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Stars stories and characters that make Round 1 worth watching
The playoffs are all about the stories, so let's meet some of the characters.
They tell us playoff hockey is different.
That once 82 regular season games have been played, a whole new sport is placed in front of us.
There’s hockey and then there’s playoff hockey.
It’s a mix of fact and narrative. It’s the same sport, but the bad teams are gone, best-on-best delivers results.
Playoff hockey hits different because of the stakes and familiarity. During an 82-game regular season, especially with 32 teams in the league, there’s less opportunity to build contempt between opponent. Big saves feel bigger because one team won’t be playing past this round. Playoff hockey is a hell of a drug, but in many ways we are just hooked on the story and if you took away the narratives — especially with fighting nearly obsolete — a playoff game and regular season game between two good teams look pretty similar.
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Storylines make the games matter. Otherwise it’s just organized exercise.
So for the Dallas Stars first-round series against the Minnesota Wild, which starts Monday night at 8:30 CT (get the coffee ready…) let’s establish the characters, the stories from a Dallas perspective, for me, that make this so intriguing.
The computer on skates
Jason Robertson is a computer on skates.
His 109 points this season are the most in Dallas Stars history. Robertson’s point totals, which should net him a couple Hart Trophy votes, are partially due to the practical input-output method Robertson applies.
Robertson watches each shift on the iPad, sometimes instantly, on the bench during the game. He diagnoses data, stores it, and uses it on the fly. Robertson doesn’t kill penalties, but he sits in on the stars penalty killing meeting, simply because it could give him extra data about how an opponent might try to slow him down.
Robertson is a phenomenal human story, and I wrote about him last week for D Magazine on this, but part of Robertson’s success is proof that preparation, and utilizing the tools available, are truly part of the future. Pete DeBoer is well aware of this, he let’s Robertson be Robertson, and instead of taking away his iPad — like a coach in Philly who missed the playoffs — DeBoer will be the first one with an extra charger available if Robertson ever forgot his.
Robertson had his success despite never playing a preseason game because he didn’t need preseason. His training was sufficient on its own, and simply coming into a team where he was allowed to process data without a coach getting in the way, he was able to put together one of the finest seasons in Stars history.
Wyatt Johnston was one of three rookies to play 82 games this season.
He won’t win the Calder Trophy — it’ll properly go to Matty Beniers — but Johnston was the co-leader in goals by first-year players with 24. He fittingly scored the final goal of the season in a 1-0 victory against the St. Louis Blues.
Johnston, to me, is a prime example of a player that could go from known commodity in Dallas to household name with a strong postseason. He has prime “where did this kid come from???” potential, and frankly it’s the reason I grabbed him with a late pick in my pool with fellow media members.
The Kid’s Landlord
The only thing Joe Pavelski is missing from his career is a Stanley Cup. He’s one of the most successful seventh-round picks in NHL history (or any sport’s history for that matter), and probably tops most of those “Old Guy Without a Cup” lists.
But Pavelski isn’t your typical OGWC. Typically players on those lists, frankly, are along for the ride or at playing a support role as a depth forward or defenseman. A lot of times the first guy handed the cup from the Captain didn’t actually have to do much lifting in the playoffs beyond adding “veteran savvy” to the dressing room.
Pavelski is better described as the OGWC who can lead a team to a cup. Pavelski is the top-line center on one of the best teams in the Western Conference and frankly, the only sad thing about his line with Robertson and Roope Hintz is that age will someday stop that trio from existing beyond a handful of seasons.
Pavelski makes the Stars a fun rooting interest for American hockey fans, who frankly always latch onto this type of story and if Stars advance, ESPN and TNT, will probably be all over the Pavelski hype train.
Jake vs home state
Jake Oettinger was one of the best stories of the 2022 playoffs, but because of the team in front of him it only lasted a single round, a loss, to the Calgary Flames.
Oettinger heads into this playoff against the state he grew up in, the “State of Hockey,” wearing the black hat as the villain. And honestly, Oettinger loves it. He’s got a massive chip on his shoulder that he hides extremely well, but he loves playing on the road, he loves being the bad guy, he loves stifling hopes and dreams.
There’s a story to be told from this series vs the Wild where Oettinger will have a small cheering section in St. Paul, but the true motivator will be the 16,000 Minnesotans he wants to silence in the most “Minnesota nice,” way you can imagine.
Maxon Duo redemption
For various reasons Mason Marchment and Max Domi had seasons that left something to be desired — call them the Maxon duo.
Marchment was injured in March and didn’t return until the final game of the regular season. His absence made Domi’s transition to Dallas more difficult, Domi isn’t the defensive player Marchment is and he was asked to do more than the Stars fairly could have expected him.
Marchment is back, he’s healthy enough to play in the postseason, and Domi gets a second chance at a fresh start in Dallas.
The last riders
It’s not the last ride, but Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin are no longer headliners for the Stars. In fact, when discussing the Stars, at least four other players immediately come to mind as “most important” to this playoff run.
But Benn and Seguin are better for it. They’ve both willingly accepted this role, allowing the first-line to belong to Pavelski and Sons, and both have enjoyed moving back into slight anonymity by reaching back into the fountain of youth.
It’s weird to write about Benn and Seguin like they are older than Pavelski, but the truth of the matter is both have been robbed longevity by injuries (Seguin) and their style of play (Benn).
Miro’s Norris Chance
Miro Heiskanen is one of the best defenseman on the planet, no one can dispute that.
But to win a Norris Trophy, something Sergei Zubov never won, he needs two things — to put more points and to own a playoff run in a non-COVID bubble.
He did the first thing this year, John Klinberg’s absence became addition by subtraction for the Stars and Heiskanen thrived now getting the PP1 role undisputed.
Now he’ll have a chance to take over games, ironically enough, against a team that now employs Klingberg in the first round.
This is short list, you could go through the entire roster and find a story (yes, even one for Ryan Suter) that would make you intrigued to watch how things play out.
Obviously I have a readership in Dallas, so I’ll be watching this series closely. Here at Shap Shots I’ll be writing something off each game (sometimes night of, sometimes for the next morning, depends on what the story is).
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I’ll also be recording episodes of Spits & Suds with Gavin Spittle off of each game that will be fresh into your pod feed the following morning. D Magazine has also commissioned me to write at least three columns over the next three weeks, maybe more depending on how the series goes.
And if you want something more from Game 1, Stephen Meserve and I will be hosting a live author meet-and-greet/Q&A during the intermissions. If you’ve bought the book we co-authored, We Win Here, all you need to do is send us a Tweet with your copy of the book, or proof it’s on it’s way, or email us at WeWinHere2014@gmail.com and we’ll get you an invite to the discord channel we put together to host the virtual session.
Should be a fun postseason. I’ll also be covering other things throughout the hockey world. I have a story in the hopper coming tomorrow on Red Wings defenseman Moritz Seider and how he’s having to watch the playoffs again. I had a conversation today with Rick Bowness about the Winnipeg-Vegas series, that’ll run Tuesday morning.
It’s gonna be a fun postseason. As always, thanks for reading.