The Dallas Stars were one of few teams that had not been hit with any sort of COVID outbreak through the first three months of the season. That all changed, however, as just before Christmas, things began to unwind. After their game against the Winnipeg Jets was postponed due to cross-border travel concerns, they watched as their next six games had the same result spanning from Dec. 22- Jan. 2. Now, with 11 NHL players, 15 American Hockey League players, and multiple staff members all sitting on the COVID protocol list, the team’s next game remains unknown.
Stars Hit Hard With COVID
Although the NHL and NHLPA announced significant changes to their CBA agreement a few days ago, the Stars are still unable to line up a full team at this time. If the issue was at the NHL level only, they would likely be dressing most of their AHL players to complete the games over the last 10 days.
“Our biggest problem right now is that while the league is allowing us to have a taxi squad, we’re having even more problems in the AHL and we’re not able to call up players right now,” said Stars general manager Jim Nill.
This is familiar territory for the Stars as well as most NHL clubs over the past few seasons. After the initial pause in March 2020, the many postponements last season, and the 80 games already postponed this season, it has unfortunately become the norm across the league.
Currently, the COVID list for Dallas contains Jamie Benn, Luke Glendening, Ryan Suter, Radek Faksa, Jani Hakanpaa, Miro Heiskanen, Roope Hintz, Joel Kiviranta, Esa Lindell, Michael Raffl, and Jason Robertson. Outside of this list, the Stars are left with about 10 players, forcing them to adjust when they do get on the ice for practice.
“Practices have been good, you can kind of work on individual skills,” Tyler Seguin said. “It’s tough to do system stuff, just because it’s so limited with the amount of bodies. But your personal skills, you get a lot out of it.”
The NHL’s new rule regarding protocols should help the Stars return to action sooner than before. Now only needing to isolate for five days following a positive test, Dallas hopes that players begin to trickle back into the lineup.
Stars Trying To Remain Patient
Unfortunately, this situation remains completely out of the Stars’ control. Other than staying safe and smart while practicing with the bodies they do have, they simply need to let this thing run its course.
“It’s the unknown right now that is very, very frustrating for all of us,” Stars coach Rick Bowness said. “It’s something we have to deal with, clearly. It’s something that’s completely out of our control of when we do play. All we’re going to keep the focus on is controlling what’s in front of us, and that’s making sure the players that we have stay as sharp as best they can.”
Perhaps the most frustrating part of the whole situation is the fact that the NHL has to take things day by day. This means that Dallas truly has no clue when they will return to the ice and could see further games postponed past the current Jan. 2 mark. If the Stars do return to play as currently scheduled, they will do so against the Florida Panthers on Jan. 6 on home ice. The team has not played a game since they defeated the Minnesota Wild on Dec. 20 and are currently riding a two-game winning streak.
“We are all creatures of habit, we need a date,” Bowness continued. “But it is something that we have to deal with. It’s something that is totally out of our control.”
For now, the plan for the NHL remains the same. With the recent withdrawal from the 2022 Winter Olympics, the league will use that time to reschedule as many postponed games as possible. This will likely result in teams playing more hockey, similar to the schedule the Stars faced last season. For Dallas, they are just eager to get going and impatiently waiting to get back on the ice for some games.
“I am pretty impatient here,” Stars captain Jamie Benn said. “We’ve had eight days off or whatever it has been now, Personally, I am ready to play.”
Sam Nestler is a Dallas Stars contributor for the ‘The Hockey Writers’. Growing up in New Jersey, Sam has been playing hockey since he was 7 years old. Developing a love for writing in college, Sam uses his hockey knowledge to create analyses and articles on every aspect of the game. Sam also hosts his own podcast on Spotify, the “Slapshot Sammy’ podcast, breaking down action across the NHL and NCAA. Check out the podcast here, and give his latest article a read!