The Dallas Stars have been on a rollercoaster ride the past few seasons. After falling one goal short of the Western Conference Final in 2018-19, they responded with an incredible Stanley Cup Final run in the bubble the following season. However, due to injuries, a condensed schedule, and inconsistent play in 2020-21, they missed the playoffs.
This season, they seem to have put the pieces together into what could be their best team in years. With almost all their injured players ready to return, a great mix of veterans and young skill, and the addition of key new players, the Stars believe they are built to win now; on paper, they may be right.
Adversity Makes Stars Stronger
Adversity and heartbreak have their place in professional sports, and the Stars have had more than their share over the past few seasons. After losing their second-round series in double overtime in Game 7 to the eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues in 2019, Dallas suffered even worse heartbreak. At the end of their Cinderella run in the Edmonton bubble in 2020, they were slowed down by injuries and lost in the Cup Final to the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. Getting through the craziness of playing in the bubble for nine weeks and falling so close to the finish line was a crushing blow.
Then, after battling through injuries to come within a few points of a playoff spot last season, they watched as the Nashville Predators’ excellent play secured the final berth. Fourteen of the Stars’ losses last season were after regulation, including five to the Predators. They consistently came close, only to fall short. Although it may have been crushing, it might also have been necessary.
“The pain of missing the playoffs, sometimes that helps you grow because you don’t want to experience that again. Missing the playoffs gives you a little more time off in the summer than you want. This team has been through so much in the last 14 months, they miss playing in the playoffs and they miss being on the ice. Some of our guys have been skating since June. It shows how much they miss the game and how anxious they are to get going.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
Most teams that win a Stanley Cup do so after experiencing adversity, which often comes in the playoffs as it did with the Stars. It was also the case for the back-to-back champion Lightning. After winning the Presidents’ Trophy in 2018-19, they were swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the playoffs. It was disappointing but also allowed them to spot their weaknesses and strengthen them. They returned to win the next two Stanley Cups during arguably the strangest two seasons in NHL history.
For Dallas, this season should serve as the response to losing the 2020 Stanley Cup. Last season, they were gashed with injuries and a hectic schedule that never allowed them to play to their potential. This season, look for the Stars to seek redemption as they push to reach the peak.
Key Stars Players Return From Injury
Dating back to the 2019 playoffs, Dallas has been forced to handle more critical injuries than any team in the league. This season, staying healthy will be their top priority, and they have started on the right foot. Alexander Radulov, Tyler Seguin, Roope Hintz, and Ben Bishop all missed significant time last season due to injury. As of now, Bishop is the only player that has not been cleared to play on opening night.
“To have those guys back healthy, ready to go, that’s a major plus for our team. At the time when Radulov got hurt, he was our leading scorer. He was playing some of the best hockey I’ve seen him play. And Tyler has been one of the elite scorers in the league. You lose those two players, it’s a major impact. And to have them back healthy and on our team, it just helps to slot everybody in their right spots. We’re adding one line to our team with Roope (healthy) after last year. You’re talking a pretty good No. 1 line on any team.”– Stars general manager Jim Nill
Aside from these big-name players, many faces have dealt with injuries and illnesses in the past few seasons but are cleared and ready to go.
New Additions to the Stars Lineup
General manager Jim Nill made the decision to add defensive depth rather than offensive firepower in free agency this summer. He made it clear that those key players mentioned above returning would provide plenty of offense. While we will have to wait to see if he is correct, it makes sense given their talent. Either way, the Stars became an even better defensive team with the addition of Ryan Suter, Luke Glendening, Braden Holtby, Michael Raffl, and Jani Hakanpaa.
While Suter and Holtby bring the most experience, including one championship (Holtby with Washington Capitals in 2018), each of them will bring a defensive focus and experience to strengthen an already solid Dallas defense. Not only that, but these additions give them the depth they have been searching for.
“We go back and say our analytics show we’re creating chances, and we need to finish better. To get players like Seggy and Rads back, that’ll help. And then on defense, we should be even better at getting the puck out and making the first pass with Suter back there, so that should help. The faster the puck moves, the harder you are to play against.”– Stars head coach Rick Bowness
With their young core intact, the Stars now have the veterans and depth to be considered true contenders.
Hintz, Roberston Hitting Their Stride
Hintz may be the Stars’ best player. He has speed, size, skill and has developed into a highly intelligent two-way center. On top of that, he showed his toughness, battling through a severe groin injury all last season to finish with 43 points in 41 games. After surgery this summer, he is at full health for the first time since the COVID-19 break in 2020.
Jason Robertson exploded onto the scene last season with 39 points in the final 39 games. As a rookie, he finished second in Calder Trophy voting and was a key part of the top line with Hintz and Joe Pavelski. Now, after developing both mentally and physically, he and his linemates will try to take another step forward.
“The best defense against a top line is hemming them in their zone, right? Roope is so fast and so quick, and Joe knows where you are always on the ice. It helps having two centermen on your line who can play low and manage all of that and are interchangeable, so it’s definitely an advantage. If that’s what Bones wants us to do, we’ll take that head on.”– Stars forward Jason Robertson
Hintz scored one goal in his only game of the preseason, while Robertson and Pavelski were both strong throughout. This trio will begin the season as the top line once again, but they now have more depth below them, putting less pressure on them this season.
Stars Have ‘That Feeling’
While all of these areas are important for success, a team will only go as far as they believe they can go. Hockey is a physical sport, but the mental aspect is just as vital. If the leaders truly believe they can win, they can build that confidence into the culture of the team. Everyone on the Stars believes in their potential, especially their captain.
“We’re built to win and win right now. Obviously, last year was pretty disappointing, so I’m looking for a fresh start.”– Stars captain Jamie Benn
This feeling is shared in the locker room as Dallas knows how vital this season is for their club. John Klingberg, Pavelski, Radulov, and Rick Bowness’ contracts expire next summer, so they know this may be the last season as a group. Jim Nill has done an incredible job putting together the current team, and there is a buzz in the air in Big D.
“I have good feelings. We have a great team and have a chance to go far. We’ve got some great guys on the team. Really good feeling. We have lots of leaders on the team and good, young guys, too. There’s a good mix of guys. It’s really exciting. Can’t wait to get it going.”– Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen
When Benn was asked about his expectations for the season, you could sense his tone shift. He is approaching this season with the highest expectations, knowing his team is capable of more.
“Earlier in my career, the goal was probably to make the playoffs and see what we could do. You know, just build step by step. But now, expectations are raised, and we definitely know as players that we have a group that can win right now. We have that feeling. “– Stars captain Jamie Benn
The 2021-22 season will be an important one. Not only is the Stars’ championship window closing, but they are built for a long playoff run. If they can stay healthy and use their experience to push through adversity along the way, this team may be able to accomplish anything.
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!