The Halfway Point: On Playoffs, Patience, and Hope
For Dallas Stars fans, the first half of this year's 82 game campaign has been nothing if not entertaining. At its best moments, unbridled optimism has rippled through the fan base, riding a wave of Victory Green: at its worst, even the most forgiving and patient of fans have slumped back in their armchairs as a team full of promise and burgeoning maturity is trounced at the hands of an opponent that seemed all too beatable. The same team that swept a three game road trip that included perennial powers Boston and Detroit and put a touchdown's worth on the board against a sub-par Calgary team is the one that made this fan, proudly clad in a brand new white away sweater at TGI Fridays, weakly call for my check and walk away from the latest disappointment as if I myself would have to endure the wrath of what was sure to be a frustrated Lindy Ruff. As I walked to my car, that all too familiar feeling swept over me: "This is the game we'll look at when we come up a point shy: when we're face to face with year six of the drought and wondering what went wrong."
And yet, this time felt different. My shoulders sagged underneath the new Victory Green yoke, but perhaps not quite as low. My optimism was a little harder to drown out, and the flame of my hope burned with a little less of a flicker. This is a different year. This is certainly not THE year, but this is the beginning of the process toward that final goal. It feels attainable again. You can catch glimpses of it, if you're willing. You can see it in the quick and easy chemistry of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin, and in the success of the kid from Russia, who has at least earned himself a mention at the proverbial Calder roundtable. You can see it in the enviable depth of the Stars' prospect pool, which has come to fruition in recent weeks and allowed the Stars to stay afloat despite a hemorrhaging of the back end. You can see it in the unyielding patience of a new group of leaders, most notably Jim Nill, who are willing to take the time to build this team the right way without folding under the pressure of immediate results.
In an environment like Dallas, where hockey often plays second fiddle to three other sports, fans can be quick to criticize what they don’t know. With one cup under our belt, it's hard for the casual fan to comprehend how far we have fallen in the nearly decade and a half since that ultimate victory. But even in the faces of the hockey illiterate, there is understanding. There is patience, or at least as much as can be expected from a fan base accustomed to the teams of Mo and Eddie and the rest. No longer do the diehards struggle to reassure the masses: we can point to Seguin, Benn, Nichushkin and those yet to make the trip north from Cedar Park and have faith that they'll live up to their potential and prove that our hope is secure in the right foundation of present and future stars.
There will come a day in which the Dallas Stars can rejoin the ranks of the elite of the NHL, and this fan's gut feeling is that that day is coming sooner rather than later. In the off days after a crushing loss to a beatable Islanders team, I can assure you that today is not that day. But that doesn't mean that it isn't right around the corner.
As for me, I'll be watching tomorrow just as I was on Monday: proudly clad in my Dallas Stars sweater. If we sneak into the playoffs in April, I’ll be just as excited as the rest of you. But if we don’t, even if we come up just a single point shy, it will no longer be the deflating and humbling disappointment of years past. For this fan, it will become a stepping stone on the path to the promised land that is being laid out every day by Jim Nill and the rest of the brain trust of your Dallas Stars. Our time is coming, and I'll be adorned in Victory Green when it arrives.