As a close follower of all DFW sports, it’s hard not to think of the incredible playoff run of Dirk Nowitzki and 2011 Mavericks when watching this 2019-2020 Stars team celebrate the game five victory on Monday night that sealed their first Western Conference title since 2000. Nowitzki had gone through a decade of playoff disappointment as the face of the franchise before finally hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy on a platform in Miami back in June 2011.
“Disappointment” is probably an understatement when it came to the different ways that Nowitzki, Jason Terry, Mark Cuban, Donnie Nelson and others tied to the organization for most of the years leading up to 2011 had to endure brutal playoff losses. Some were surprising in the form of upsets and some just heartbreaking enough to make you question why you continue to follow sports at all.
At the end of the day, Nowitzki and the Mavericks were able to get past those knives to the gut, tend to their wounds and then show up for the fight of their lives in the spring of 2011. Other local teams and their heroes haven’t been so lucky.
The Rangers losing their second consecutive World Series back in October 2011 is unquestionably the greatest heartbreak in the last 10 years of DFW sports. Nine years later, the team is so far away from sniffing a championship that their cell phones probably don’t even have reception. In fact, there hasn’t even been a point in the nine years since that they even came close to a shot at redemption, considering their first round playoff losses in 2015 and 2016.
Guys like Tony Romo, Dez Bryant and Jason Witten all sat at the top of the DFW sports throne for years as faces of the iconic Cowboys franchise. The worst disappointment they went through was the “Dez Caught It” debacle in Green Bay back in January 2015. None of the three even ended their Cowboys careers on a happy note after Witten ruined his chance at it with an ill-advised comeback in 2019.
Drafted by the Stars in 2007 and making his NHL debut during the 2009-2010 season, Jamie Benn has been a key cog of the Dallas Stars for over a decade and has seen his fair share of disappointing seasons himself. Dallas didn’t make the postseason until his fifth season back in 2013-2014 and that just happened to be the first season his new running mate arrived via a blockbuster trade: Tyler Seguin.
After the Stars made the postseason in the duo’s first campaign together, the pair’s ages at the time (Benn 24, Seguin 22) made it seem perfectly fair to assume the team would be playing deep into the postseason every single spring. Not so much. They followed their fun run to the playoffs in 2014 with:
- 2014-2015: Improving their regular season record but missing the postseason.
- 2015-2016: Boasting the best record in the Western Conference but falling in a seven game series in the second round.
- 2016-2017: Taking a major step backwards and finishing below .500 and missing the playoffs.
- 2017-2018: Seemingly having a postseason spot locked up before absolutely collapsing down the stretch to miss it entirely.
- 2018-2019: Losing two straight games after getting a 3-2 series lead over the eventual Stanley Cup champions in the second round
Then came the 2019-2020 season. The one that literally had its first preseason game an entire year ago (September 16, 2019). The one that saw them start with just one win in their first nine games. The one that saw them unexpectedly fire their second year head coach for professional conduct issues when the team was 17-11-3 in mid-December. The one that saw them host the biggest and brightest event in the entire sport on New Years Day. The one that saw them as losers of six straight games heading into the season’s stoppage back in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.
There could be more things added, but THIS is somehow the season that saw Benn, Seguin and the rest of the Stars finally reach a level they had been waiting twenty years to return to again.
Now 31 and 28, it’s been hard to argue against it being possible that both of their best days on the ice are behind them. Benn’s 39 points in the regular season were his fewest since the lockout-shortened 2012-2013 season where he played just 41 games. The same can be said for Seguin whose 50 points were his lowest since he notched 32 that same season.
As the two highest paid players on the team and both locked up for years to come, as recently as a month ago there was a ton of conversations in local media about just how hopeless the future of this franchise was. Before Joe Pavelski scored a game-tying goal with just 12 seconds left in game four of their first round series against the Calgary Flames, the Stars were staring a 3-1 series deficit and likely loss square in the face.
If they lose that first round playoff series in five or six games, there are no talks of bringing back interim coach Rick Bowness. There’s no month long celebration of the lovable Anton Khudobin in net. There aren’t any of the seven playoff goals Benn has scored in the weeks since. There is just more disappointment from a franchise that has seemingly had nothing but that since it won a Cup and made it back to the Final in consecutive years in 1999 and 2000.
Where would the majority of the barbs had been thrown if this team exited the postseason early? Undoubtedly at the duo who has been the center of each of the team’s marketing campaigns over the last seven years.
Now, they sit on the doorstep of bringing a championship to DFW for the first time since 2011. It’s something that will elevate both of their resumes in more ways that All-Star appearances or an Art Ross Trophy ever could. While Seguin did win a Stanley Cup in his rookie season with the Boston Bruins back in 2011, this would undoubtedly be a sweeter one considering he and Benn have been dragged through the mud by not only fans at times, but members of their own organization in impromptu media sessions.
Even after a despicable act like that from Jim Lites, the duo handled things as well as anyone could have expected, didn’t demand to be traded, and just continued being model athletes for the DFW community.
No matter what happens over the next two weeks against either the Tampa Bay Lightning or New York Islanders, this has been an incredible run by the entire Dallas Stars team. While Benn and Seguin’s performances on the statsheet wouldn’t necessarily put them as reasons number one or two as why the team is here, their value to the franchise on and off the ice remains sky high. A series win with Benn and Seguin standing alongside their teammates while they life Lord Stanley’s Cup?
I’d say that’s a good job at shutting up the doubters that have been so loud over the years.
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