A Dallas Stars Christmas Carol: A look at Stars reclaiming first place

Nov 8, 2022; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Dallas Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer looks on in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports
Nov 8, 2022; Winnipeg, Manitoba, CAN; Dallas Stars Head Coach Pete DeBoer looks on in the third period against the Winnipeg Jets at Canada Life Centre. Mandatory Credit: James Carey Lauder-USA TODAY Sports /

After reclaiming the top spot in the Central Division, the Dallas Stars have staved off an early attempt for the divisional peak by Winnipeg that certainly won’t be the last. Teams with offensive firepower like Colorado (when healthy) and Minnesota are also sure to go on streaks within the final fifty plus games that would make Pete DeBoer & Co. a little hot under the collar.

Of course, the long term success of this squad is pondered quite often here at Blackout Dallas and there are certain trends that the team has exhibited that stir positive thoughts. Today one of those musings will intertwine the divisional paths, take on the form of a Christmas tradition, and identify trends we’ve seen that benefit the Stars plan down the stretch.

Dallas Stars Holiday Wish list: Ghost of Christmas present

In ‘A Christmas Carol’ fashion, the first thing to address with the Stars is where they are now and the happenings around them. To win the Stanley Cup they’ll need to win 16 games in a stretch of about 25 games, made significantly simpler with home ice advantage.

It isn’t mandatory for a championship, but if the Stars can maintain their pacing the rest of the way they can add something more to the “just make it to the postseason” approach they’ve embodied in recent years. One of the important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to stringing such success together is weathering the injury wave.

Despite seeing Heiskanen, Oettinger, and Hintz miss time for injuries of varying degrees, the Stars have stayed relatively healthy. The same cannot be said for the Colorado Avalanche, a year removed from their own Cup run.

On a level playing field, Colorado would be an immediate threat to the Stars’ positioning. Injuries to their top tier talent (Mackinnon, Landeskog, Byram, Manson, & more) have left them emaciated of depth. Fortunately for the Avs, there is a stark contrast between contenders and pretenders within the division.

The chasm between the top and the bottom of the central comes to the tune of a 3 point, 2 games in hand, and 28 goals difference between St. Louis and Colorado. Nashville, Chicago, and Arizona have consistently trended downward from the get-go this year and the Blues’ trademark Berube winning streak last month is the only thing separating them from the pack.

Serving as the baseline for a successful team in the division means Colorado may be in a battle for 4th place, opening up their playoff competition to the rest of the conference. With Colorado in the weeds of their push and odds stacked against them, the Stars need to find what separates them from Minnesota and Winnipeg.

Dallas Stars Holiday Wish list: Ghost of Christmas Past

With Rick Bowness coaching the Jets to the top half of the division, the Dallas Stars didn’t search long for a visage of the past. As a matter of fact, each of the culture shifts made by the coaching hires can be seen by the offensive and defensive output of each team.

It’s no secret the Stars wanted DeBoer to leverage our defensive capabilities into a faster offense that doesn’t surrender the kind of goals you’d see against the more open concepts. With that, the Stars stand atop the division and are tied for 2nd in the league with 112 goals. Conversely, the Jets have sacrificed a bit of their offensive production in order to give up the 5th least amount of goals this year.

I have confidence that the offensive shift for the Stars will prove more efficient than the shift from Winnipeg because of the energy commanded by each styles of play. Playing tighter defense is more exhausting then playing freely on offense, especially when pocketing your goal scoring talent for emergency situations and relying on late rallies for victory.

This is exemplified by the Stars’ comeback score in 19/20 under Monty and Bowness, tied for 2nd with 17 comeback victories totaling a deficit of 27 goals overcome in a year they pushed for the cup finals.

Furthermore, the team exhaustion from this metric can be shown in the following year’s totals of 9 goals overcome for 7 wins (tied for 3rd least) in a year they missed the playoffs. At this early point in the season, Winnipeg is 4th in the league with 8 wins overcoming a combined 11 goals as the Stars are cruising in 22nd with 6 wins overcoming 8 goals.

Further, DeBoer is well aware of how to manage the team’s energy and his deployment for all 4 forward lines remains relatively even. The most time-on-ice averaged by a forward is Robo with just over 18 minutes a game, whereas Winnipeg has 2 forwards averaging over 20 (Sheifele & Connor). Moreover, the gap in average TOI from top to bottom is over 10 minutes (Sheifele’s 21:12 to Jonsson Fjällby’s 10:52) compared to Dallas’ being under 6 minutes (Robo’s 18:03 to Kiviranta’s 12:23).

Should the game not fit Bowness’ script, he calls upon his forwards to dig them out and burn the vital energy that comes at a premium when playoffs roll around. As DeBoer rolls his lines evenly, the Stars can maintain a level of play that will guide them through April, May, and June when the team needs it most.

Dallas Stars Holiday Wish list: Ghost of Christmas future

On 96.7 The Ticket last Wednesday, Tyler Seguin indicated that one of the phrases he’s heard more often in the locker room this year is “Stanley Cup.” The goal that this team is striving for is no secret and Pete DeBoer has a track record of immediately bringing focus to the group he’s managing in year one.

In each of DeBoer’s inaugural seasons with his last 3 teams, he’s made the conference finals (his first full year as the Vegas coach too, in case you don’t count his late season takeover in 2020) with 2 cup finals appearances with New Jersey and San Jose.

As easy as it is to assume that teams rely on star power like the other Big 4 pro leagues, a steady hand at the helm makes all the difference in this league. Contrary to this strategy, the Minnesota Wild’s attempt to fetch the Stars in the standings is stylized like a front office chess match.

Bill Guerin has made it clear that the teams operations are direct reflections of the chess board he’s laid out before them. A cultural cleaning house took place in the first couple years, deposing 15-year contributor and team captain Mikko Koivu, buying out the contracts of Zach Parise & Ryan Suter, and trading away Jason Zucker.

After giving Bruce Boudreau some leash to guide the team to the playoffs, he was terminated with 21 games remaining in the season in favor of Dean Evason. After somewhat proving himself in 12 games, the interim tag was removed prior to the 2020 season without a thorough search involving other candidates. The takeaway from this is that the approach of the staff in Minnesota is negligent of coaching, in favor of icing the team that they feel holds the most talent.

While it always helps to have a team more talented than the opponent, a mindset that is not united behind one voice will be subject to emotional highs and lows to match the individuality allowed within the team. For this reason, the Wild will go on hot streaks and cold streaks without finding a rhythm befitting of a team that skilled as the season unfolds.

They are currently on the hot end, winning 8 of their last 10, to accommodate for the 4 separate losing streaks they’ve had on the young season. Contrarily, the Stars boast a 10-4 record following a loss and resemble a level of resiliency that personifies a unified group behind a singular cause. Don’t be fooled by the shiny objects that certain teams boast, a winning culture will carry a team further than any single player will.

Dallas Stars Holiday Wish List Conclusion: Merry Christmas

As the casual Dallas Stars fan serves as the proverbial Scrooge, being visited by the Ghosts of Christmas past, present, and future should instill optimism for the path that lies ahead. The immediate threats at the top of the table each exemplify a weakness where the Stars have strength.

In addition to these extemporaneous factors, the Dallas Stars still have a top 5 player at each position and may boast one of the deepest rosters in the league. The mixture of talent and culture in Dallas is one of a championship team, meaning Stars fans asking Santa for a Cup this Christmas isn’t as much of a fantasy as it may sound.