The Dallas Stars, NHL, and NHL Players’ Association have agreed to the Return To Play Plan.
If you’re a fan of the Dallas Stars and were wary of the return of hockey, fret no more. Late yesterday afternoon, the league and the NHL Players’ Association agreed in principle to stages three and four of the NHL’s Return To Play Plan. In the process, the agreement also apparently ensures labor peace through the 2025-26 season.
Under those terms, training camps for the expanded twenty-four team field would start locally on July 13th. Teams would then travel to the two hub cities on July 26th, and the qualifying round would start on August 1st. The hub cities are as yet undetermined, but those close to the situation indicate that Edmonton will be the host city for the Western Conference and Toronto will host the East.
The format, which was already determined, will consist of a round-robin among the top four teams in each conference. Each team will play each other once in order to determine seeding. The five-through-twelve seeds will engage in best-of-five series to establish a traditional sixteen-team playoff bracket.
This is where the seeding affects the Stars. By virtue of being the fourth-best team in the West based on points percentage, the Stars guaranteed themselves a berth in the top four seeds. There was more than a bit of luck at play here since Dallas was mired in a season-worst, six-game losing streak when play was halted.
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If the season had lingered another game or two, the Stars may have very well found themselves needing to play their way into the tournament. Given this franchise’s decade-plus history of general playoff futility, postseason qualification wasn’t a done deal by any stretch. Even then, prior to their skid, they had done more than a reasonably good job of establishing themselves as a contender in the Western Conference. Moreover, they’d done so by honing their skills as a club built on defense and goaltending. Provided they could correct their course, another deep run into the playoffs wasn’t out of the question, and that’s definitely the hope as the season resumes.
Further, the Dallas Stars are basically the same bunch that took last year’s champions, the St. Louis Blues, to seven games in an epic Western Conference semifinal. While the championship pedigree isn’t exactly tangible with these Stars, the lessons learned from last year’s push could potentially be enough to get them to the next level. By and large, they know how to keep the other team from scoring. If they could find some extra offensive punch, then that might be all they need to prolong a championship run this time around.
Above and beyond all else, it is really exciting to finally have some set-in-stone dates for the recommencement of play. It’s been four months since any meaningful NHL action. Any talk to this point had just been been speculation, so it’s good to see some actual movement. Of course, the safety of everyone involved is of utmost concern, but if they can pull it off with a minimum of roadblocks, then the NHL playoffs will provide a welcome and much-needed diversion.