but they do hang banners of another sort. As they should. 

When it comes to end-of-season questions with a potential playoff run looming, everyone from Jim Nill on down is going to say this team is focused on the playoffs, that winning the division is just the first step. As Peter DeBoer noted after the Stars’ 81st game of the year, the players and coaches want to hang “more important banners than that.” Franchises have even gotten mocked for hanging banners commemorating regular-season accolades, with critics saying the teams are settling for whatever insipid success they can taste. 

That’s not entirely fair. A baseball team can play 162 games and come out on top of the other 29 clubs, only to have its season characterized as a failure because it lost a seven-game playoff series. NHL and NBA teams play half as many games, but it doesn’t mean their seasons are necessarily any less impressive. Heck, the fact the Stars have won the division only three times since the 2004 lockout should tell you just how hard it is to hang those banners. 

Countless teams struggle to stay focused during the winter months, yet Dallas has spent two straight seasons battling for Central Division supremacy. No, it’s not everything, but a division championship and home-ice advantage are not nothing, either. It’s a mark of success, even if everyone is apparently required by Hockey Law to say very clearly, on camera, that they know it’s not the ultimate goal. 

This focus on the playoffs above all else is primarily a U.S. thing, by the way. The English Premier League runs for just 38 games each season, but it doesn’t even have playoffs. Teams can qualify for various tournaments against teams from other leagues, but to “win” the Premier League, a team merely has to finish on top after those 38 games. There’s a huge trophy with ribbons, the players go nuts, and everyone on that team will never have to pay for a drink in town again. It’s pretty cool

My theory is that the 17-game NFL season, as the most-watched sporting season in the country, has conditioned sports fans to see every “season” as a mere stepping stone to the supposedly more authentic test of a team’s playoff mettle. And I suppose, in a 17-game season, that makes sense. Anyone can beat up on the Arizona Cardinals of the world (other than the Cowboys, that is) and rack up a good chunk of wins against lesser competition; however, playing the best teams in the league with a week’s preparation is a whole ’nother ball game. There comes a point where you have to prove you can do it when it matters the most.

But over the course of the 82-game NHL season, the Stars have proven themselves plenty, so far as it goes. Miro Heiskanen and Jake Oettinger went down with injuries. Tyler Seguin has been winning a battle with his body all season, and the Stars’ top line cooled off even as the rest of the team rose to a simmering heat. Colorado and Winnipeg nipped at the Stars’ heels and even got out in front for a bit, but Dallas ran them down with the collective effort of its entire lineup. That effort has more than earned each banner the Stars will hang this season, whether it be one or five. 

Yep, I said five. In fact, Dallas hung five banners to commemorate its 1999 Stanley Cup run: three banners for regular-season accomplishments, in addition to the Campbell Bowl Championship and, of course, the Stanley Cup.

The Stars later hung regular season Western Conference champions banners, too, but those aren’t in the rafters anymore. These days, the organization has chosen not to display such banners, a decision that coincided roughly with defeating everyone in the West in the 2020 playoff bubble. Today the Stars have only four sorts of tapestries hanging in the American Airlines Center. They recognize the following: divisional championships (8), playoff conference championships (3), Presidents’ Trophies (2), and the Stanley Cup (1). 

On the one hand, it makes sense. Since Tom Gaglardi bought the team, he has made no bones about the fact that his club is gunning for the pinnacle of success. When you hold up the best teams in the NHL as the standard, it might seem ridiculous to have a banner with “Regular Season” plastered on it, particularly if you’re hosting a team like the Montreal Canadiens and their 24 Stanley Cups. 

But it all depends on what you want the banners to do. If you’re trying to brag about a team, it makes sense to be picky about which things you highlight, lest you come off as desperate to celebrate any accomplishment you can. That said, this line of thinking makes the big assumption that finishing atop the conference is apparently not a big enough accomplishment to brag about. But I digress. 

Space considerations are also part of the process for deciding which banners to hang. Still, I would argue that regular-season banners evoke just as many vivid memories as many of their playoff counterparts, and sometimes more. After all, what Texas Rangers fan doesn’t remember the joy of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, even if they ended in World Series heartbreak?  

The 2016 Stars season is an even better example of how remarkable a year can be, regardless of the team’s fate in the playoffs. After five feckless years that culminated in bankruptcy and nary a playoff game, Lindy Ruff arrived, and the Stars suddenly became fun again. Seeing that Central Division champions banner always takes me back to those deliriously fun games when the Stars were riding the crest of the NHL’s offensive wave, scoring goals at will and winning games at a rate many Stars fans had never experienced. I feel things about that year, about a team designed by a mad genius that even the 2020 miracle playoff run doesn’t quite evoke. In movie terms, you might say that playoff runs are action sequences, but regular seasons provide broader character development. 

In many ways, this season has been the spiritual successor to that madcap 2015-16 season, but we’ve been spoiled in ways we weren’t eight years ago. The Stars have made the playoffs for three straight seasons, and they’re only four years removed from the Stanley Cup Final. Dallas was picked by many outlets as a Cup favorite at the start of this season, and the disappointment of last spring is far too fresh for fans to revel in the ephemeral accomplishments of a regular season that would be the envy of nearly every other team in the NHL. The Stars are supposed to be here, so why celebrate that? That sort of thinking is basically Adam Sandler’s character in Switch, a man who attempts to fast-forward his life to all of the high points, only to realize he has missed all the best stuff of the in-between moments. 

And this season has been full of such moments. The Stars probably aren’t going to rip off 16 straight wins and coast to the Stanley Cup. But they’ve done everything you could have asked of them, and that deserves contemplation and appreciation. We need that revelry; we need to feast. Fans aren’t bound solely by their team’s sexiest playoff accomplishments, but because we’re enjoying a story together, watching characters develop as they struggle together, across months and even years, and sometimes decades. With his late-season scoring surge, Jamie Benn is a decade removed from his power-forward prime, but it’s that much sweeter when it’s a chapter in that same book. The goal horns are great punctuation, but without the character arcs leading up to them, they’re just noise.

When the Stars hang their 2023-24 Central Division champions banner next season, you should take a moment to remember Matt Murray’s shutout, and Wyatt Johnston’s casual dominance as the youngest player on the team, and the 9-2 concert-canceling victory over Nashville, and the franchise-record eight-game winning streak. That banner will rekindle memories for every fan who sees it, regardless of what is hanging next to it. Sports are supposed to be fun, and the banners remind us just how fun they can be.


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…