The NHL has made a major overhaul to its division lineups this season and the Dallas Stars are one of the teams that will benefit the most. For the first time since the ‘97-‘98 season the Stars will have division foes within their own time zone. Eliminating over 3,000 miles of travel and more importantly, cutting their late night starts in half.
A new division means saying goodbye to Phoenix, San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim and the rivalries that brewed between those clubs. Some were interesting but in all honesty the Stars dominated that division for long stretches of time. The new Central division has the chance to become much more interesting.
Along with the Stars the new Central Division will include the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets and the Nashville Predators. All of the new division mates are geographically much more logical than the teams in the old Pacific and the Stars already have history with most of these new teams.
The long standing rivalry with the current Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks that has existed since the inception of the Minnesota North Stars in 1967 will be rekindled and fantastic to watch. The Hawks have a young talented core that has won two cups in the last four years and are poised to be successful for years to come. They are a team that the young Stars can learn a lot from.
The Stars are also reunited with the St. Louis Blues. The Blues and the Stars joined the league together in the 1967 expansion. They, like the Hawks, had a long standing rivalry with the Stars that cooled after the Stars moved west. The rivalry was further removed from prominence due to both teams faltering in recent years, but should be easily rekindled once the two start playing regularly.
The Blues head coach is Ken Hitchcock, the coach that led the Stars to back to back cup finals and won the cup with Dallas in ‘99. Brett Hull, whom the Stars acquired as a free agent from the Blues and who scored the Cup clinching goal in that series, is back with the Blues in their front office after an unsuccessful stint as co-General Manager of the Stars. Plenty of story-lines to look forward to in this match-up.
This latest version of the Winnipeg Jets are in their third season back in Canada after relocating from Atlanta for financial reasons. They are in a building mode and won’t be contenders this season but might be in a few years. That being said the atmosphere in Winnipeg is something to behold despite the team’s lack of on ice success.
The MTS Center is the smallest arena in the NHL with a capacity of 15,004. When the announcement was made that the NHL was coming back to the “Peg” for the first time since ’96 the club held a season ticket drive. The drive was open to the MTS Center’s minor league team season ticket holders first. They sold 7,000 in the first two days. When the remaining 6,000 went on sale to the general public it took all of 17 minutes to sell out. They have a waiting list of 8,000. Those fans that are fortunate enough to get a ticket help define the most exciting and electric atmosphere in the league.
The crowd stands for the vast majority of the game and each and every visiting team has a player that gets hissed or booed every time he touches the puck. The energy is constant from faceoff to final whistle and energizing to the home team. I look forward to seeing which of the Stars will become the villain in Winnipeg.
For the first time the Colorado Avalanche will be division rivals. One of the closest teams geographically to Dallas and counterpart in two epic Western Conference Finals in ‘99 and ‘00, this should become one of every Stars fan’s favorite match-ups. Like the Hawks, the Avalanche are full of young talent and new Head Coach Patrick Roy has instilled a sense of pride and legacy back in to the team he led to Stanley Cup victories in ’96 and ‘01. This year’s number one overall draft pick Nathan Mackinnon will be leading the Av’s for years to come. He adds more young top talent to a division full of burgeoning stars.
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