What a difference a year makes. Thursday night in Washington, the Dallas Stars were out-hit and out-shot, but not outscored. With their 3-2 win over the Capitals, the Stars improved to 16-4-0 on the year, beating out the 1971-72 Minnesota North Stars and the 1998-99 Dallas Stars (remember those guys?) for the best season start in franchise history.
It’s a far cry from last November 20, when this team was 7-9-4 and already out of playoff contention. While their turnaround has been dramatic, they’ve had a pretty easy schedule thus far. Most of the other Central Division clubs have been playing lights-out hockey, too, and in many cases, they’ve done so despite tougher schedules. Twenty games in, the question must be asked: Are the Dallas Stars a playoff team?
And the Answer is…
You don’t even have to consult the Magic 8-Ball for this one: Yes, the Dallas Stars are a playoff team. When I say that, I don’t just mean they’re good enough to finish in the top eight in the Western Conference; I mean the Stars have, for all intents and purposes, qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In November. With sixty-two games remaining on the schedule. Sound improbable? Probability is what it’s all about.
Do the Math
As I mentioned here, back in August, one school of thought is that teams more than four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot on November 1 fail to make the playoffs about 90 percent of the time; conversely, teams more than four points above eighth place qualify for the playoffs roughly 90 percent of the time. For slightly greater accuracy, I prefer to compare apples to apples by looking at each team upon completion of twenty games. With 32 points, the Stars are at least seven points above eighth place in the West (currently Chicago, which has 23 points going into their 20th game Friday night).
Since only the top three teams in each division are guaranteed playoff spots, it’s also important to see where a team sits in relation to fourth place in their division. That position is currently occupied by the Minnesota Wild, with 23 points in 18 games. Even if the Wild win their next two, the Stars will still hold a five-point lead over them. In the worst-case scenario, after all Central Division teams have played twenty games, Dallas will be five points ahead of fourth place. That’s good enough to virtually guarantee Lindy Ruff’s team a spot in the playoffs come April.
Are You Sure About That?
Yes, I’m sure. Consider this: The Stars have been playing .800 hockey to this point. Their schedule only gets tougher from here, so it’s not reasonable to expect them to keep winning at that rate.
If their win percentage slips to just .597 for the rest of the season, that’s still a record of 37-25-0 over the remaining 62 games, which would give them another 74 points. Add to that the 32 points they’ve already earned, and that’s 106 points for the season. No team finishing with 100-plus points has ever missed the playoffs. For the Stars to be in jeopardy of missing the postseason, their win percentage would have to drop to .500 or lower for the next 62 games.
Though injuries and slumps are as certain as death and taxes, these Dallas Stars, after a 16-4-0 start, would have to work very hard to be so mediocre for such a lengthy stretch. It’s just not going to happen. Not this team, not this year. Start saving your money now, Stars fans, because playoff tickets won’t be cheap.
Matt blogged about all things hockey at On Goal Analysis/The OGA Blogs from 2008-2014 and has written several travel articles for The Dallas Morning News. He began covering the Dallas Stars and Florida Panthers for The Hockey Writers in August 2015. Matt is also writing a biography of “Tex” Rickard, the Texas cowboy who founded the New York Rangers and the Madison Square Garden Corporation.