Can the Stars Benefit from NHL Pause?

Just to be clear, I stand 100 percent behind the decisions to suspend/cancel sporting events and leagues in an effort to keep safety the No. 1 priority. Oftentimes, I feel large corporations and industries say things like, “safety first,” but in reality money, publicity and exposure sometimes cloud that judgment.

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So before I get into my argument for why the timing of the NHL’s season suspension could be a good thing for the Dallas Stars, I would like to make it abundantly clear that no one wants the Coronavirus to spread, no one wants to go without sports and no one is completely absent-minded about what is going on with this disease across the world.

Call it “silver lining,” call it “blind optimism,” but if we look at how the Stars have been playing leading up to Thursday when the NHL announced the league was to be suspended indefinitely, it wasn’t good. On top of that, considering that the season was winding down, the remainder is still critical.

What Caused the Suspension?

The Coronavirus, COVID-19, has been the topic of many conversations and just as the virus does itself, those conversations have spread and spread, now penetrating the sports world.

On Wednesday, with the Dallas Mavericks facing the Denver Nuggets on ESPN, news broke that the NBA suspended the Utah Jazz game against the Oklahoma City Thunder because a player, Rudy Gobert of the Jazz, tested positive for COVID-19. The Mavs’ game continued but by the end of it, the NBA announced that it was suspending the season due to the Coronavirus.

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Originally, the NBA was debating whether to play games without fans in attendance but with reports saying commissioner Adam Silver was set to make a decision on Thursday, the decision was pushed ahead. The plan then became to finish Wednesday’s games, but the second game of ESPN’s doubleheader between the Pelicans and Kings was postponed because an official assigned to that game had worked a Jazz contest recently.

The next day, the NHL followed suit, postponing games while assessing the situation and advising teams and players not to travel. Also, the NCAA canceled men’s and women’s basketball tournaments along with the rest of the winter and spring sports seasons. A number of other leagues around the world have also suspended or canceled games and tournaments.

The timeline for return to hockey action is unknown presently. However, the NBA announced it would take 30 days before reassessing the situation and considering that the NHL followed their lead before suspending, it’s possible the two will have similar plans of action.

Where Are the Stars Now?

At the unexpected and sudden halt, Dallas sits third in the Central Division, but has been playing so poorly that they are now looking at dropping to a wild-card spot, and possibly out of the playoffs.

After claiming the first spot in the division for the first time all season during their spectacular February stretch, Dallas is now 10 points behind Colorado and 12 behind the division-leading Blues. But what is more concerning, is Winnipeg, who now sits just two points back of Dallas (who has two games in hand). Nashville is also just four behind at 78.

Jamie Benn Dallas Stars
Jamie Benn, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Winnipeg and Nashville have also taken hold of the two wild-card spots, so should they pass the Stars, the boys from Big-D could still make the postseason. Vancouver is the first team out of the playoffs at 78 points in 69 games — equal to Nashville.

The Stars have had the worst 10-game stretch of all Central Division teams (3-5-2) while the other six teams are all 6-4-0 (including the last-place Chicago Blackhawks) or better. St. Louis is playing the best as of late with an 8-2-0 record in its last 10.

Why is the Stars’ Poor Play Concerning?

Last season, Dallas finished the season hot, meaning they had a surplus of momentum heading into the first round against Nashville, where they upset the division winners in six games.

Part of what allowed them to complete the upset, I say, was the habit of winning. They were used to winning and thus, were in their element as they got on a roll in the playoffs, even pushing the soon-to-be Stanley Cup champion Blues to double overtime in a second-round Game 7.

Dallas Stars Rick Bowness
Dallas Stars interim head coach Rick Bowness (AP Photo/Jeffrey McWhorter)

This season played much to the same tune, after their 1-7-1 start. That is, until as of late with Dallas going 1-5-2 in its last eight before the suspension, including going winless in the last six. If the Stars manage to hold onto their playoff ticket, it could be a much mightier challenge if the team is playing poorly down the stretch, versus last time this year, when Dallas finished the season 11-5-2 after March 1.

How Does the Suspension Help the Stars?

Dallas does well following a break. Granted, there is an argument for all teams to do well after breaks, but one team still wins and the other loses, at the end of the day. One of the biggest factors is health; whether it be the All-Star Break, the bye week or even something as long as the offseason, getting healthy is always a topic of conversation.

You’ve heard it before: “Everyone is playing through injury at this point in the season.” It may be an overstatement or a blanket statement, but it’s true that many players play hurt down the stretch. The All-Star Break was just far enough away that players are getting knicked up again.

Ben Bishop Dallas Stars
Ben Bishop, Dallas Stars (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

We could be seeing some of the healthiest competition, in terms of players’ health, that we have seen at this point in the season for the first time in a long time. While quarantined, in whatever sense of the word each team/player/personnel is using, they would be wise to use this time to freshen up.

The Stars have done particularly well coming off a break. Heading back from All-Star Weekend, Dallas put together a 9-3-2 run before falling into the 1-5-2 skid. Last season coming out of the same break, the team won its first four games back and captured 11 out of the first 14 possible points.

We don’t know when the season will continue and there are no signs of it resuming anytime soon, but there are reasons to think that this break could help teams, especially ones that have been struggling, such as the Stars.