Back at the beginning of the year, we here at Puck Daddy were asked to predict the NHL standings at year-end. This is, of course, a fool's errand, and we're all going to end up looking stupid (especially since not a one of us saw the Avalanche making the playoffs, and Leahy even had them finishing dead last in the Central).
But he's got nothing to be embarrassed about. Nobody expected the Avalanche to be good (which is why Patrick Roy will probably win the Jack Adams, the trophy given to the coach of the team whose success is so unexpected that it can only be explained by coachy magic). The actual worst prediction of the bunch, in my opinion, was my own -- that the Dallas Stars would finish the year in the basement.
Instead, the Stars are angling for the final playoff spot, which is about where everyone else projected them to be.
Allow me to explain my thinking some six months ago: I had written the Stars season preview three weeks earlier, and while I went into it with some optimism, after a closer look, I wasn't sold. I'd liked Jim Nill's moves in his first summer at first, but after more consideration, I saw two things: a weak defence corps, and that wouldn't score much unless two things happened: Tyler Seguin gelled with Jamie Benn in a magical way, and Valeri Nichushkin proved himself to be NHL-ready.
Without that, the Stars didn't have a first line, in my mind. And without a first line, they wouldn't have much of an identity. It was a hunch, but I saw them coming apart.
Instead, everything they needed to happen has happened, and it's been amazing to watch.
First lines are tough to come by. When Nill arrived, Dallas didn't really have one. They had some decent players, but no real first unit. In a few months, he built one, acquiring Seguin to center it, and drafting Nichushkin to skate on the other wing.
I don't think we realize how easy that was. There are teams in the NHL that spend ages trying to put together a formidable first line -- teams that have one or two decent players, but just can't seem to get it to click into place, to have a unit that's going to win the matchup night after night. And it takes some GMs ages to put their stamp on a team.
Meanwhile, Nill did it in three months. On his first try. Just like that, he gave us Jim Nill's Dallas Stars -- they even came with a fancy new sweater.
Mine was a stupid prediction. There's no doubt about it. But honestly, rather than focusing on how doltish I look, I think we should be looking at how brilliant Nill looks after just one year running the Stars.
Seguin is 7th in the NHL in scoring with 68 points in 64 games. He's a Hart trophy candidate. Benn is 17th, with 63 points in 66 games. He's a Hart trophy candidate too. Nichushkin is a Calder candidate.
And from where I'm sitting, which is in the corner, with this dunce cap on, if there's any justice, Nill is a GM of the Year candidate.