Lets face it; being a Stars fan these last few years has not been easy. We went from being one of the most dominant teams in the Western Conference to simply being "pesky". We missed the playoffs 5 straight seasons. We were bankrupt and under the financial umbrella of the NHL for almost 2 years. Dallas was in on big trade talks but were never on the receiving end. Getting below the salary cap was never the concern, but getting above the salary floor was.
Enter General Manager Jim Nill. In 2 seasons with the team, Nill has taken the Stars from outside of the playoff picture to possibly being one of the most exciting teams in the league going in to the 2014-2015 season. On the first day of free agency in 2014 Nill added considerable 2nd line depth by trading for center Jason Spezza and signing free agent Ales Hemsky as well as numerous other moves. Twitter (hilariously) exploded. "Congratulations to the Dallas Stars on winning the 2015 Stanley Cup". "It feels like the summer of 1996". "All aboard the bandwagon".
But how did we get here?
The glory days for the Stars were, of course, the late 90's. With the Arrival of new owner Tom Hicks Dallas was building with one goal in mind - the Stanley Cup. Players that are now seared in the minds of Stars fan like Carbonneau, Nieuwendyk, Langenbrunner, Zubov, Belfour, Keane, and Hull were pieces of a puzzle brought in towards that goal, adding to the already established likes of Modano, Hatcher, and Matvichuk. From the 1996-1997 season on Dallas was always a heavy factor in the Western Conference, finishing the regular season as the 2nd seed in 1997 and 1st in 1998. It all lead to the big prize - the Stanley Cup win in 1999.
Fueled by both on ice success and superstar power like Mike Modano, Dallas was officially sold on the sport of hockey. I was fortunate enough to be able to go to game 7 of the Western Conference finals in 1999. Even only being 13 years old at the time I will never forget the noise made by the hockey-crazy sea of humanity inside Reunion Arena as long as I live. Games were consistently sold out. I even have a commemorative puck from a game that is proof positive of Dallas' love of hockey - 100 consecutive sellout games in Reunion Arena.
Fast forward 10 years and the Stars had fallen from grace. While never making deep playoff runs from 2000 to 2007, the Stars were always in the playoff picture. In 2008 Dallas made it to the conference finals for the first time since 2000 losing in 6 games to the Red Wings. We sure didn't realize it at the time but it was the last taste of the playoffs we would have for 5 years - a franchise record drought. Hurt by the 2004 season-cancelling lockout souring some fans and decreasing success on ice, attendance was down to the point of being almost laughable as a 2011 PuckDaddy piece painfully pointed out. Financial woes, and eventual bankruptcy, kept the Stars ability to spend on players at an all time low.
The rebuilding process began from the top down 2011 with the announcement of Tom Gaglardi as the new owner and Jim Lites being brought back as President. But the light at the end of the tunnel became visible for fans at the end of the lockout shortened 2012-2013 season. 2 days after the final game of the season former Red Wings Assistant General Manager Jim Nill was announced as the teams new General Manager. The search was also on for a new head coach during the 2013 off season. The Stars and Jim Nill went with an ironic choice in Lindy Ruff - the very coach that the Stars defeated in the 1999 Stanley Cup finals. Jim Nill's first big move with players was drafting Valeri Nichushkin with the Stars 1st of 2 first round picks of the draft. Wasting no time after the draft Nill made the blockbuster trade of the 2013 off season acquiring Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button from the Boston Bruins for Loui Eriksson, Reilly Smith, Matt Fraser, and Joe Morrow.
New ownership, new front office, new captain Jamie Benn, along with a new logo and jerseys. Gone were the green and gold that graced the Star's uniforms since their arrival to Texas in 1993. "A new Star is rising" was the motto for the season that would find the Stars back in the playoffs in 2014. The fans ate it up. By the end of the season American Airlines Center was packed with a raucous and loud sea of victory green. And much like the glory days of the late 90's superstar power was back in the lethal top line duo of captain Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin.
Which brings us full circle. The Stars have added a seemingly 2nd lethal duo with Spezza/Hemsky behind the already proven top line of Benn/Seguin. The forward depth is strong, as is the defense with Dallas having the roster of the Calder Cup Champion Texas Stars at their disposal. And then there's Kari Lehtonen who has been the backbone of the team. Nill signed Anders Lindback as the new backup goalie, showing a move away from the veteran journeymen of years past like Dan Ellis and Andrew Raycroft.
Am I saying that the Stars are going to win the cup this year? Of course not. It's impossible to say that before a single puck has been dropped with this roster. Am I saying that after years of mediocrity that it looks like the Stars are once again contenders in the extremely competitive west? Time will tell, but it looks that way. Am I saying I'm excited that I can finally play NHL15 and not have to see the Stars be the lowest ranked team in the game? Oh you have no idea how excited I am about that one.
The fun is back in Dallas. The rebuilding is over. It's time the Stars get back to where they belong. If you've been away, hop back on board. If you're new to the stars, I hope this gets you up to speed. This season is going to be a good time. My only question is.....
....is it October yet?