Dallas Stars center Tyler Seguin seems quite concerned about getting the 2015-16 season off to a good start. In a July 20 press conference, he had this to say:
…right now I think everyone’s focus needs to be training camp, it needs to be the start of the season and it needs to be on starting well.
Later that week, in a one-on-one interview with Mike Heika of The Dallas Morning News, Seguin elaborated on his previous statement:
I think we need to have a quicker start than last year…after the slow start, we spent the next 60 games trying to catch up, and we were never able to do that.
Though the Stars’ top center didn’t come right out and say it, he alluded to a truth that players, management and astute observers know all too well: it gets late awfully early in the modern NHL.
The Quest for the Cup Begins, and Sometimes Ends, in October
The Stanley Cup can’t be won in October or November, but it can certainly be lost. The Dallas Stars know this from painful experience. Last season, the Stars stumbled out of the gate, compiling a 4-2-4 record through the first ten games. The wheels came off in November, as the team went 3-7-0 over the next ten contests. Twenty games into the 2014-15 schedule, the Stars found themselves six points out of 8th place in the Western Conference. By November 20, a week before American Thanksgiving, their season was over.
Six points might not seem like an insurmountable deficit, but in a league in which teams are awarded a point for losing after the third period, six points is a mountain. As Elliotte Friedman mentioned two years ago (and as my late brother figured out back in 2008), teams more than four points out of a playoff spot on or after November 1 fail to make the playoffs over 90% of the time.
How hard is it to make up ground in today’s NHL? Consider this: At the Game 70 mark of last season, Dallas was eight points behind 8th place Winnipeg and twenty-one points in back of Central Division leader St. Louis. The Stars went on a tear in the homestretch, posting a 9-3-0 record to close out the campaign. Despite that exceptional finish, they gained just one point on the Jets and four on the Blues. Even if Dallas had “run the table” and finished the season 12-0-0, they still would’ve trailed the Jets (and missed the playoffs) by one point.
How Will 2015-16 be Different for Dallas?
At least one writer has described the Stars’ defense early in the 2014-15 campaign as a “tire-fire.” To borrow a line from Office Space, GM Jim Nill did his part to “fix the glitch.” Of the six defensemen who dressed for Dallas’ season opener last year, only Alex Goligoski, Patrik Nemeth and Jordie Benn remain. Rounding out the top six blueliners for the upcoming season are Klingberg, Oduya and Demers, a significant upgrade over Daley, Dillon and Connauton. As Seguin indicated to Mike Heika, the forward corps is fully aware of the role they played in Dallas’ early-season defensive struggles, and those mistakes won’t be repeated this year. Last, but certainly not least, the Stars can (and should) expect improved goaltending from the Finnish tandem of Lehtonen and Niemi.
In addition to the aforementioned improvements, Dallas’ schedule through the first twenty games of the season is about as easy as it gets in the NHL:
- Nine of twenty games are at home
- Eleven games are against teams which failed to make the playoffs last season
- Of nine games against 2014-15 playoff teams, five are at home
- Just three games are against Central Division rivals, and two of of those games are at the AAC
- Two four-game road trips, both of which take place entirely in the Eastern time zone
- Only one back-to-back (November 2 at Toronto, November 3 at Boston)
- Only one game outside the Central or Eastern time zones (October 10 at Colorado)
The National Hockey League’s schedule-makers have set the table for Dallas. If the Stars take full advantage of the feast laid out before them, they can virtually guarantee themselves a spot in the 2016 playoffs; if not, the Boys in Green could once again be done before the Thanksgiving turkey.