With the NHL and NHLPA agreeing on a CBA extension and the details in the Return To Play Plan, it looks like hockey is almost back. On Friday afternoon, the League announced the schedule for the Qualifying Round. Where does that schedule leave the Dallas Stars?
It’s been 122 days since the Dallas Stars skated together as a team in a formal practice setting. And after months of uncertainty amidst a global pandemic, they are now mere hours away from breaking that streak and getting back on the ice in Frisco.
Hockey is almost back.
When the NHL paused its 2019-20 season on March 12 due to concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, there was no telling what kind of effect it would have on professional sports. Would the NBA and NHL have to cancel the remainder of their seasons and playoffs? Would the MLB have a chance to safely and securely open its own 2020 campaign? Would concerns about the virus push into August and September and disrupt the NFL and college athletics?
There were a lot of questions and very few answers, and those questions stretched into the beginning of the summer season. But now, at least for the time being, we have some positive clarity.
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The NBA is preparing for a July 30 tip-off restart at Disney World in Orlando. The MLB is in the midst of “summer camp” and hopes to start a 60-game “sprint” on July 23. The NFL is still reportedly on pace for a regular start time, though they have already made changes to offseason workouts and the preseason. Health and safety protocols have been adopted and put in place by each league in an effort to help not only in minimizing the spread and impact of the virus, but also to keep play and performance as unaffected as possible.
And now, the NHL is kickstarting its own hopeful Return To Play Plan.
Friday afternoon brought plenty of good news on the hockey front as the NHL and NHLPA ratified both a four-year extension to the NHL/NHLPA Collective Bargaining Agreement and plans to resume play on Aug. 1.
The 24 teams originally highlighted in the Return To Play Plan will jump back into competitive action at the beginning of August, with the 12 Western Conference clubs playing in Edmonton and the 12 Eastern Conference clubs playing in Toronto. Each hub city will host the qualifying round and first two rounds of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, though the Conference Finals and Stanley Cup Final will be played in Edmonton.
In addition, the NHL also announced the schedule for the qualifying round and round-robin games. So, where does that leave the Dallas Stars?
When the season was paused, the Stars were the fourth-best team in the Western Conference based on points percentage. That percentage clinched them a spot in the Seeding Round Robin and also guaranteed them a ticket to the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
As a result, they will spend the qualifying round playing the St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, and Vegas Golden Knights to determine the top four seeds in the Western Conference for the playoffs.
And now, we know when and in what order the Stars will face each of the top three teams in the conference.
Here is how the schedule lines up for Dallas:
Aug. 3 against the Vegas Golden Knights, Aug. 5 against the Colorado Avalanche, and Aug. 9 against the St. Louis Blues before the Stanley Cup Playoffs actually begin.
Seems simple enough. But where does this schedule leave the Stars?
At first glance, it seems to offer them an opportunity. Playing the top three teams in the conference was never going to be an easy task, but this layout carries certain perks.
On the one hand, the Stars get to work their way up from third to first in the standings. Considering they went 1-0-1 against the Golden Knights and 4-0-0 against the Avalanche during the shortened 2019-20 regular season, drawing those two opponents first could provide a certain advantage. But after four months off, it’s also fair to say that no team will have any momentum from the regular season.
If the Dallas Stars are going to secure the first seed in the Western Conference going into the playoffs, they will have to post a record of 3-0-0 or go 2-0-1 and hope that no other team finishes better than 2-1-0. The math doesn’t necessarily work in their favor, so a chance at picking up two wins before a potentially pivotal game against the Blues should be an added bonus.
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While the Blues and Avalanche will get two days of rest between each round-robin game, the Stars will have one between their first and second games and three before the matchup against St. Louis. That could be another pro, considering rest will be a valuable commodity for every team in a crammed playoff schedule.
They also won’t have to play in a back-to-back, something that qualifying round teams may have to endure, depending on how long their best-of-5 series goes.
Even without the potential of a back-to-back, having two starting-caliber goaltenders should only play into the Stars’ favor. Both Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin could end up being used in the round-robin, with each matchup posing an interesting situation between the two goalies.
The NHL has yet to release a broadcast schedule, but said that one will be available in the coming days. What we do know, however, is that the League is trying to maximize TV audiences for every game and give fans a chance to watch as many games per day as possible.
There are 5-6 games scheduled for each of the first five days of August, with the potential for anywhere from 0-6 in each of the final four days before a League-wide day off on Aug. 10. The Eastern Conference games in Toronto will be played at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. CT. The scheduled start times for the Western Conference games in Edmonton are 1 p.m., 5:30 p.m., and 9:30 p.m. CT, though each time can be fluctuated by up to 30 minutes in an effort to maximize viewership.
The NHL also announced that all statistics from the qualifying round and round-robin games would count as part of the 2020 postseason.
With all of the news and updates coming down, it can be easy to forget that the Dallas Stars open training camp in two days. They have 13 days to refocus, prepare, and attempt to get back up to game speed before traveling to Edmonton on July 26 and beginning exhibition games on the 28th.
But once the round-robin portion rolls around, the Stars should be set up with a good chance to win a few games and create some disruption and shuffling in the top four.
It all starts on Aug. 3 against the Golden Knights.