The usual debates and points of conversation are swirling atop the NHL discussion pool this summer.
We’ve got another “generational talent” entering via the first-overall pick, and the frontrunners for the Stanley Cup have seemingly been chosen.
Many expect the Colorado Avalanche to bounce back from an injury-ravaged season, while those north of the border have their fingers crossed again for either the Toronto Maple Leafs or Edmonton Oilers to bring the Cup back to Canada for the first time in what will be 31 years.
Much more subtly, the Dallas Stars are being given the nod by savvy onlookers as dark-horse contenders, if not outright frontrunners, after a superb 2022/23 campaign.
Looking at the team’s showing last season, what they have in store for one of the best fan bases in the league, and how the team looks to develop into 2023/24, it’s easy to see why the Stars are growing as a somewhat sneaky Stanley Cup pick.
After all, the Stars went to the 2019/20 Finals and claimed the crown in 1998/99, so it’s not like the team isn’t experienced when it comes to deep runs.
A Buzzing American Airlines Center Every Night
With 41 home games during the regular season and there being a huge amount of potential sway from an amped-up home crowd, you tend to see teams with stronger local followings have a greater home-ice advantage. Of course, a great team can find wins at home or on the road, as shown by the Stars’ 22-10-9 home record versus the 25-11-5 road record last season, but in those close rivalry games, the crowd can make all of the difference. It’s because of this that the Stars can hope to get every edge possible when at the American Airlines Center.
For the 2022/23 campaign, the Stars averaged a home attendance of 18,371 to rank tenth in the NHL. Those ahead were predominantly from well-known hockey hotspots like Montréal (21,078), Detroit (18,819), Toronto (18,753), Vancouver (18,702), and Boston (18,372). However, what’s important is that Dallas’ average home attendance read as 99.12 percent of the stadium’s seated capacity of 18,532. Hometown fans certainly showed their support for the up-and-coming Stars last season, and there’s even more optimism entering 2023/24.
A sudden surge from the fully-fit Colorado Avalanche robbed the Stars of their first Central Division title since 2015/16 by a single point. The standout figures of the final standings between the two Western Conference heavyweights were clearly that the Avs went 51-24-7 to Dallas’ 47 wins, 21 losses, and 14 losses in overtime – good for the most OT losses among playoff qualifiers. In the postseason, though, the Stars had the last laugh, watching on as the Seattle Kraken put away Colorado while Dallas only lost to the eventual champions in the Conference Finals.
Giving Back to the Dedicated Fan Base
Of course, a competitive and exciting hockey team is the primary driver of attendance and raucous home crowds that can spur a team to victory. Still, even when the hockey on display is top quality, teams that give back to fans are always appreciated and can generate that bit of extra buzz. This season, there are six theme nights on the schedule, with the last arguably being the biggest for the fan base. On November 6, it’s Military and Veterans Appreciation Night, followed by Hockey Fights Cancer on November 20.
Black History Night is the first themed night of 2024, taking place on February 26, with two more in quick succession being Hispanic Heritage Night on March 12 and Pride Night on March 20. Then, in the final game of the regular season, it’ll be Fan Appreciation Night on April 17. This is the big one that the team will want to not only thank the packed stadium of fans but also likely get everyone hyped for the postseason to come. They’ll all be fun-filled nights, but Fan Appreciation Night will offer a special range of events and offers.
Throughout the season, fans will also be able to make the most of special features and other promotions. A great one that all local fans should check out is the Last-Minute Tickets feature on the official website. These give fans exclusive text alerts when new tickets become available and when game-day specials are announced. The idea of giving out more and more promotions and specials is certainly catching on in sports and across entertainment, and perhaps that’s down to the spread of iGaming in the US.
Sportsbooks quickly became prevalent due to their tried-and-trusted promotional setups for new and existing players. Now, many of those sportsbooks have expanded into the other arm of iGaming, online casino games. It’s these platforms that have mastered the promo approach, as shown by the sheer volume of free spins being given away by leading brands. Some offer hundreds, while others bundle in around 50 with cash-back offers. American sports fans are now accustomed to getting promotions and bonuses, so it’s great that the Stars are keeping up. Of course, for an NHL team, those perks come from quick ticket access, game-day specials, and often bobbleheads.
Much More to Come From a Very Well-Constructed Team
General manager Jim Nill has done a stand-up job of constructing the Dallas Stars roster and fully deserved his Jim Gregory GM of the Year Award in June. Peter DeBoer’s appointment certainly raised a few eyebrows when appointed last summer, after his 2021/22 campaign with the Vegas Golden Knights saw them miss the playoffs for the first time since their 2017 inception. Yet, he looks to have all of the right pieces in place in Dallas to help him rely on a much more pressurized, defense-first style of play where it’s all about grit and grinding as a team.
Finishing last season with the third-fewest goals against at a mere 218, or 2.66 per game, it’s clear that DeBoer got his ideal players across to the team. However, this isn’t to say that there wasn’t room for some offensive flourish. Jason Robertson, for example, put up a mighty 46 goals and 109 points but also managed to chip in with 57 hits and 18 blocked shots. Team captain Jamie Benn and veteran Joe Pavelski – who DeBoer worked with in San Jose – scored 78 and 77 points, respectively, while also exceeding 90 hits. Pavelski also stopped 64 shots to Benn’s 38.
Having a few deft hands on the blueline was also a big help, with Miro Heiskanen putting up 73 points and holding an admirable +12 rating while eating up an average of 25:29 minutes per game. Having the much more defensively minded blueliners in Ryan Suter and Esa Lindell, who combined for 168 hits and 262 blocked shots, around also helped the defensive effort. Yet, the star of the show was almost certainly Jake Oettinger. Coming into 2023/24, he’s the favorite to land the Vezina Trophy following his superb 2.37 GAA and .919 SV% last time out.
There was a lot to be excited about in this Stars roster that seems to have the perfect balance of top-class veterans, exciting younger skaters with high ceilings, and a goaltender who can stand on his head to win games.
Then, the Stars front office made some superb offseason additions. If he regains his spark, Matt Duchene could prove to be a bargain at $3 million for one season, while Craig Smith and Sam Steel add the kind of depth that makes for a true playoff contender.
With very little loss, Dallas only looks stronger this season.
The stadium will be bouncing, fans will have plenty to look forward to off of the ice, and the team itself – bar a tsunami of major injuries – looks ready to make a run for the throne.
It’s very early, of course, but on paper, there isn’t any reason why the Stars can’t push for the Stanley Cup this season.