With a new playoff format in place, the Dallas Stars got a new lease on life.
When the NHL suspended the season back in March, the Dallas Stars were mired in a six-game losing streak and falling in the Western Conference standings. It was easily their worst stretch of hockey since the 1-7-1 tire fire that lowlighted the start of their campaign back in October. In between those two slumps, though, the Stars staged a massive 36-13-5 rally that had firmly placed them in the running for the NHL Central Division crown.
So even though it was doom and gloom among the fans before the real-life doom and gloom hit, the Stars were still in good stead to snag a postseason berth. Of course, this was all provided they could find a way to win a game or five in their final thirteen contests. It was safe to assume that this fan base–which already carries around enough baggage as is–had their doubts, present company included.
It’s very unfortunate and definitely macabre, but the stoppage really couldn’t have come at a better time for a squad in the throes of a potentially catastrophic stall. So when NHL Commissioner, Gary Bettman, announced last week that the league and the NHLPA had agreed to a return-to-play format, the Stars’ fortunes rose dramatically.
Under the format, Dallas, being fourth in the Western Conference, would engage in a mini round robin with the top three teams to determine playoff seeding. Meanwhile, the five-through-twelve seeds would pair off and play a best-of-five qualifying series in order to move on to the next round. Not bad for a Stars’ team that may have potentially been struggling for a wild card spot had the season finished under normal circumstances.
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Moreover, Bettman announced that these playoffs would be taking place in two hub cities. Lo and behold, Dallas is on that list. Those two hubs haven’t been formally announced as yet, but what a stroke of luck would it be if they never had to travel to another city for the duration of their run through the Western Conference? Of course, neither would any other team, but they wouldn’t have the creature comforts of their own homes, beds, etc. after each game like the Stars would. I’m not sure what that means these days in terms of any kind of proverbial “home ice” advantage, but a psychological edge might turn out to be significant if the cards fell right. At this point, the Stars need any favor they can get.
The main question here, of course, is about the team itself. Would they still be smelling their own stench from the last meaningful hockey games they played? Or would they be playing with the the uncluttered minds of a team that was given a chance to start anew? Given the length of the break, I’d lean towards the latter. No matter what happens, they’d be on a two-year playoff qualifying streak, which hasn’t happened a lot around here in recent memory. That’s simply good for morale no matter the circumstance.
Selfishly, once the word got out about an honest-to-goodness playoff format, all I wanted to see was some playoff hockey. If there hadn’t been a global pandemic, the Stanley Cup finals would have just started. It’s weird to know that roughly fifteen percent of the regular season and three rounds of the playoffs would have been completed in the interim created by the stoppage. It’s been eighty days since the last puck drop, but if and/or when hockey returns, the state of the union for the Dallas Stars is good.