As league-wide scoring rates continue to drop and the NHL mulls yet another round of rule changes to boost offense, many fans are no doubt wondering: What can I do? What kind of steps could a typical fan take to help the league get back to the sort of exciting action it used to showcase a generation ago, before defense and goaltending took over?
The answer has always been: not much. Fans can complain all they want, but the issue is a complicated one and the league has shown precious little resolve to make the sort of drastic changes that might address it. You can vote with your eyeballs or your wallet, but that’s about it. There’s nothing you can do to help the league save itself.
Until now. This season, there really is a simple action we all could take that could make a difference.
This season, we all need to cheer for the Dallas Stars to win the Stanley Cup.
Stay with me here. The NHL is a copycat league, as we’re constantly reminded. Each season, one team wins it all, and the other 29 point at that team and yell “Be like them!” If that team is a collection of dreary, defensive-minded plodders, then that’s what everyone wants to be.
In fact, that’s how we got in this mess in the first place, according to the generally accepted history. When the 1994-95 New Jersey Devils used the neutral-zone trap to beat high-flying teams such as the Pittsburgh Penguins and Detroit Red Wings on the way to their first Cup, the rest of the league took notice. When the lowly Florida Panthers nearly did the same the next year, the conventional wisdom was set, and the Dead Puck Era was upon us. No team has won the Cup while leading the league in scoring since the 1991-92 Penguins.
This is the part where we need to point out that reality doesn’t quite match up with the narrative. Plenty of Cup winners have featured offensive skill -- the Chicago Blackhawks' mini-dynasty comes to mind. And four teams have led the league in goals before losing in the finals in recent years, including last season’s Tampa Bay Lightning. But like the old saying goes, perception can be reality, and in the NHL the perception has been clear: Offense makes highlight reels, but defense wins championships. Two decades of copycats bear that out.
But when it comes to this season’s Stars, copy away. They’re a high-flying group built around offensive talent, one loaded with speed and skill that seems completely unafraid to play an aggressive style. What’s more, they’ve spent heavily on their goaltending, but it’s still not very good, and while they feature one of the best young defenseman in the game in John Klingberg, he’s an offensive blueliner who racks up points instead of blocked shots.
As of Wednesday morning, the Stars lead the league in goals per game, averaging 3.48. And at 2.60 goals-per-game allowed, they rank in the bottom half of the league. They’re a high-event team, one that makes for must-see TV whenever they take to the ice. An NHL in which 29 teams were all trying to be the Stars would be all sorts of fun.
And as a bonus, the Stars are one of the few teams in the league to have been built largely through trades. For you younger fans out there, "trades" are things that teams used to do to acquire good players, and they were great. These days, your favorite team’s GM probably whines endlessly about how trading is too hard. Jim Nill doesn’t have time to whine because he’s busy loading up on All-Stars.
Between swinging deals and filling nets, the Stars are a throwback to the very best of the good old days. But none of it matters if they don’t win it all. And that’s where you come in. Get yourself an ugly green jersey because you are a Dallas Stars fan now.
OK, not everyone is going to be on board with this. If you normally cheer for a Central Division team, it goes without saying that you’ve got an exemption. If you follow one of the three Pacific teams that’s going to make the playoffs -- cough, California, cough -- then you’re off the hook. If you’re backing one of the truly elite Eastern teams, like the Montreal Canadiens or Washington Capitals, then we might even give you a pass, too.
And yes, some people will question whether everyone cheering for a team will actually change anything, because fans have no ability to directly influence the outcome of a sporting event. To those people I say: Nobody likes you. The rest of us know better. We all have that one lucky chair, and it works every time, except when it doesn’t. That’s the Dallas Stars chair now.
So jump on the bandwagon. Break out your lucky shirt, perform those superstitious pregame rituals, and start sending those good vibes out toward Dallas. Then get ready to enjoy hockey again because, man, this team is all sorts of fun to watch.
Will they occasionally lose, like they did Tuesday night against the Calgary Flames? Sure. But even their losses are fun. They collapsed in the third period, blowing a 3-0 lead and losing in a shootout. But I’ll take a 4-3 collapse over a 1-0 snoozefest any night, and so should you. You’ve been a Dallas Star fan for three minutes, don’t go bailing on me now because of one bad loss.
Look, this will be confusing at first. If you’re used to watching one of the league’s weaker teams, you’re going to feel like the game is being played in fast-forward. When a goal happens, you won’t always have time to complete an hour-long analysis of the play before the next one comes around. And occasionally, you’ll watch both teams go back and forth, trading scoring chances, and then feel confused when Lindy Ruff doesn’t immediately call a timeout to scream at his team to never do that again.
But you’ll get used to it. And then you’ll love it. And then, if it all goes according to plan, you can go back to your boring old team in the offseason, and watch them try to play Dallas Stars hockey.
We can do this. The NHL can be saved from itself. Go Stars go.